As the United States and her NATO allies have been quietly making preparations for a possible Ukrainian government-in-exile, Kiev has been less than prompt in making its own plans. Over the last few days this looks to be changing. According to personal sources in the Polish government, a core group of Ukrainian government officials is now on the ground in eastern Poland and in Warsaw. The purpose of their presence is to lay groundwork for a Ukrainian government-in-exile, should the nightmare scenario of Russian occupation of the homeland become reality.
Naturally, the government in Kiev has remained silent on the subject. If Ukrainians would learn that their government is preparing for an imminent departure it would have a tremendously negative effect on national morale. Volodymyr Zelenskiy is not partial to the idea of a government-in-exile. When the US urged him to leave Kiev rather than run the risk of capture or death, he refused. His statement of defiance still rings loudly in the ears of the Free World. “The fight is here. I need ammunition, not a ride.”
But is Zelenskiy’s stance the proper one for his nation? His rise to international fame as a wartime leader has made him a symbol of Ukraine and its courageous defenders. He holds far too much political value to remain in Kiev as the Russians close in on the city. If the capital, and consequently the entire country, falls, Zelenskiy will be needed to pick up the pieces and lead the efforts of a government-in-exile. Remaining in Kiev and perhaps dying in the defense of the city would make him a martyr. In the short term, Zelenskiy’s death could rally Ukrainians into one final push to save their beleaguered homeland.
However, Zelenskiy would be of greater value at the head of a government-in-exile because he is the legitimate leader. The Ukrainian people elected him and in the process of casting their votes, gave Zelenskiy something the Russians can never erase: Legitimacy. Of the current crop of Ukrainian politicians and government officials, none hold a candle to Zelenskiy in terms of popularity and ability. This truth needs to be hammered into his mind now while there is still time to depart the capital before the inevitable battle for it commences.
Otherwise, any Ukrainian government-in-exile that forms without Zelenskiy will be destined to a short life. A free and independent Ukraine will be forever relegated to the dustbin of history.
Europe’s reliance on Russian natural gas has slowed efforts to sanction Russian energy and runs the risk of driving a wedge into the trans-Atlantic unified front that has performed impressively in sanctioning Russia and aiding Ukraine. Europe has been trying to wean itself off of Russian energy for years now, but progress have been at a snail’s pace and uncertain. Mostly because Europe has found it next to impossible to locate a replacement source for its blanket energy needs. Today, the German government confirmed it will continue to buy Russian natural gas, oil and coal despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the growing mountain of sanctions on Moscow. In a statement, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said his country and the remainder of Europe are too reliant on Russian energy imports for the continent to cut trade links, even in the short term. This is why Germany made it a point to exempt energy from the sanctions the West has placed on Russia. Natural gas, oil and coal from Russia are the lifeblood of German and European industrial output, heating and electricity output. If Russia chooses to put the screws to European energy exports, Western unity could splinter.
The Pentagon confirmed today something many of us in the fields of geopolitics and defense have noticed over the past few days. With progress slowing to a crawl on the ground, Russia is relying more on long-range fires. These include artillery, multiple-launch rocket fire, cruise missiles, and close air support, which is being used in an effort to weaken Ukrainian defensive positions and strong points of resistance. Other terms used are softening the enemy or preparing the battlefield. The good news is that the reliance on long-range fires signals that Russia is not ready to resume the pushes towards numerous Ukrainian cities and other objectives. The bad news is that at some point, the advances will commence again.
The number of Ukrainian refugees is now approaching 1.8 million at last count and the number is anticipated to exceed 2 million within the next 24 hours. Europe is on the verge of a major refugee crisis, the likes of which have not been seen in decades.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is preparing his fellow countrymen for the coming defense of Kiev. Zelenskiy, in a video broadcast earlier today, laid out the situation. Russian forces continue advancing on Kiev and he expects the Russians to storm the capital city in the early morning hours. “This night will be very difficult, and the enemy will use all available forces to break the resistance of Ukrainians,” he said, later adding, “The fate of Ukraine is being decided right now.” The president intends to remain in Kiev and not evacuate. There’s no doubting his courage, but at this time it may be better for Ukraine’s leader to leave Kiev and travel west safety. The time might soon arrive when a government-in-exile must be formed. Zelenskiy is the most high-profile Ukrainian politician and he’ll carry considerable clout.
It is just after 3 AM in Kiev and explosions can now be heard in the distance. If a Russian ground attack does materialize, it will likely come before dawn and be supported by heavy amounts of artillery and air support. The Ukrainian Air Force has lost air superiority over the eastern half of the country, as mentioned earlier, so Kiev’s defenders will be forced to fight beneath a very hostile sky.
Author’s Note: I’ll try and get another update out as the situation develops closer to the morning in Kiev.
Russia announced earlier today that security talks with the United States and NATO will begin in early January, 2022. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated his country’s desire for legally binding agreements that NATO expansion will not continue and that certain classes of NATO weapon systems will not be deployed in close proximity to Russia’s borders. Dates for the discussions have not been agreed upon yet, though Lavrov has said there will be separate sets of talks for NATO and the US. It remains unclear what Russia’s expectations for the talks are, but Lavrov’s remarks give a hint. “I hope that they will take us seriously given the moves we take to ensure our defense capability.”
The foreign minister’s remarks came as Russian energy giant Gazprom continues to restrict natural gas supplies to Europe. There have been accusations lately coming out of European capitals that Russia is using energy exports as a weapon in the growing geopolitical struggle between Russia and the West. Gas prices in Europe are rising again in the face of Russian gas flows to Germany having been reversed yet again due to capacity issues.
US President Joe Biden has arrived in Europe today, kicking off the first overseas trip of his presidency. Before leaving, the ever-so-eloquent chief executive told reporters the goals for his trip to Europe will be “strengthening the alliance, making it clear to Putin and to China that Europe and the United States are tight.” Upon his arrival in Great Britain, Biden addressed US airmen at RAF Mildenhall and spoke further on the intended purpose of his European trip. Specifically with regards to Russia and his scheduled meeting with Vladimir Putin on 16 June in Geneva.
Before Geneva comes the G7 summit in Cornwall, England which will take place this coming weekend. The stated goal of the Biden administration has been to use the summit as a launching point to mend relations with European allies and roll back the rhetoric and actions of the Trump presidency that allegedly placed undue pressure on the US relationship with Europe. Climate change, creating a unified front in the face of China’s growing influence around the world, and the coming withdrawal of US and European troops from Afghanistan. The Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline will almost certainly come up in discussions. The US remains opposed to the pipeline in spite of Germany’s support for it. There is concern in Washington that the heavy German involvement in Nord Stream 2 can be used by Russia to drive a wedge into NATO in the event of a future crisis.
Between the G7 summit and Geneva, Biden will spend some time in Brussels at NATO headquarters. China and Russia will be discussed in deeper detail there, and the president is expected to press America’s NATO partners to contribute more to the common defense. This is hardly a new request and it is one that Biden’s predecessor addressed effectively. It will be interesting to see how NATO reacts to the new president and his somewhat recycled concepts and notions about NATO’s role in the future.