Putin has gone to tremendous lengths to deny Russians access to information about what’s really happening in Ukraine. Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s address to Congress is the last thing he wants them to hear.
Indeed, even the image of Zelenskyy still standing is an embarrassment for Putin. The war was supposed to be over by now. But nothing is going as Putin planned, and that, for him, is a huge problem.
But Ukraine faces desperate problems as well. Zelenskyy asked Washington to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine and to provide it with warplanes. But despite his heartfelt words and a moving video played as part of his presentation, Washington is unlikely to grant either request.
Indeed, there is little likelihood that the West will go much beyond what it is already doing in response to Putin’s aggression. NATO has deployed additional forces to deter Putin from thinking the alliance won’t defend the alliance. But it is also clear that the alliance has no desire to become an active belligerent in the current conflict.
Western aid has kept Ukraine in the fight by providing a lifeline of lethal and non-lethal aid, food and medical supplies. That aid will continue, and it is doubtful the Russian troops can cut it off. And while offering up fighter jets remains problematic for NATO leaders, don’t be surprised if supplies of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles and more sophisticated combat drones make their way to Ukraine. Since Zelenskyy pressed so publicly, it will be a lot harder for nations to say no.
Ukraine’s European neighbors are stepping up to care for the millions of refugees fleeing the country. On the other hand, international aid agencies appear completely unwilling to go to even those parts of Ukraine untouched by fighting to aid the internally displaced persons. This is crushing burden for the Ukrainians. Zelenskyy should have pushed more on this front.
What this all means, as Zelenskyy’s dramatic and inspiring speech emphasized, is that this war isn’t likely to get any easier. The big question is: What comes next?
For Putin, even the "best case" scenario is bad: He finds himself the conqueror of a prostrate country that will require most of his army to occupy. Even if Moscow had designs to move against some of its other neighbors, the regime will have to take a "strategic pause" to consolidate and reset.
One test for the West will be how it takes advantage of this interlude. The Russian military has been exposed as incompetent, adept only at killing innocents and destroying cities.
Yet as long as the Russian military remains under the control of its current leadership, it will remain a grave threat to European peace, prosperity and security.
If NATO doesn’t build up its defenses, reinvigorate its nuclear deterrence and race for energy independence, this time will be wasted.
Moreover, just because Putin’s palace guard may not be ready to march again soon, doesn’t mean Moscow will cease its bullying.
Putin will look for other ways to look powerful and threaten the West, to evade sanctions and rebuild his economy and to make himself a useful ally for China. Win, lose or draw, the West can’t drop its guard.
Free Ukraine can also expect an international effort, on the level of the post-World War II Marshall Plan, to rapidly rebuild its shattered infrastructure, reintegrate displaced persons, and build up its depleted defenses. Such a plan would undoubtedly advance Ukraine’s hopes to see its nation one day whole, free, and prosperous.
This piece originally appeared in Fox News