Why did Zelenskyy end up in Washington specifically at the end of 2022?
President Zelenskyy's visit to the US a priori landed a bullseye. As his first foreign visit since the beginning of the large-scale aggression, and especially to DC, it was sure to become symbolic in itself, because it provoked global interest in the situation in Ukraine with a new maneuver — the international trip of the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Whenever this visit happened, the atmosphere around him would be triumphant.
Still, why did Zelenskyy end up in Washington specifically at the end of 2022?
First, recording the milestone of the first 300 days of the confrontation with Russia. The world and allies needed to be reminded that Ukraine has persevered and the international anti-Putin coalition has strengthened. That none of Putin's plans have worked. That the prospect of Ukraine's defeat has been replaced by the prospect of Russia's defeat. This has been helped by encouraging news from the Ukrainian fronts — the successful liberation of Kherson, the de-occupation of most of Kharkiv Oblast, the fortitude of Ukrainian soldiers on the eastern front, and Russia's final loss of any strategic initiative.
Secondly, the results of the midterm elections to the Congress were quite positive for Biden, where, contrary to pessimistic forecasts, the Democrats managed to maintain a decisive influence in the Congress. Zelenskyy's visit was no less necessary for Biden to strengthen his position as a successful leader of the democratic world before the new election cycle in the U.S., which starts in early 2023.
Thirdly, over the past few months, thanks to intensive Washington-Kyiv diplomacy involving government officials, parliamentarians, and representatives of civil society, a strong and favorable foundation for negotiations and making important decisions has been created.
Of course, sensitive issues were also discussed during the meetings, from the search for an "exit strategy" to the exchange of secret information about the plans of the Ukrainian military and the Russian aggressor. It can be assumed that the parties considered the situation at the front and through the prism of the global system of international relations, including the role of China and Iran.
Despite the recognized importance and high emotional gravity of the visit to Washington in terms of form, it still fell short of historical content. We can reach this conclusion from five quite specific indicators. Let’s go through each one.
First, Ukraine's membership in NATO and what security guarantees Ukraine will receive. This issue has been hanging in the air publicly, even if it should have been discussed behind the scenes. It is worth noting that the Bankova's favorite topic of concluding a Kyiv Security Treaty and declarations of support for Ukraine's membership in NATO (such as the document signed with Belgium at the end of November) were also ignored.
Second, the prospect of providing military aircraft such as the F16 and starting a training program for Ukrainian pilots. This issue is not the planes themselves, but how far Ukraine’s allies are ready to go in their support. F16s would become a symbol not so much of a "support Ukraine as much as necessary” strategy, but of an evolution towards a "support Ukraine with everything necessary for victory" strategy.
Third, the prospects of providing American artillery and medium- and long-range missiles to destroy Russian ammunition and ammunition depots in the far rear. We note now that our allies are continuing to try to keep the potential of the Ukrainian offensive within the limits of a shot deep into the territory of occupied Ukraine. Not yet to Russia.
Key takeaways from Biden-Zelenskyy meeting
Fourth, about the mechanisms for accelerated reconstruction and strengthening of democratic stability of Ukraine through the implementation of important reforms.
Fifth, the prospects of creating a special tribunal to prosecute Putin and his henchmen and recognize Russia as a sponsor of terrorism. We would like to believe that the formula "we will bring President Putin and all those involved to justice in accordance with international law" recorded as a result of the Summit of the Group of Seven countries on December 12 was substantively discussed behind closed doors in the White House. This is fundamental and should be public.
According to the existing unwritten rules, before a speech by the leader of a foreign state at a joint session of Congress, the text is given in advance to the American side, which expresses its wishes and proposals, or the American side conveys considerations about the desired accents in the speech. This was also the case in 2014, when then President Petro Poroshenko arrived at Congress. The speech was supported with one exception: Poroshenko was asked to remove a sentence in which he called on Obama to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons to repel the aggressor, and noted that he cannot defend the country from the second army of the world with only sheets. At that time, Poroshenko decided not to remove this phrase and read it. Perhaps this time the Ukrainian side was kindly asked not to mention the above-mentioned sensitive issues in the speech, and Kyiv agreed? The question is rhetorical.
Zelenskyy's visit to Washington opened a new chapter in the global confrontation with Putin's regime. From now on, the Ukrainian president must find the right time and make effective visits to other important allies and partners of Ukraine, including the Vilnius-NATO summit, because 2023 must be the year of our joint victory over the Russian aggressor and its allies, and the victory of the democratic world over aggressive dictatorships.