Yesterday, Volodymyr Zelensky delivered thinly veiled broadsides at Joe Biden’s leadership in the Ukrainian leader’s appeal for more help from the US. In today’s speech to the German Bundestag, Zelensky abandoned even thin veils as he invoked both Ronald Reagan and the Holocaust in a speech that rebuked Germany for inaction when it counted. While grateful for Germany’s turnaround under Olaf Scholz, Zelensky told legislators that it came “too late” for Ukraine:
In a speech steeped in history, Mr Zelensky invoked former US President Ronald Reagan’s famous 1978 Berlin speech, urging Mr Scholz to “tear down the wall” Russia was attempting to erect in Europe.
“It’s not a Berlin Wall — it is a Wall in central Europe between freedom and bondage and this Wall is growing bigger with every bomb dropped on Ukraine,” Mr Zelensky told MPs after being welcomed with a standing ovation. …
“We turned to you,” he said. “We told you that Nord Stream (gas pipelines) was a kind of preparation for the war.”
“And the answer we got was purely economic — it is economy, economy, economy but that was the mortar for the new Wall.”
That was only the appetizer for Zelensky. The Ukrainian president, who lost family members in the Holocaust himself, shamed Germany for turning its back on another genocide as it unfolds in Ukraine:
“Every year politicians repeat ‘never again,’” the Ukrainian leader said, referring to annual Holocaust commemorations.
“And now, we see that these words simply mean nothing. A people is being destroyed in Europe,” he said, noting that 108 children had been killed in his country since the start of the Russian offensive.
As the Times of Israel notes, that has particular resonance not just because of Germany’s 20th-century guilt over the Holocaust but also because Vladimir Putin specifically listed it as a pretext for a war of conquest. Putin accused Zelensky and his government of being “neo-Nazis” despite Zelensky being a Jew. Why didn’t Germany recognize that as an obvious signal of war? And why hasn’t Germany been more vocal about which side is conducting an actual genocide?
Ukrainian officials have made repeated comparisons between Russia’s attacks on civilian centers and the Holocaust. Russian President Vladimir Putin has likewise evoked Nazism, claiming his military operation is to “denazify” areas of Ukraine where he said there is a “genocide” against pro-Moscow residents. Western allies have rejected Putin’s claims as a baseless excuse to carry out the invasion.
Washington Post analyst Aaron Blake pointed out Zelensky’s barely concealed criticism of Biden’s leadership yesterday. Today, Blake writes that Zelensky made that look like a wet kiss in comparison:
It was a striking scene: The president of Ukraine, given a platform to address the U.S. Congress, using that platform to challenge the fortitude and will of an American president in helping Ukraine repel Russia’s invasion.
But it was nothing compared to Volodymyr Zelensky’s later speech to Germany’s parliament. And the address both reinforced that Zelensky’s strategy of directly challenging Western leaders is hardly just about the United States, and appears to be growing more blunt. …
On Ukraine’s desire to join NATO and the European Union, Zelensky suggested that Germany and others had slow-rolled Ukraine, with dire consequences.
“We asked you, what should Ukraine do to become a member of NATO and get the security guarantee?” Zelensky said. “And we got the answer: There is no such decision on the table.”
“Now you’re dragging your feet on Ukraine’s admission to the E.U. Frankly … that is a stone in the new wall,” Zelensky said.
Zelensky wants to lay the responsibility for this attack at the feet of both Putin and the West that kept refusing to recognize his danger, Blake concludes:
The diplomatic strategy here is evident. Zelensky wants the West to feel more of a sense of responsibility and accountability than it currently feels for what’s happening in his country, even as he knows he’s asking for things the West has been united in resisting, like a no-fly zone. He invokes things like Nord Stream 2 and NATO to reinforce that its decisions today — and the areas in which it declines to act — will be judged accordingly in the future.
Is this a “diplomatic” strategy? Not in the traditional sense. This has moved beyond diplomacy, and that is the point that Zelensky has been making. A genocide requires action, not diplomatic negotiations, a point that China’s Uighurs might want to underscore as well. An invasion requires action, not cheap talk and meaningless expressions of sympathy. While Zelensky’s understandable requests for a no-fly zone are non-starters for very good reasons, the grudging and incremental response to the rest of Ukraine’s needs has hardly showered the West in glory.
Deutsche Welle recognizes the rhetorical beating Zelensky delivered, and provides the whole speech with English translations. It’s not clear whether the Bundestag has a similar tradition of effusive applause during speeches, but it’s very clear that there isn’t much of it after the beginning of this speech until Zelensky’s final Slava Ukraini.