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There is a slow 9/11 developing here in Ukraine, a threat which, if mismanaged, could produce death and destruction equal to or greater than what the United States has endured, and the world has been horrified. and unbelieving twenty years ago.
So concluded many participants in a gathering of former heads of state, current political leaders, historians and journalists at a conference here in Kiev hosted by Victor Pinchuk and the Yalta European Strategy (YES) group that ‘he founded 17 years ago.
References to 9/11 were often heard at the two-day rally – one of the first such summits since Europe slowly emerged from the extended pandemic-induced lockdown that banned overseas travel to all except vaccinees and concerns about the emergence of new, palpable viral variants.
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The tone of apprehension over the country’s future was set at the start of the two-day meeting by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who warned he could not rule out the possibility of full-scale war with Russia, even as he tries to negotiate a peace deal with the Kremlin to end the fighting in two eastern regions and the occupation of part of his country. Asked about the likelihood of a full-scale war with Russia, Zelensky said that while it would be “the worst thing” that could happen to a nation that has suffered more than its share of disasters, he couldn’t exclude. “There is such a possibility,” he said, adding that such a move by Russia would be “Moscow’s biggest mistake.”
Ukrainians have been on edge for months since the Kremlin rounded up more than 100,000 troops at its border in the occupied Crimean territory, which Russian-backed forces invaded in 2014. So far, more than 13,200 Ukrainians have died and some two million people have been displaced. in low intensity warfare.
Growing concern over his US ally’s lack of “strategic patience” and growing isolationism were also among the main themes of the rallies. The chaotic departure of the United States from Afghanistan – its betrayal of the Afghan government in negotiations with the extremist Taliban, its inability to consult its allies on the decision to leave by 9/11, its reluctance to take sufficient time and effort to extract not only the Americans but also the thousands of Afghans who had worked with American troops and officials, and the military abandonment of weapons that have now made the Taliban the best armed insurgents of the world – were the formal and informal discussions of the informal summit.
Ukrainian morale was boosted somewhat by President Zelensky’s first meeting with President Joe Biden in Washington on September 1, an official visit with a US president he had sought since his election in 2019. Washington has agreed to grant to Ukraine a $ 60 million increase in military aid. , bringing total US aid for this year to over $ 400 million.
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While Alexander Vershbow, a former US ambassador to Russia who attends the meeting, called the military aid a “good package”, he said he believed the crisis between Russia and Ukraine and the danger of ‘full-scale invasion deserved “greater engagement from the United States.”
Although Washington was the largest foreign provider of military aid to Kiev, the Ukrainian government sought to deter Russia and integrate more firmly with the West by joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. While Washington and EU members have expressed support for Ukraine’s membership, they have set terms that make such membership extremely unlikely anytime soon.
Several Ukrainian officials and conference attendees expressed fears that the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan would embolden Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former KGB official extremely sensitive to what he sees as a weakness in his ranks. rivals and enemies. “Putin will see the American withdrawal as a success,” Dmytro Kuleba, Ukrainian foreign minister, told me. “Afghanistan is not Ukraine,” he added. “But think about what we would have done with the military help and support that Washington has given to Kabul.”
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Some of President Zelensky’s remarks also echoed a sense of abandonment and a widely held conclusion that Ukraine was not sufficiently supported by America and the West. The failure of the world and the West to unite in the face of the deadliest pandemic of modern times, he said, has led him to conclude that in a battle against a virus or separatists backed by Russia, his country would be alone. In such crises, he said, “it’s every man for himself”.
Closing the conference, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair also expressed concern about the future of Afghanistan under the militant Taliban, who had the determination and stamina America lacked. Although one of America’s strongest supporters, Blair also criticized what he called the West’s failure to learn what he called a main lesson from 9/11. “Know your enemy,” he said, whether they are Islamist militants or Russians.