Not Charity

A Ukrainian battle flag signed by soldiers fighting in Bakhmut was hoisted by Nancy Pelosi and Kamala Harris on Capitol Hill Wednesday evening.

Volodymyr Zelensky gifted the flag to US lawmakers following a gripping 27-minute speech to a joint session of Congress. He received the flag directly from Ukrainian troops during a visit to the front lines less than 48 hours earlier.

Zelensky’s address drew frequent standing ovations from both sides of the aisle. Mitch McConnell called Zelensky “a leader everyone can look up to and admire.” McConnell is a staunch supporter of aid to Kyiv.

The face of the Ukrainian resistance arrived in Washington Wednesday donning his trademark olive green, with cargo pants and boots. He looked every bit like he walked off the battlefield, onto a plane and into the White House, probably because that’s essentially what he did. In Congress, he spoke in fluent English out of “respect to your country,” as he put it.

Zelensky conjured a number of historical parallels in his speech including allusions to the Battle of the Bulge and Saratoga, the former meant to cast Vladimir Putin as an aggressor akin to Hitler and the latter to suggest that with ongoing American aid, 2023 will mark a turning point in the war.

The alternative, he suggested, is the erosion democracy at the hands of a dictator and, likely, Russian military aggression against other European nations. “It would be naive to wait for steps towards peace from Russia,” Zelensky warned. “Russians are still poisoned by the Kremlin.”

“Your money is not charity,” he told US lawmakers. “It’s an investment.” He also emphasized repeatedly that Ukraine needs weapons and money, not soldiers. “Ukraine never asked American troops to fight on our land instead of us,” he said. “I assure you that Ukrainian soldiers can operate American tanks and planes themselves.” He also made clear to Republicans that he treats every US dollar “in the most responsible way.” “You can speed up our victory,” he urged.

There were, naturally, a number of emotional appeals to Christmas, but even there, Zelensky stuck to an aggressively defiant tone. “Millions won’t have heat or running water,” he said, on the way to delivering the following poignant message:

This will be the result of Russian missile and drone attacks on our energy infrastructure. But we do not complain. We do not judge and compare whose life is easier. Your well-being is a product of your national security, the result of your struggle for independence and your many victories. We, Ukrainians, will also go through our war of independence and freedom with dignity and success. We’ll celebrate Christmas. Even if there is no electricity, the light of our faith in ourselves will not be put out.

After presenting Pelosi and Harris with the flag from Bakhmut, Zelensky closed with a flourish: “May God protect our brave troops and citizens, may God forever bless the United States of America, Merry Christmas and a Happy victorious New Year.”

Zelensky’s trip to Washington was a success. He secured a Patriot battery and delivered a memorable speech which won all manner of plaudits, and will surely have a place in the history books in the event Ukraine ends up victorious. Winston Churchill comparisons seemed inevitable. Pelosi gifted Zelensky the American flag which flew over the Capitol during his visit.

Only the most incorrigible House Republicans were aloof during his address, and a few didn’t attend. I won’t mention their names, as that would do a disservice to Zelensky. Notably, Liz Cheney sat with Democrats during the speech.

As one reporter from The New York Times was keen to point out, it was “amazing to see Zelensky speaking to a US Congress that impeached a president over a conversation with him.”


18 thoughts on “Not Charity

  1. Supporting Ukraine is the necessary and right thing for the US to do, from a moral and geopolitical standpoint.

    From an economic and financial standpoint, it is a no-brainer. Russia’s military is being violently disassembled, at no cost in American lives and at a pretty modest financial cost, considering the weapons are being provided under Lend-lease so that, in the end, it will be Europe that pays most of the cost. US defense companies will benefit greatly, as will US energy and industrial companies. Europe, West and East, is being forced to step up its defense spending and tighten its trans-Atlantic ties. Even China is being prised away from its “no limits friendship” with an increasingly isolated Russia.

    1. That.

      At every level, this is a massive strategic victory for the US and a crippling defeat for Russia… If this was the 19th C, China and we would take advantage by invading Russia, taking back Kaliningrad and Karelia etc. And obviously China has its own border disputes with Russia and probably wouldn’t mind taking (back?) parts of Siberia…

      But while Russia has 19C fever dreams, we try and live in the 21st C and therefore Russia can feel safe inside its borders. How wonderful to have nukes…

  2. I would hope that those politicians who didn’t attend (unless they had an emergency) or didn’t show the proper respect for President Zelensky are not re-elected. I would say that I hope they are ashamed of themselves, but that would take a moral compass.

    1. When Russian troops first crossed in Ukraine a larger number of my right wing/MAGA high school classmates were on FB lambasting Sleepy Joe for not doing enough to support Ukraine. Posting links to Fox, Infowars and such.

      They gone quiet, outside of extolling Ronnie D on bring the crime rate down.

  3. Since this article is a political one not a financial one, I shall express my view that while i sympathize with the Ukrainian civilians (and Russian civilians for that matter), congress treating Zelensky like a saint is a bit cringe worthy to me. Afterall this is a president who has close ties to corruption (for ex. Kholomoisky) and shandy financial dealing (panama papers). Lets not treat this as good vs evil, but using Ukrainians as a inexpensive proxy to wage a war of ideologies (as opposed to direct confrontation). Therefore we should be proud that not all politicians blindly hop on the bandwagon but instead raise serious questions such as financial accountability. Because afterall, as Zelensky correctly stated, this is not a donation, its an investment.

    1. I’m sorry, but this is ridiculous. We’re dealing with two presidents here. One is Vladimir Putin. Virtually anybody is a saint by comparison. The facts are the facts: The Kremlin launched a war of aggression. Putin’s military turned out to be a paper tiger. Zelensky has proven to be an astoundingly capable war-time president under the most onerous conditions imaginable. How would you hold up if you were in his position? Not as well as he has, I’d imagine. I’m not going to condone any sort of slander aimed at Ukraine or its president. Neither, I’d note, does Google right now, which means I’m even less inclined to condone it than I would be otherwise. So, please keep such opinions and “views” to yourself. I don’t like removing reader comments, and I’d rather not have to, but anything that even looks like support for the Kremlin’s position will be removed. There aren’t “good people on both sides” here, and no, Iraq non sequiturs and various Whataboutism aren’t relevant.

    2. I’m gonna go ahead and venture a guess that other than this site the majority of your “news” comes from propaganda. Going forward I would suggest researching fact driven information sources before you go posting things like this at a time like this. It’s cringeworthy to read.

      To put your both-sidesism into perspective, do you sympathize with Nazi civilians who lived in towns directly next to concentration camps where millions of jewish people were being systematically murdered? Providing sympathy for the Russian people who have abided their autocratic leader who has been murdering other civilian populations around them to satisfy his own ego for decades is similar.

  4. Whoever writes Zelensky’s communications is very good at their job. If Ukraine gets through this war, that “Without you” telegram post from back in September deserves to get mythologized.

  5. McConnell and Congress are staunch supporters of aid to connected corporate donors. Whatever assistance this gives to Ukraine is merely incidental.

  6. Russia has been building a conventional military “force on force” machine for years now. The United States has gone another direction and it may be that the US is not as prepared for this type of war as one would imagine. We shot a large amount of economic weapons at them and they are still standing. We have given a lot of arms to defeat them and they are still there (with something along the lines of 500-600K men ready to move). I understand that their conventional artillery can out shoot ours by 4 miles and that our strategy for winning a land war with them involves us loosing around 150K of men before the battle turns in our favor. That is a lot of men. Words are easy. War is not (economic or physical). We are risking real hot war here. We are pushing the envelope. At some point this will get real if we continue our present course. Are we really ready to do this? Again, words are one thing; dead young men (it never has been and never will be the old men in Washington) are another. All of our wars for my lifetime have been something we can walk away from relatively unscathed. We are on the edge of something very different here. What is our game plan to get out of this? Are we living in a reality? I’ll stop….

    1. They’re not “still standing,” Robert. They’ve lost so many men in the course of 10 months that you’d almost have to believe they’re trying to lose the war. Their performance is a disaster. It’ll be remembered in history books as one of the most embarrassing debacles in modern military history. Their economy was smaller than three US states before the war. If California were a country, it’d be twice as large as Russia economically. With sincere apologies, Robert, and while acknowledging that people come here to learn, you’ve suggested on several occasions in your comments this year that your understanding of global finance is limited, at best. For example, at one point, you asked “What if their gold is stronger than our dollar?” That was a nonsense question, not in the sense that you were “wrong,” but rather in a literal sense of the word “nonsense” — as in, your question made no sense. Gold is outside money. G7 claims are inside money. Humans have attempted, on innumerable occasions over thousands of years, to run global trade and commerce on a precious metals-, outside money-based system. It never works because it’s inflexible by definition, and contrary to what you might’ve read on someone’s gold blog somewhere, such systems are prone to extraordinary volatility, wild bouts of deflation (and inflation when new discoveries are made) and severely constrain the system’s capacity to extend credit, which is the basis for all modern economies. You once described Russia’s G7 claims as something that “belonged to them.” Again, that reflects a misunderstanding on your part of what G7 claims actually are. In your defense, you’re hardly alone in misunderstanding that. To the extent Russia held its reserves in G7 claims while actively antagonizing G7 countries (which is what the Kremlin did), that reflects an almost unfathomable degree of ignorance (and arrogance) on the part of Vladimir Putin. Finally, your assessment of NATO’s capacity to win a conventional war against Putin’s Russia seems to be divorced from the reality of what we’ve all witnessed since February 27. Putin failed to seize Kyiv, for God’s sake. Compare that failure to how quickly the US overran Saddam Hussein’s military. In an alternate universe, where the US had cause to invade Ukraine using Belarus as a staging ground, the US military would probably control Kyiv within a few hours. You do understand that, right? Putin can’t even win a conventional war against Ukraine. And you’re suggesting he can win one against NATO or that the same army which is now relying on the forced conscription of convicts could hold up against the full-on force of the US military backed by the unlimited USD-spending capacity of the US Treasury Department? Robert, all of that is borderline bizarre. How would Russia pay for such a conflict? They can’t import anything anymore. They don’t have access to USD- or EUR- funding markets. They can pay rubles to domestic industries, sure, but they need foreign chips and other technology to make weapons. Where are they going to get those? And how are they going to pay for them? Rubles won’t work and no one, anywhere, is going to trust a custody claim on gold reserves held in Moscow. Do note: It isn’t likely that Putin believes he could win a war against NATO.

  7. The thing that bothers me the most about this immoral war on the Ukrainian land and its people is that has no hint of any legitimate purpose. It is a war of vengeance which more resembles a fit of pique than an actual military operation. This whole thing is a live embodiment of the common meme of the wolf chasing a rabbit. The wolf is running for his supper while the rabbit is running for his life. What really pains me is that Putin has stated that his end goal is to destroy Ukraine completely. He wants it to be uninhabitable, with no culture, a ravaged infrastructure and no capacity to feed the survivors. Putin says he wants Russia to be respected as a true member of the European community. No chance of that any more. Even his own soldiers don’t want to fight to wreck a country once tied to the motherland. They must lose and we owe it to the Ukrainian people to make sure they win and soon, before there is nothing left to save. This whole debacle puts Russia in the same class as No. Korea (and China, for that matter).

  8. H man, thanks for the follow-up. After reading articles about the initial stages of the invasion where Russian tanks were stuck in mud, soldiers were not even told they were going to war, just drive tanks straight. They were not trained to use the issued 1960’s machine guns and they used their cell phones to call home, so the Ukrainians could easily identify where they were, so they could lob missiles in their direction. It is clear to me that this is battle is what you have said many times, Putin’s folly. He ordered his generals to send troops that were not trained or supplied properly, with no plan. It is no surprise that Russia hasn’t been successful on any level. In fact, I’d say the only reason why Russia has not been pushed back to their original borders yet, is the Biden administration has told the Ukraine not to fire missiles into Russia. If the Ukraine was allowed to fight without this hand behind their back, I believe Russia would be back to their original borders. Finally, it is unacceptable that we allow Russia to take out their power infrastructure as the winter approaches. My hope is that this initial Patriot missile system is just the first of many. My sincere hope is after the mud dries next spring that the Ukraine takes Russia back to their borders.

    1. I mean, look, obviously my expertise in life isn’t military strategy. My only point in the comment above (as it relates to the invasion itself) is that in a conventional setting, an ostensible superpower shouldn’t have much difficulty in the first few days and/or weeks. Later — i.e., when it devolves into a war of attrition, asymmetric warfare, guerrilla warfare and so on, all bets are obviously off. But I have a very difficult time accepting the notion that Russia’s initial failures (so, in the first, let’s call it five days) were anything other than gross ineptitude. That, and the fact that Putin’s reluctant conscripts would, at first anyway, be fighting the US Marines, seems to cast considerable doubt on the idea that the Russian military could hold up in a hot war against an adversary with — you know — an air force and, as noted, unlimited USD funding. I’m not trying to be Mr. Super Patriot over here, I just genuinely don’t believe the Russian military is worth much these days. If it was (and this is the critical point), there’d be a puppet regime in Kyiv right now.

  9. Walt, Your points on gold as money and G7 matters are well put and I appreciate your comments. Thank you for the perspective. I stand corrected. Regarding Russian military and your and my observations on it, who knows? The next few months will tell the story. What appears to be true (particularly in geopolitical matters) usually is not. You remember for a while many thought that inflation was not a problem. Then it was. I suspect Russia will now go ahead and take all of southern Ukraine this winter. My worry is that we will wake up one morning and it will be announced to us that our young men are in direct war with a mortal enemy such as we have not seen since WW2. I think our leadership is determined to bring regime change in Russia. I think that is what this is all about, and that is more difficult than Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Vietnam, and any host of smaller operations successful or failed. We can debate Russia’s capacity till the cows come home, but my cost benefit analysis tells me that it is not worth the cost just as Iraq, and Afghanistan were not worth the cost. Our history of late does not pass a cost benefit analysis test. On the economic front, is there such a thing as unlimited USD funding? Seems to me that everyone has their limits, even the United States.

    1. Robert, I’m sorry (really, I am) but you don’t know what you’re talking about. Again: If Russian military prowess were what you’re suggesting, there’d be a puppet regime in Kyiv right now. You do realize that was the initial objective, right? To seize Kyiv. Within a few days. And install a puppet regime. It didn’t work. In part because the Ukrainian resistance was stiffer than expected, but mostly because of tactical and logistical incompetence. How in God’s name do you invade Ukraine as a superpower from Belarus and fail to take the capital?! Look at a map, Robert. That’s a feat of monumental incompetence. A 10-year-old playing Risk could do better than that.

      You ask “Regarding Russian military and your and my observations on it, who knows?” A lot of people know, Robert. You don’t seem to be reading very much, and based on your comments both about the war and about gold, it seems that what little you might’ve read, may’ve emanated from propaganda outlets.

      And of course everyone wants regime change in Russia. But not via an invasion or a bombing campaign deep into Russia, which you seem to be tacitly alluding to at times. When you talk about a “cost-benefit analysis” based on Iraq and Afghanistan, you’re not just comparing apples to oranges, you’re comparing apples to impossibilities.

      No US president, and no US Congress, is ever going to authorize a ground invasion of Russia absent a deliberate Russian military strike on the US mainland (which is never going to happen) or a Russian invasion of, say, the UK, France or Germany (which is never going to happen either).

      What I’m telling you is that you’re thinking (and talking) nonsense. It’s never going to play out like you seem to think it might. The worst case scenario (barring, of course, a Russian nuclear escalation) is that Russia somehow manages to conquer Ukraine then decides to invade, say, Poland, leading NATO to push the Russians back across the border into Ukraine. Alternatively, there’s a scenario where Russia deploys a tactical nuclear weapon or a chemical weapon, and NATO is forced to eliminate the Black Sea Fleet and/or annihilate (by air) Russian positions along the front lines in Ukraine, and possibly send special forces to assist the Ukrainians in liberating the Donbas from the separatist militias.

      But crucially, there’s not going to be a US invasion of Russia à la Iraq, as you suggested. It’s a logistical impossibility. NATO would sooner nuke Moscow or try to figure out how to remove Putin in some other way. So, no, you’re not going to “wake up one morning” to news that Biden, Congress and The Pentagon have decided to embark on a land invasion of Russia. I mean (again, with apologies) what you’re saying is ludicrous.

      Finally, to your question about “Is there such a thing as unlimited USD funding?” the answer is “Yes,” because we’re the sole legal issuer of USDs. We don’t “borrow” USDs from China. We let China buy interest-bearing USDs from us. And the Treasury doesn’t “need” your tax dollars. The Treasury created dollars, put them into the economy, and now uses them to effectuate various societal outcomes.

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