Andrew Roberts is the contemporary authority on Winston Churchill. He gave an interview yesterday to Michael Crick for the Mail Online about the similarities between the Greatest Briton and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, his contemporary disciple.
Here are a few lines from this insightful article:
“Not only has Zelenskyy stayed in Kyiv, as Churchill did in wartime London, but he is seen on the streets, rallying his people with speeches, and recognizes all the perils and risks.
‘It’s straight out of the Churchill playbook,’ Roberts tells Mail+. And Zelenskyy is showing extraordinary bravery when a team of Russian assassins dressed in Ukrainian army uniforms is said to be out to kill him. That’s not a hazard Churchill faced.”
I have known Andrew Roberts since a delightful dinner at the Polish Hearth Club in London, in the winter of 2015, during which he gave an impressive conference about his book Napoleon the Great. We have stayed in touch ever since and I consider him one of my favorite authors.
I therefore asked him if he had any further observations about the relationship between the two statesmen in an historical context. And he generously offered me these comments, for which I am extremely grateful:
“President Zelensky saw what the Afghan president did when the Taliban advanced on Kabul, and decided he would not be the same kind of leader. Instead, he summoned up his inner Churchill and decided to stay in his capital city and fight it out, telling President Biden that he needed ammunition, not a ride.
On one of the next few days or weeks he might die there. If Zelensky dies defending Kyiv, it will be the first time a leader has died fighting to defend his capital since General George Gordon in Khartoum in 1885. If that happens, he will become a martyr, hero and secular saint to Ukrainians for 500 years. He could be even more of a threat to Putin in death than he presently is in life.
Zelensky is living in the white heat of history and is proving that he is capable of living up to what Churchill called ‘the level of events.’ His career has spanned those twin extremes of Greek theatre – comedy and tragedy – and it must seem to an astonished, admiring world that there is soon to be a great deal more of the latter unleashed on his poor country.
Winston Churchill said of Finland in January 1940: ‘Finland-superb, nay, sublime. In the jaws of peril, Finland shows what free men can do. The service rendered by Finland to mankind is magnificent.’ Today he would apply those same words to Ukraine.”
No matter what happens from now on, Volodymyr Zelensky is one of those transformational leaders about which countless books and articles will be written for years and decades to come.
The aggression war launched against Ukraine made it happen and he showed his mettle to the world. Ironically, we have the Kremlin warmonger to thank for that.
Andrew Roberts last book, George III: The Life and Reign of Britain’s Most Misunderstood Monarch is available from Penguin Random House of Canada. One of his previous books, Leadership in War: Essential Lessons from Those Who Made History is now available in paperback and is an essential read in the current context.