A striking parallel between Zelensky and de Gaulle

I initially wanted to review Taking Paris: The Epic Battle for the City of Lights by Martin Dugard last February, but then Vladimir Putin launched his troops against Ukraine and I had to shuffle my publications calendar. As you will see, there are fascinating parallels between the fate of France in World War II and the current situation in Ukraine, if only at the leadership level.

After the invasion of France by the Germans in May 1940, the country is in disarray and its statesmen have given up. In the ashes of defeat, a temporary brigadier general will rise to the occasion. Fleeing his homeland on board an airplane provided by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle left with a “[…] hastily packed suitcase contain[ing] four shirts, one pair of pants, and a single photograph of Yvonne and the children, whose current whereabouts he does not know.” I couldn’t help but think of the same predicament in which Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky found himself on February 24th. As did de Gaulle, he chose to fight, but from home.

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Putin thought he could get away with the invasion of Ukraine

Giles Milton (source: Macmillan)

Giles Milton is one of my favorite authors. And it’s always a real pleasure to be in touch with him. Even before I wrote my review of his last book, he agreed to answer some questions for this blog. If you haven’t read his book yet, run to the bookstore or get it online. This is a must, in the context of the aggression war conducted against Ukraine. For the time being, I trust you will enjoy this interview.

Mr. Milton, Checkmate in Berlin is a brilliant lecture about American and British innovation in adversity, mainly in organizing the Berlin airlift. Do you see the same attitude these days towards Ukraine?

Nothing on the scale of the Berlin Airlift had ever been attempted before. True, the Americans had airlifted vast quantities of weapons to the Chinese during the Second World War, but the Berlin Airlift was supporting (and keeping alive) several million Berliners.

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Turkish Drones Over Ukraine

Seth J. Frantzman (source ANF News)

Seth J. Frantzman is a senior correspondent and analyst at The Jerusalem Post, one of the world’s leading newspapers. He’s also a defence expert on anything related to drones in warfare. He recently published an insightful book on the subject, Drones Wars. Since the beginning of the invasion of Ukraine by Russians forces on 24 February, drones have played a role on the frontline as videos have circulated about their performance or the devastation and atrocities they permit to observe first-hand. Despite a grueling schedule, Mr. Frantzman, whose book I will review here soon, has kindly accepted to answer a few questions for me. I am sincerely grateful for that.

Here is the content of our exchange.

It does not seem the drones are playing a major role, but if they can show that Ukraine can still operate in their airspace, even when contested by Russian air defense and Russian warplanes, it will be an important accomplishment for armed drones.

Mr. Frantzman, I have watched with amazement the images of the Turkish-made drone attacking the Russian military in Ukraine. What place are the drones occupying in this conflict? 

There is a lot we don’t know about how Ukraine is using the Bayraktar drones it has acquired from Turkey. Basic information about how many are still flying and where they are operating appears to be lacking from most reports. Nevertheless, there have been several videos claiming to show the UAVs targeting the Russian military. It does not seem the drones are playing a major role, but if they can show that Ukraine can still operate in their airspace, even when contested by Russian air defense and Russian warplanes, it will be an important accomplishment for armed drones. 

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Zelensky shows us what’s worth defending

Author and historian Roger Moorhouse (source: Culture.pl)

Acclaimed author and historian Roger Moorhouse, whose Poland 1939 I had the pleasure of reviewing on this blog last weekend, accepted to answer my questions about Polish military history, the war of aggression against Ukraine and the leadership of President Volodymyr Zelensky. Below is the content of our exchange.

Mr. Moorhouse, thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions, despite your busy schedule. While reading Poland 1939, I kept wondering if and what Western countries did to help the government of Warsaw in the crucial weeks and months leading to World War 2. Could you tell us more about that?

Not enough, is the short answer. There were military alliances signed with both the British and the French – the French one in May 1939, and commitments were made – specific in the French case, more vague in the British – to assist in the event of an invasion. The French committed to send “the bulk” of their forces across the Rhine on Day 15 of mobilization, and the British talked vaguely about sending RAF squadrons to Poland. Little of it, of course, came to pass once Germany actually invaded. The French made a half-hearted advance across the Rhine, and the RAF dropped leaflets over Germany politely asking that the Germans cease and desist. They then shifted the narrative from one of defending Poland to one of promising to restore an independent Poland at some time in the future. It was driven by circumstances, of course, but it was also morally rather cowardly.

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Zelensky is living up to what Churchill called “the level of events”

Source: Michael de Adder (@deAdder) / Twitter

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.”

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« Nous avons été trop mous avec Poutine »

Le président ukrainien Volodymyr Zelensky (source: New York Post)

Les événements tragiques qui se déroulent en Ukraine depuis jeudi dernier me ramènent à la lecture du livre La honte de l’Occident, à l’intérieur duquel le journaliste Antoine Mariotti relate les tribulations diplomatico-militaires par lesquelles l’Occident a littéralement laissé le champ libre à Vladimir Poutine en Syrie. C’était il y a moins de 10 ans. Je ne peux m’empêcher d’identifier dans cet ouvrage la matrice du mode opératoire du Kremlin lorsqu’il décide que le temps est venu de faire déferler sa force militaire sur un sol étranger.

Je me suis donc entretenu avec M. Mariotti et j’ai recueilli ses observations relativement à la situation actuelle dans ce pays où Moscou veut imposer par les armes un second Holodomor (terme désignant la grande famine causée en Ukraine en 1932-1933 par Staline).

Voici le contenu de notre échange.

M. Mariotti, avez-vous été étonné de l’invasion de l’Ukraine par la Russie?

Pour être honnête, oui parce que j’avais « parié » qu’il n’irait pas. Je pensais que Poutine pousserait le bouchon aussi loin que possible pour mettre une pression diplomatique, politique et même militaire… mais je ne pensais pas qu’il s’engagerait dans une offensive si massive en Ukraine, pas en dehors du Donbass. Ce n’est toutefois pas une surprise et ce n’était pas impensable, comme ont pu le titrer certains médias, parce que cela fait des mois que l’on sait que le risque existe et plusieurs semaines que les États-Unis avertissaient qu’il allait envahir. Mais je pensais qu’avec cette pression, il ne lancerait pas une telle offensive.

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Vladimir Putin, campaign manager

A few years ago, I was captivated by Peter Schweizer’s book Reagan’s War: The Epic Story of His Forty-Year Struggle and Final Triumph Over Communism. That fascinating book detailed how the 40th President of the United States used the economic weaknesses of the USSR to bring it on its knees, notably with the help of the Saudis regarding the oil price and the military build-up with which Moscow could not compete with Washington.

Turns out that, while the USSR crumbled, a young KGB lieutenant colonel named Vladimir Putin took good note.  In a recent interview with a former Soviet official, my interlocutor spoke to me about the Russian President’s love of judo – his favorite sport – and the transposition of its techniques in politics. The master of the Kremlin’s dealings in world affairs is a good illustration of his abilities to take advantage of his opponents’ weight to knock them down.

Nowhere is this ability more evident than in the pages of British journalist Luke Harding’s book Shadow State: Murder, Mayhem, and Russia’s Remaking of the West (Harper). In a real page-turner, the author details how the Russian government and its entities are influencing the West’s political life. For example, using Novichok as a calling card in attempting to neutralize Sergei Skripal, a former Russian intelligence officer who betrayed the GRU (The Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation). Or shabby dealings using banks allegedly to bail out influential people – allegedly like former US President Donald Trump. Moscow is determined to go to any lengths “[…] to return to a nineteenth-century model of great-power politics and to disrupt the ideals-based international order established after the Second World War […].”

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