“Justin Trudeau inspired me to enter politics” – Volodymyr Zelensky

I’m not the type who runs after books of quotations in bookstores. But I have two exceptions to that rule: Winston Churchill and Volodymyr Zelensky. Because both men decided to face the adverse winds of history at a most crucial time.

Bestselling author Liza Rodak, assisted by translator Daisy Gibbons, opens a window into the Ukrainian President’s worldview in a new book Volodymyr Zelensky in His Own Words (Pegasus Books). “You’ve never seen someone like me”, declared the statesman in April 2019. Coupled with his staunch determination to hold his ground in front of Russian President Vladimir Putin, this might be one of the reasons why he is so popular. “I don’t trust anyone at all” he said a few months later. Who could blame him, when you imagine allies hedging their bets at the beginning of the war to see if he stood a chance or not.

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“Le vrai héros, c’est le peuple ukrainien”

Soldats ukrainiens en action (source: Harvard Law School)

Régis Genté est spécialiste des cercles du pouvoir en Russie et en Ukraine et il est le coauteur d’une éclairante biographie du président Volodymyr Zelensky que je viens d’ailleurs de recenser. J’apprécie particulièrement son analyse, en raison du recul qu’il prend face au caractère souvent superficiel de l’actualité. Son propos repose sur une lecture renseignée de la situation. Il a aimablement accepté de répondre à mes questions pour cette entrevue dont l’objectif est largement de souligner le 31e anniversaire de l’indépendance de l’Ukraine. Voici donc le contenu de notre échange.

M. Genté, dans votre livre Zelensky : Dans la tête d’un héros, vous brossez le portrait étonnant d’un personnage impulsif, agressif et qui maîtrisait mal ses dossiers à certains moments, notamment devant les médias. Serait-il une bête de communications sans contenu ? Quel a été l’impact de la guerre dans son caractère?

Il y a un peu de cela à la base. Zelensky fait partie de cette génération d’hommes politiques pour qui la communication et l’image jouent un rôle clé. Qui croient qu’avec de la communication, de la production de messages, on peut diriger un pays. Il semble avoir été très longtemps, littéralement jusqu’à la veille de la guerre, déconnecté des réalités, de la réalité des forces qui font ce que la politique est ce qu’elle est en Ukraine.

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Zelensky, chef de guerre malgré lui

Avant le 24 février 2022, rares étaient celles et ceux – hormis les férus d’actualité ou les familiers de son pays – à connaître ou savoir prononcer le nom du président ukrainien Volodymyr Zelensky. Depuis ce jour fatidique, son nom a tellement été lu et entendu qu’il est devenu incontournable dans l’actualité.

Mais qui est donc cet homme qui préside aujourd’hui même le 31e anniversaire de l’indépendance de l’Ukraine et qui tient obstinément tête à Vladimir Poutine, qui sermonne les capitales occidentales quant à la tiédeur de certaines réactions et qui aura inspiré une foule de gens par un courage peu commun face à l’adversité? Napoléon aurait exprimé que « nul n’est grand devant son valet de chambre ». Le même constat s’applique vraisemblablement pour quiconque revêt les habits de biographe d’un illustre personnage.

J’étais donc impatient de parcourir Zelensky : Dans la tête d’un héros (Robert Laffont) sous la plume de Régis Genté et Stéphane Siohan – le premier étant un spécialiste de l’ancien espace soviétique et le second observant le président ukrainien depuis ses débuts dans la vie publique. Et je dois avouer que je n’ai pas été déçu. Ils brossent le portrait d’un comédien jadis russophile doublé d’une bête de communication. À la lecture de l’ouvrage, on comprend rapidement que pratiquement rien ne promettait Zelensky à un destin aux commandes de l’Ukraine à partir de 2019. Il n’avait rien d’un animal politique.

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De la solidité du système Poutine

Igor Setchine et le président russe Vladimir Poutine (source: The Moscow Times)

Il y a deux semaines, un article paru dans The Telegraph rapportait les propos du chef d’état-major de la Défense de la Grande-Bretagne, Sir Tony Radakin, selon lequel ceux et celles qui prétendent que le président russe Vladimir Poutine serait affligé d’une santé en détérioration ou serait potentiellement la cible d’une tentative d’assassinat se bercent d’illusion. Dit autrement, le grand patron du Kremlin est toujours bien en selle.

Un argument renforcé à la lecture d’une étude récente de l’Ifri (l’Institut français des relations internationales) sous la plume du chercheur Régis Genté, lequel est également coauteur de la biographie Volodymyr Zelensky – Dans la tête d’un héros (Robert Laffont) que je recenserai bientôt sur cette page. C’est ainsi que Cercles dirigeants russes : Infaillible loyauté au système Poutine? dresse la carte du système planétaire qui gravite autour de l’astre russe.

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De Gaulle aurait condamné sans appel l’intervention russe en Ukraine

Le dirigeant soviétique Nikita Khrouchtchev en compagnie du Général de Gaulle (source Histoire & Civilisations)

J’ai récemment eu le privilège d’adresser quelques questions à l’historien et auteur de renommée internationale Éric Branca, dans le contexte de la guerre en Ukraine. Avec un retard pour lequel je suis désolé, il me fait grand plaisir de publier aujourd’hui cet entretien qui soulève des aspects éclairants.

Voici donc le contenu de notre échange.

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BookMarc : Monsieur Branca, sans vouloir tomber dans l’imprudence d’une conjecture, disposons-nous d’indices pour savoir comment de Gaulle aurait réagi à la suite de l’invasion de l’Ukraine le 24 février dernier?

Éric Branca : Il est toujours périlleux de faire parler les morts ou de dire ce qu’ils auraient fait, mais il est relativement simple de savoir ce qu’ils n’auraient pas fait, sachant ce qui a constitué la logique profonde de leur existence et de leur action, en l’occurrence l’indépendance de la France et sa mise au service de la paix en luttant contre les empires.

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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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