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Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Big Speech: What It Means for the Ukraine War

T-90 Tank
T-90 Tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Yesterday, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered an address to a joint session of Congress, thanking the United States for its support and calling for an additional commitment to the war effort. President Zelenskyy’s trip was planned with great secrecy, or at least great deference from the press.

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The visit was announced only a day before the speech, although all sides admitted that preparations had been underway for some time. Although we do not as of yet have a sense of the impact of the visit, it has appeared live on several major networks thus far and seems to have won rave reviews.

Zelenskyy Wows Congress

Zelesnskyy accomplished several important goals. He framed Ukraine’s struggle in the historical experience of the United States, comparing the defense of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge with the tenacious defense of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.

He also invoked the Battle of Saratoga (possibly to the mystification of the greater part of the American audience with weak recollection of the major events of the Revolutionary War). Zelenskyy put an exclamation point on the comparison by bringing a Ukrainian battle flag from the front and giving it to the US Congress.

Zelenskyy pointedly reminded Congress that American soldiers would be unnecessary as long as Ukrainian soldiers were available to drive new tanks and fly new planes, two systems that the United States has not yet transferred to Ukrainian control.

Zelenskyy also emphasized that Western aid for Ukraine was not charity but rather investment. Much of the criticism of Zelenskyy and of the broader Ukrainian war effort within the United States has focused on cost.

Zelenskyy also put forward his ten point proposal for peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, perhaps out of sensitivity towards criticism of Kyiv’s sometimes maximalist war aims.

The proposal, which would envision a full Russian withdrawal and extensive Russian reparations, has little chance of moving the needle in its current form, but it is intended to offer some indication of Kyiv’s flexibility.

Discussion of peace negotiations in this context may also serve to assuage Europe’s frayed nerves on Ukraine’s willingness to at least think about how to end the war.

Zelenskyy the New Churchill?

The speech evoked comparison with Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s speech to Congress on December 26, 1941. In that speech Churchill welcomed the United States to the global war effort against the Axis, emphasizing his own long-term connections with the US, and detailing the challenges that the two countries would face along the way to ultimate victory.

Both Churchill and Zelenskyy emphasized that the United States already had skin in the game with respect to the war, and that the future of the US depended on the success of its allies on the battlefield.

Churchill’s speech wasn’t much longer than Zelenskyy’s in terms of the time of delivery. However, the fluidity of Churchill’s language (along with somewhat fewer interruptions) meant that he could fit in twice as many word (for what it’s worth, Zelenskyy the comedian got fewer laugh lines than Churchill).

How Ukraine Thinks About War 

One comment, in particular, can be understood as a way to understand how Ukraine thinks about the war.

Much as Churchill blamed Japan’s decision to launch the war on a power-mad clique of soldiers with little popular support, Zelenskyy said that Russians must free their own minds from the Kremlin. Both of these represent a call-out to democratic solidarity and to the idea that fundamentally the collision between democracy and autocracy is not as much a battle between nations as a fight between ideologies.

This ideological grounding helps to make the stakes clear for the United States, while sidestepping difficult questions about regime change in Russia and Russia’s long-term relationship with the West.

What Happens Now in Ukraine? 

We should be careful not to overstate the impact of Zelenskyy’s visit to the United States. Given the outcome of the midterms and the express commitment of the Biden administration to maintain support for Ukraine, it was unlikely that US policy towards the war was going to shift dramatically against Kyiv.

But an address of the kind that Zelenskyy just gave should be understood at part of the Biden administration’s toolkit for maintaining the Ukraine policy that it wants. It reminded Americans of the nature of the conflict and of their role in it, and gave internationalist Republicans in Congress a strong set of reasons for continuing support.

Volodymyr Zelensky

Volodymyr Zelensky and Biden. White House Handout.

The speech also, we should not forget, serves as a message to Moscow that American support for Ukraine remains sound and that the Russian war effort cannot expect an easy time over the next year.

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A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph. D. from the University of Washington in 2004. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020), and most recently Waging War with Gold: National Security and the Finance Domain Across the Ages (Lynne Rienner, 2023). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APAC, World Politics Review, and the American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns and Money.

Written By

Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005. He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 2004. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), and Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APAC, World Politics Review, and the American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns and Money.



  1. Eric Anderson

    December 22, 2022 at 11:17 am

    “internationalist Republicans in Congress” part of a larger problem.

  2. Jim

    December 22, 2022 at 12:53 pm

    The Uniparty owns Ukraine, lock, stock, and barrel.

    Zelensky’s speech makes the Uniparty feel good about themselves.

    In the short-term the speech will buoy up supporters of the Ukraine Project… in Congress and in the public.

    But the outcome of coming battles in this war will have the larger impact over the long-term… this speech is a snap-shot in time.

    President Zelensky makes the claim that America isn’t safe if Ukraine isn’t safe… no, that’s not true, but it is Trotskyite in its universal appeal…

    As in “our survival as a democracy depends on what happens to Ukraine”… again, no it doesn’t… Trotsky claimed Socialism wasn’t safe as long as big, bad capitalists existed… thus, Trotsky’s call for world socialist revolution to overthrow all capitalists.

    Okay, feel good Ukraine supporters, but likely this is the high water mark… things will only get harder.

    Hopefully, this speech doesn’t lead to throwing good money after bad… after it becomes clear the Ukrainian army can’t win… the speech will hang over the Congress… how can we pull out of this mess… when we had Zelensky address Congress…

    The speech will harden support in the short-term.

    Battlefield results will decide the war… not Zelensky’s speech.

  3. Dr. Scooter Van Neuter

    December 22, 2022 at 1:01 pm

    So let me get this straight: Ukraine was ready to accept peace terms with Russia that they would not join NATO and would remain neutral, but the Biden administration pressured them to not accept and has been stoking the resulting bloodbath with billions of dollars the US doesn’t have amidst one of the worst recessions in decades as well as depleting our own defensive munitions while pushing Russia closer to using their only remaining strength – tactical battlefield nukes?
    Got it:)

  4. Goran

    December 22, 2022 at 1:22 pm

    Republicans who see a historic opportunity in Putin’s blunder are not necessarily internationalists, in fact, very few would fit that profile. Most of them see economic benefits for the United States via increased sales of LNG, military technology and so on, it’s got nothing to do with internationalist ideology.

  5. 403Forbidden

    December 22, 2022 at 1:22 pm

    Zelenskiyy comes across as a completely natural shoo-in for the neo-fascist NATO global conquest conglomerate whose lair he’s now visiting.

    He didn’t say anything about peace for the natives of donbass or even a hint about any acceptance of russia’s rights to its security concerns, only a strong shameless appeal for total war.

    Does he think he’s going to win at the end of the day. Both hitler and tojo once firmly thought they’d destined to win. And decided on walking the course of all-out war.

  6. Commentar

    December 22, 2022 at 2:22 pm

    Ukraine war is just like libya war, syria war, grenada war and many other wars.

    Ukraine war is biden’s war, just like nam war was LBJ’s war.

    Zelensky is the erdogan of ukraine, suitable for being used as the frontman or perhaps the fallguy in case anything goes wrong down the road.

    Zelensky hasn’t said anything about ukraine now becoming a full transit center and hotel for US intelligence agents and DoD operatives doing very serious work to prep for ww3.

    Since the end of the Cold War, the US has initiated 251 military conflicts around the world. Thus it is indeed aiming for a global war, with complete global control as the grand prize it wants for itself.

    Gog and Magog, are the US and its evil twin or massive army of vassals and minions. Zelensky being among the latter.

    But gog and magog will fail, as the land of gog will one day is predicted to become nothing but a land of ravens and other carrion-consuming critters.

  7. pagar

    December 22, 2022 at 3:46 pm

    Volodymyr zelensky ought to recall US invaded panama in dec 1989 and in 1991 attacked iraq.

    Zelensky is calling for escalation of the current ukraine war so that US could attack russia in the foreseeable future.

    Is that zelensky’s morbid dream for the people of ukraine. If it is, all hell’s gonna break lose.

  8. GhostTomahawk

    December 22, 2022 at 4:03 pm

    The debt accrued for this war voted by politicians needs to be paid by those who support it.

    This is how we can curb reckless spending. When bad policies are funded by those who support them alone….bad policies stop and the politicians who promote them are easily thrown out of office.

  9. Yrral

    December 22, 2022 at 6:27 pm

    Ukraine is useful to America as a use tampons for a woman ,I been free all my life,not like Zelensky,that was born under Russian rule ,him saying he fighting for America ,is an insult to all American,that fought,for liberty equality and justice for all Google Ukraine Freedom House

  10. Ben Leucking

    December 22, 2022 at 7:12 pm

    As a frame of reference, the first Gulf War to liberate Kuwait (1991) had a direct US military cost of $117 Billion. It almost goes without saying that the US already had a fully functional Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force with the best personnel, equipment and logistical systems on the face of the earth. That war lasted 5 weeks. The cost represented 0.3% of US GDP in 1991.

    At the time of Russia’s initial invasion, Ukraine’s Air Force was obsolete, its Navy was virtually non-existent, and its small Army lacked sufficient manpower, equipment and ammo. And yet, with the help of US and NATO equipment and munitions, Ukraine has survived through 10 months of brutal war.

    If Putin’s initial goals had succeeded, Russian troops would be sitting at the borders Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, and Moldova would probably have ceased to exist by now.

    The people who gripe about our contributions to Ukraine’s freedom make me ill.

  11. Rick

    December 22, 2022 at 7:18 pm

    Putin Republicans and russian trolls are out tonight.

  12. Infantry Grunt

    December 22, 2022 at 7:32 pm

    KGB Colonel Putin admittedly never accepted the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Crimea being part of Ukraine, and the Budapest Memorandum. That is why when he failed in his attempt to turn Ukraine into another puppet state like Belarus, Ukrainians revolted, Putin invaded Crimea, and launched a proxy war against NATO in Donbas. Obama/Brandon fecklessness enabled this and when Brandon usurped the presidency, Putin thought he saw the moment he had been waiting for.

    With KGB Putin’s latest and failed invasion of the rest of Ukraine, he then proceeded to illegally annex the 4 Ukrainian oblasts, of which none were under his full control. Putin’s vision of “peace” is Ukraine’s total capitulation to Russian demands, which will set the stage for another invasion once he has rebuilt his Soviet-era military.

    Russian Federation as Magog as geo-related to Israel:
    “I will bring you from the far north and send you against the mountains of Israel. Then I will strike your bow from your left hand and make your arrows drop from your right hand. On the mountains of Israel you will fall, you and all your troops and the nations with you. I will give you as food to all kinds of carrion birds and to the wild animals…'” (Ezekiel 39:1-2).

    This also explains the rabid Anti-Semitism displayed in Russia under the guise of the Z/V swastikas, and also by many Liber(al)tarians in the U.S., being most recently directed at Zelensky, even though he is a secular Jew.

  13. Goran

    December 22, 2022 at 8:41 pm

    pagar: “Zelensky is calling for escalation of the current ukraine war so that US could attack russia in the foreseeable future.”

    There is no danger of U.S. attacking, that paranoid reasoning got Russia in enough trouble as it is, let’s ease up with it.

  14. Jimmyf40

    December 22, 2022 at 11:48 pm

    Zelensyyy is no churchill who by the way also was no peaceful saint either.

    Like zelenskyy, german leader hitler wanted a close alliance with london (and paris) in order to facilitate his march to the east.

    But unfortunately, or fortunately for the USSR, churchill wouldn’t accomodate hitler’s desires and put his foot down when germany waded into poland, the stepping stone to the soviet border.

    Zelenskyy’s aims in the ongoing war with russia will only force moscow to wreck ukraine with full force since he clearly wants to trample the russian-speaking donbass, nothing less.

    Moscow should employ tactical nukes against ukrainian forces to ensure victory and defeat for zelenskyy.

    Use of nukes will force biden, the author of this ukr-rus conflict, to view his china friend xi jinping through the american nuclear lens.

    After viewing that lens, biden could begin trembling and shaking his body all over and realize his 2024 dreams are over for good.

  15. monkfelonious

    December 23, 2022 at 12:23 am

    This site is INFESTED with RF trolls and has always been. Conrats, you haven’t met muster. Frankly, I’m not surprised given the low input.

  16. TheDon

    December 23, 2022 at 9:53 am

    It means more Russians and Ukrainian citizens will die, their neighborhoods destroyed, children cold and hungry. This is the Orthodox brotherhood at its best this Christmas. Ukrainian Orthodox vs Russian Orthodox. Unbelievable, except to smiling Xi.

    Sorry, stupidest war ever. The history books will read about Putin going to war when Russias economy was beginning to grow with gas/oil and product sales increasing due to one man’s insane vision supported by a bunch of misguided generals. Yeah, and Everyone want’s the Ruble. Wake up.

    Putin made a huge mistake. There was no threat, no Neo-Nazi’s that Putin didn’t support. The EU’s carrot was there to a point they depended on Russian fuel. Why would you want to invade a country supplying your energy? Why would Germany not prepare for this threat if they intended to invade? His threat will now be atheist China in the future taking farmland, disputed land, production of goods and sending Russians to enlightenment camps.
    His mistake is going to turn Russia’s and Ukraines economy to shit for decades, and Xi smiles. Putins big mistake is that 100,000 troops can control 43 million Ukrainians, and expand, over mountains, and Xi smiles the Russian forces are overspread and weakened. With this action, Russia and Ukraine start to look like Syria, another Russian strategic plan where the population just gets fed up and leaves for other countries in the millions. So Russia might get more empty land and Putin gets great destroyed cities of Rubel.

    The Russians are always right.
    The US doesn’t work hard enough for peace.

    War’s like this end up in history as another example of how a nation destroy’s itself.

    Merry Christmas

  17. David N. Tate

    December 23, 2022 at 9:29 pm

    The speech in Congress and the offical US government response will result in continued expansion of the war in the vicinity of the Black Sea and Western Russia. The United States is already committed to over $100 Billion in funding to support this proxy war. It is clear that the United States will have to provide over $1 Trillion to support the Ukrianin economy and fund the Ukrainian government in addition to reconstruction over the next few years. Continued US expansion of this war is reckless and will harm the American taxpayers.

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