Zelensky ‘deludes himself,’ aide claims, as Western proxy warriors leave him behind

An interview with Zelensky and his top aides finds the once-celebrated Ukrainian leader out of touch with his own cabinet, and reality.

More than three weeks into Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip, the Ukraine proxy war has been displaced from global headlines. A new profile of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky by Simon Schuster of Time Magazine, based on interviews with Zelensky and his top aides, makes clear that the Gaza crisis is not the only reason why. Schuster paints a bleak picture of a country depleted by battlefield losses, military desertions, rampant corruption, and a once-globally celebrated Ukrainian leader out of touch with his own cabinet, and reality.

Ukraine’s summer counter-offensive is now widely seen as a failure. Yet Zelensky remains so committed to “belief in Ukraine’s ultimate victory over Russia” that his outlook “worries some of his advisers,” who see him as “immovable, verging on the messianic.”

“Nobody believes in our victory like I do,” Zelensky says. “Nobody.”

That includes his closest subordinates. “He deludes himself,” one complains. “We’re out of options. We’re not winning. But try telling him that.”

As a result of Zelensky’s “stubbornness,” his team has struggled to “come up with a new strategy,” including “the possibility of negotiating a peace deal with the Russians,” which “has remained taboo.”

After an underwhelming visit to the US last month – where even Oprah Winfrey shunned his request for an interview – Zelensky now “worries his audience has stopped paying attention,” Schuster writes. The Ukrainian leader’s paranoid “message in Washington” — that the US should “help Ukraine stop the war before it spreads, and before it’s too late” — fell on deaf ears. To stay relevant, Zelensky asked Israel for permission to visit the country in solidarity after Hamas’ October 7th attack, as other world leaders did. The Israeli government declined.

“The scariest thing is that part of the world got used to the war in Ukraine,” Zelensky complains. “Exhaustion with the war rolls along like a wave. You see it in the United States, in Europe. And we see that as soon as they start to get a little tired, it becomes like a show to them: ‘I can’t watch this rerun for the 10th time.’”

For Western proxy warriors, the war in Ukraine is indeed a show, in which their attention is contingent on Kyiv’s ability to deliver Russian losses. As John Herbst, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, explained earlier this year, US support for Ukraine was not based on its self-defense needs, but on its ability to show “success” in bleeding Russian forces. “There’s no question that success breeds success,” Herbst said. “If Ukraine is able to make some substantial gains, that makes it easier for people to decide to send additional aid.”

Zelensky’s aides now admit that they have made no such gains. “We’re not moving forward,” one says. The situation has become so dire that some front-line commanders “have begun refusing orders to advance, even when they came directly from the office of the President.” A senior military officer explains that these commanders have little choice. When Kyiv ordered an operation to recapture the Donetsk city of Horlivka, which Russian-backed Ukrainians have controlled for nearly a decade, this was the response:

“The answer came back in the form of a question: With what? ‘They don’t have the men or the weapons,’ says the officer. ‘Where are the weapons? Where is the artillery? Where are the new recruits?’

“In some branches of the military, the shortage of personnel has become even more dire than the deficit in arms and ammunition. One of Zelensky’s close aides tells me that even if the U.S. and its allies come through with all the weapons they have pledged, ‘we don’t have the men to use them.’”

On top of battlefield struggles, Ukraine remains plagued by rampant corruption, particularly in the military. “People are stealing like there’s no tomorrow,” a top Zelensky adviser admits.

Overall, Schuster concludes, “Zelensky feels betrayed by his Western allies,” who “have left him without the means to win the war, only the means to survive it.”

Yet that is not the West’s most consequential betrayal. That distinction arguably belongs to the US-led sabotage of peace negotiations with Russia both before and after the February 2022 invasion. After Zelensky’s 2019 election on a peace platform, the bipartisan US establishment chose to side with far-right Ukrainian ultra-nationalists over the internationally brokered Minsk Accords. In December 2021, when the Kremlin submitted extensive proposals to resolve its concerns, the US shunned them. In April 2022, when Ukraine and Russia reached a tentative peace deal in Istanbul, the US, using Boris Johnson as a messenger, stood in the way. Had Washington chosen the path of peace at any of these junctures, tens of thousands of people on both sides would still be alive. And all of Ukraine’s territory, with the exception of Crimea, would remain under Kyiv’s control.

On the latter peace effort in Turkey during the war’s first weeks, former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has become the latest NATO insider to confirm the decisive US sabotage. “At the peace negotiations in Istanbul in March 2022… the Ukrainians did not agree on peace because they were not allowed to,” Schroeder told a German newspaper on October 21st. “For everything they discussed, they first had to ask the Americans.”

Schroeder, who is friendly with the Kremlin and enjoyed a lucrative board seat on the Russian energy company Rosneft, is not an impartial observer. But it was Ukraine that trusted him enough to request that he serve as a mediator with the Kremlin after the invasion.

“Ukraine wanted to see if Schröder could build a bridge for dialogue with Putin,” a person involved in the Istanbul talks said at the time. The Ukrainians told Schröder that they would be willing to discuss “Ukraine’s NATO aspirations, the status of Crimea and the future of the Donbas region,” Politico reported in March 2022. As part of his mediation efforts, Schroeder met with key Ukrainian negotiator Rustem Umerov, who went on to become Ukrainian Defense Minister.

“However, nothing eventually happened,” Schroeder now recalls. “My impression is that nothing could happen because everything else was decided in Washington. It was fatal.”

Having stopped him from reaching a peace deal that could have ended the Russian invasion soon after it began, Zelensky’s frustration at his capricious backers in Washington is understandable. His decision to go along, however, was a historic betrayal of his own making. Facing the consequences today, it is no surprise that this fading global celebrity can only respond with more self-serving delusion.