Volodymr Zelensky: TIME's 2022 Person of the Year
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody, Ian Bremmer here. And Volodymyr Zelensky, President of Ukraine has been named TIME Person of the Year. This, of course, is an award that is meant to be the most notable, the most newsworthy, the person that matters the most on the global stage. Not always somebody you like, not always someone you love and respect, but this time around, TIME Magazine clearly had one front running choice and made it and made it well.
I have to admit that Zelensky has not only done an extraordinary job for his 44 million people, but has also lit an imagination and inspired people that support democracy, sovereignty, independence, and the right to basic human rights for people all over the world.
Zelensky, when he started really making a name for himself, I remember right before the Russian invasion, it was in Munich at the Security Conference, and we saw 130,000 Russian troops amassing on the Ukrainian border. The Russian government said that they were there for training exercises. And when asked directly, Putin told world leaders, the Germans, the French, the Americans, "that absolutely not, the Russians were not planning an invasion, they were not going to do." That, of course, was lying directly.
The Americans had intelligence on the incoming attack. And in addition to telling allies, also told Volodymyr Zelensky that an attack was coming, that they would protect him. And of course, President Macron promised that he had to get into it. He would send special forces over and fly Zelensky out, protect him maybe in Lviv. The Americans were talking about bringing him to Poland or even potentially the United States. Get him out, make him safe. And just a few days before the Russians invaded his country, Zelensky said publicly, "I don't need a plane. I need ammo." This was a man that was going to stay and defend his country. That maybe felt brash, it maybe felt a little arrogant to some, thumbing his nose, daring the Russians saying, "I'm going to stay no matter what." But of course, he did more than walk the talk over the course of the last 10 months. This is a man who has sacrificed his wellbeing with his life in danger, literally every day. I am fairly certain that on top of Putin's would like to assassinate list around the world is Volodymyr Zelenskyy. It has not slowed him down. It has not cowed him in the slightest.
And in the initial weeks of the invasion, when pretty much everyone in the West assumed that the Ukrainian defenses would collapse, assumed that Kyiv would fall, assumed that Zelensky would be forced out, and his regime would be toppled, the courageousness of the Ukrainian defenses and fighters led by the Ukrainian president were able to maintain the defenses of the capital in Kyiv, stop the Russians from breaching the city borders, and indeed, over the course of the coming months, hit the Russians back, force them to withdraw from central and northern Kyiv, and then even start counter attacks in southeast Ukraine.
An extraordinary year, staggering hardship with tens of thousands of war crimes committed against the Ukrainians ordered by the Kremlin clearly, over the course of the last months. Millions of refugees, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians forcibly removed from their country and brought into detention centers in Russia. And yet, Zelensky has stood, has stood for his people, has stood for independence, has stood for democracy. This is a leader who runs a country that has many challenges. It has relatively poor governance. It's historically been very corrupt, not quite as corrupt as Russia, but still very corrupt. By all means, it seems that Zelensky before the invasion was trying to clean it up, and that was one of the reasons he was popular. He was also seen as a Ukrainian nationalist, though Russian is the language he preferred to speak when he was elected president. Nonetheless, is someone that was standing up for Ukrainian independence and territorial integrity, including the territory that was taken by the Russians back in 2014 that the West wasn't doing very much about.
Clearly, there are a lot of differences between NATO and Zelensky. You've seen Ukrainian attacks against the Kerch bridge from Russia to Crimea. You saw a targeted assassination, an attempt to kill Alexander Dugin that got his daughter outside of Moscow, drone strikes deep inside Russia. All of these things risked escalation, all of these things perfectly understandable that someone leading a country that has been invaded with all those war crimes would perpetrate those behaviors, those attacks. And yet, certainly if it was up to NATO, if it was up to the United States, it's up to NATO allies, they would stop the Ukrainians from taking those actions because they're concerned that it's going to escalate the war.
I think that a lot of those differences, which have been strongly papered over because of the cohesion of the alliance over the past year will become harder to coordinate over coming months, especially as the counteroffensives from the Ukrainians inevitably wind down as the Russian 300,000 additional troops take up defensive positions in southeast Ukraine. It's going to be challenging for the Americans, the Europeans, to continue to be seen as completely aligned with the Ukrainian government, as some of the money that the Ukrainians need to rebuild is going to be harder to find, as some of the weapons systems that the Ukrainians continue to demand, that the Americans and others are slow to provide.
And yet, when we look back on 2022, there's no question. If you want to appoint a person of the year, it is Ukraine's President, Volodymyr Zelensky. My congratulations to you and my wishes for the continued health and safety of the Ukrainian people. Thanks much.