Friday, February 25, 2022

Ukraine's Leader Zelensky Is 'Target Number One' for Putin

After watching the news most of the day, and of course posting most of the articles I've been reading, it's difficult for me to determine how long Kiev can hold out, and especially what's to happen to President Zelensky and his government should they be captured. That's the most intense thing to me. Putin is said to despise Zelensky and it looks like he's made "decapitating" the Ukrainian regime an obsession, in more ways than one. 

The battle for the capitol is on, right now. It's a life and death situation unfolding in real time, live on cable news. I have many thoughts 

But for now, at the Wall Street Journal, "Russia’s invasion of Ukraine aims to overthrow the leadership in Kyiv, but President Volodymyr Zelensky remains defiant":

On Friday, as Russian troops closed in on Kyiv, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky posted a video of himself in the heart of the capital city, dressed in fatigues.

“The president is here. We are all here. Our troops are here,” he said, surrounded by his top aides. “We are defending our independence, our state, and that will continue.”

The Ukrainian leader says that Russian forces pushing toward Kyiv have placed a target on his back. Russia has made clear that the aim of its attack—the biggest invasion of a European country in over half a century—is to remove Ukraine’s government and install a leadership more friendly to Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin urged the Ukrainian army Friday to overthrow its political leaders, whom he called “terrorists,” and cut a deal with Moscow—an unlikely scenario as even Mr. Zelensky’s critics and political rivals have rallied to Ukraine’s defense.

Advisers to Mr. Zelensky said they are concerned Russian sabotage groups could try to infiltrate the government district in Kyiv and attempt to assassinate the 44-year-old. Security forces are deployed around government buildings in full battle dress.

In a video call with European Union leaders late Thursday, Mr. Zelensky drove home the personal stakes.

“This may be the last time you see me alive,” he told the leaders, according to two European officials familiar with his comments.

Russian disinformation campaigns have tried to sow the impression since Thursday that Mr. Zelensky had fled his capital city.

A person with the president said that he is in good spirits and determined to remain in Kyiv.

Russian disinformation campaigns have tried to sow the impression since Thursday that Mr. Zelensky had fled his capital city.

“The president is ready to die, but will stay,” the person said.

“The enemy has marked me as target number one, my family as target number two,” Mr. Zelensky told Ukrainians in a televised address in the small hours of Friday morning. “They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of the state.”

His voice echoed off the walls of a media-briefing room devoid of journalists because of increased security measures around him.

On Friday, Ukraine’s army was putting up a stern resistance to the Russian invasion, slowing its progress. Mr. Zelensky switched from a suit to a khaki T-shirt and delivered calm but firm speeches from behind a lectern at the presidential administration building in central Kyiv.

Mr. Zelensky went from political novice to president after winning a landslide victory in a 2019 election on a peace ticket, pledging to end the low-level war festering in Ukraine’s east since Russia carved out two breakaway statelets there in 2014.

In the past 48 hours, he has transformed again into wartime leader at the top of Moscow’s kill-or-capture list, according to Ukrainian and Western officials.

Mr. Zelensky rose to popularity as a stand-up comic and actor in a sitcom on which he portrayed a schoolteacher turned president. Now, Ukraine’s president is using his characteristic raspy voice not to raise laughs but to lash Russia, rally Ukrainians and exhort world leaders to help Ukraine and levy tougher sanctions on Moscow.

“We aren’t afraid of anything,” he said early Friday. “We aren’t afraid to defend our country. We aren’t afraid of Russia.”

Mr. Zelensky’s firmness is winning him praise even among former critics.

“President Volodymyr Zelensky has made many really bad mistakes, and I’m sure will make many more, but today he’s showing himself worthy of the nation he’s leading,” Olga Rudenko, chief editor of the Kyiv Independent news website, wrote on Twitter on Friday...

Keep reading.