With the proverbial canary in the coal mine, you can ignore it, try to silence it, or you can accept that the canary might be presenting you with a chance to change course.
And so it goes when a tech billionaire tweets a meme mocking Zelensky and Ukrainians.1
Most Ukrainians have shared their outrage. But canceling the man won’t do any good. Instead I propose learning from him.
This is a man who’s never had an original thought. If he’s posting a meme, it’s already well established in right-wing circles. The narrative that Ukraine is a beggar nation isn’t new, but it’s gaining traction.
This should be a wakeup call for Ukrainian PR to do a hard pivot. The images and narratives that worked so poignantly during the first days of the war no longer have the same impact. It’s not a David and Goliath fight with scrappy volunteers stringing together victory against the odds anymore. Instead we’re in a WWI style war of inches and attrition that’s going to require years of industrial support.
The message needs to change.
I don’t really know how exactly. But here are a few points to consider:
- Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons in exchange for security guarantees. Letting Ukraine fall means the end of “carrot” nuclear non-proliferation, leaving us with only the “stick”.
- It’s almost certain that Russia’s next move after Ukraine is the Suwałki Gap, the tiny stretch of land that separates Belarus from Kaliningradskaya Oblast. This means either a full NATO-Russia war, or the dissolution of NATO. Neither is a great option.
- If Ukraine falls and the world quickly returns to business as usual with Russia, it makes a Chinese invasion of Taiwan all but inevitable. The chances of the US being dragged into a wider conflict with China over Taiwan or the South China See are high.
- The collapse of the rules-based international order makes more nationalist wars a certainty. Serbia’s troop buildup on the border of Kosovo wasn’t a fluke. There will be more.
Packaging this into a quick narrative isn’t easy. But, I’ll give it a try.
Giving Ukraine the tools it needs to decisively end the Russian occupation costs little more than a rounding error in the US defense budget. The chances of escalation are small; bullies flee when pressured. Stopping the war in Ukraine means there is no wider NATO-Russian War in Europe, China will see the West is committed to its defense obligations, Western defense guarantees remain a viable alternative to nuclear proliferation. All of this without needing to put a single American or European solider in Ukraine.
Even that’s probably too abstract. But we’ve got to stop with the victimhood and constant begging.
If you’ve been on the interwebs lately, you’ve seen it. No need to give it more “engagement”. And there’s also no need to mention that tech billionaire’s name nor the reality TV star turned politician whose name is ubiquitous. Had we all just ignored them, we may well have skipped all of this. ↩