Foreign Correspondence, Vol 66
The reason behind Zelensky's surprise U.K. visit
Hello, and happy Friday! It has been a pretty heavy news week: from the devastating aftermath of the back-to-back earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, which have claimed thousands of lives, to the ongoing fight for Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, which is shaping up to be one of the longest and bloodiest battles of this nearly year-long war.
Added to all of that was a surprise visit to Britain by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday. While the trip was reportedly weeks in the making, most journalists—including yours truly—only found out hours before Zelensky’s arrival. But the short notice didn’t prevent scores of people from descending on Parliament’s cavernous (and packed) Westminster Hall.
Zelensky’s arrival—only his third international visit since the Russian invasion (he was in the U.S. and Poland last year)—was a historic moment set in one of Britain’s most historic sites. Westminster Hall, the oldest part of the parliamentary estate, is the same place where King Charles I was put on trail and where Britain’s monarchs and revered figures, including its wartime leader Winston Churchill, have lay in state. It will now also be remembered as the spot where Zelensky, donning his familiar olive green sweater, appealed to Britain to provide Ukraine with what it needs most: powerful English planes.
“In Britain, the king is an air force pilot,” Zelensky told British lawmakers before presenting them with a helmet belonging to one of Ukraine’s most successful pilots. “In Ukraine today, every air force pilot is a king.”
Scrawled on the helmet was one message: We have freedom. Give us wings to protect it.
What I’ve written
In advance of Zelensky’s arrival, the British government announced that it would begin training Ukrainian pilots to fly NATO-standard fighter jets as part of a “long-term capability investment,” making it the first Western allied country to do so. I wrote about the significance of the decision and the obstacles that remain.
These moves may signal a recognition that Ukraine receiving fighter jets from its allies is a matter of when, not if. “The impossible has become possible more than once in terms of supporting Ukraine,” says Greg Bagwell, a former senior Royal Air Force commander and president of the U.K. Air Power Association. Indeed, it was only weeks ago that the U.S. and Germany joined Britain in agreeing to send battle tanks to Ukraine after months of deliberation and debate. A similar standoff is now playing out over the issue of fighter jets: While the U.S. and Germany have so far proven reluctant to provide jets, France and the Netherlands have suggested that they are more open to doing so. Keep reading here
Zelensky’s plea for fighter jets comes amid one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the war so far, set in the small, war-ravaged city of Bakhmut. It is there, in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, where Russia is trying to achieve its first major battlefield victory since its capture of the eastern cities of Severodonetsk and Lysychansk over the summer.
My colleague Tara Law and I wrote about why Russia is fighting so hard and expending so many resources over this small city—which Ukrainians officials admit “is not of strategic importance” to Kyiv—and what its fate means for the future of the war. Read all about it here
In non-Ukraine news: Turkey and Syria are still reeling from the devastating impact of two back-to-back earthquakes on Monday, which have claimed thousands of lives and reduced scores of buildings to rubble. I wrote an explainer with everything you need to know about the earthquakes, their deadly aftermath, and the international rescue effort underway.
Ismail Al Abdullah, a White Helmets volunteer contributing to rescue efforts near the Syrian-Turkish border, tells TIME that the aftermath of the earthquakes have been nothing short of “heartbreaking.” In the Syrian village of Sarmadā, where he is based, at least five buildings have collapsed, leaving many families trapped beneath the rubble.
“We tried our best to rescue them,” says Al Abdullah. “But we couldn’t. We couldn’t.”
As a veteran of the White Helmets, which was established as a volunteer corps of first responders during the Syrian Civil War, Al Abdullah isn’t new to search and rescue efforts. But even he admits that the scale of yesterday’s earthquakes pose an unprecedented challenge. “We’ve dealt with bombing, but this kind of natural disaster is bigger than us.” Keep reading here
The U.S.-Israeli alliance has long been described as an “unbreakable bond.” I wrote about why it’s coming under strain
What I’ve read
This dispatch from the West Bank village of Beita about what happens when Israel’s lawbreakers become lawmakers
In other words, if Evyatar represents the ambitions of an empowered Israeli settler movement, the Beita protests against it represent the response of an ascendant Palestinian opposition. And this opposition does not look like what came before. The village’s organic anti-occupation activities—untethered to any political movement or faction—reflect the slow-motion collapse of the Palestinian Authority, which would once have been expected to lead such efforts, but whose rapid erosion has left a vacuum that is being filled by unrest and violence.
This interesting essay on how American culture wars are spreading—in this case, with the panic over le wokisme in France
The French have long prided themselves on having a system of government that doesn’t recognize racial or ethnic designations. The idea is to uphold a universal vision of what it means to be French, independent of race, ethnicity, and religion. Even keeping official statistics on race has, since the Holocaust, been impermissible. Recently, however, and to the alarm of many in the traditional French commentariat, American-style identity politics has piqued the interest of a new and more diverse generation.
This thoroughly enjoyable annotation of ex-Prime Minister Liz Truss’s recent essay reflecting on her 44-day premiership
Top line: “If Truss rereads this paragraph a few times, she might eventually realize why she became the UK’s shortest-serving prime minister.”
What I’m thinking about
How best to help those impacted by the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria. My colleagues have compiled a helpful list here.
Until next time,