Hello from London,
One challenge for President Volodymyr Zelensky is overseeing his country’s attritional, multi-pronged counter-offensive against the Russian invaders. Another is maintaining support from allies whose military and financial aid is crucial to Ukraine’s defence. In an exclusive interview conducted on Friday in Kyiv, Mr Zelensky tells us of his fears that friendly governments may use his country’s slow progress on the battlefield as an excuse to prod him into negotiations with Vladimir Putin. Victory will not come “tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow,” he says. But advances of the sort that saw Ukrainian troops liberate Kharkiv region and the city of Kherson nearly one year ago remain possible. And talks with Mr Putin are unthinkable, because Russia’s president “negotiates only with himself.” (Later this week our defence editor, fresh off the plane from Washington, DC, will reveal America’s assessment of Ukraine’s military progress.)
The difficulty of Mr Zelensky’s diplomatic task was laid bare at this weekend’s G20 summit in Delhi. Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, thumped the table as he announced that the leaders had signed off on a joint declaration. But the document offered little solace to a Ukrainian government that understands the need to shore up support for its cause in the so-called global south. Unlike the G20 statement last November, which referred to Russian aggression “against Ukraine”, the one issued in Delhi describes the conflict as the “war in Ukraine”, as if the fighting had materialised from thin air. Ukraine dismissed the declaration as “nothing to be proud of”.
Another tricky subject for Ukrainian diplomacy is Elon Musk. The secure communications enabled by Mr Musk’s Starlink satellite-internet system have been crucial for Ukrainian troops on the battlefield. But in a new biography of Mr Musk by Walter Isaacson, the SpaceX boss acknowledges blocking Ukraine’s access to Starlink off the Crimean coast last September, for fear of enabling a drone assault on Russia’s Black Sea fleet that he thought could prompt a major escalation (in fact The Economist broke the story almost a year ago). Subsequent Ukrainian attacks on the fleet failed to trigger the nuclear war Mr Musk claims to be so concerned about. But the world’s richest man is nothing if not stubborn in his views. Look out for our review of Mr Isaacson’s book on Tuesday.
One notable absentee in Delhi was Xi Jinping. Mr Xi’s reasons for spurning Mr Modi’s summit are unclear, but China’s grinding economic slowdown leaves plenty for him to do at home. Or ought to, anyway. Seeking enlightenment, our economics columnist turned to Richard Koo, an analyst who described Japan’s 1990s “balance-sheet recession”, in which overextended firms and households switched from maximising profit to minimising debt, precipitating a deflationary slump. Is China facing the same problem today? Not exactly. Many corporate debts are backed by state outfits, and households don’t owe much relative to their assets. But nor are they spending. Mr Xi could “fix the problem in 20 minutes”, reckons Mr Koo, by stepping in to turn on the fiscal taps instead. But China’s government is actually tightening its belt.
Tomorrow the United States will mark the 22nd anniversary of the devastating attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon. Elsewhere in the Americas, Chileans will recall their own September 11th trauma—the military coup that deposed Salvador Allende, a divisive socialist president, 50 years ago. Michael Reid, our former Americas editor and one of the world’s leading English-language authorities on Latin America, has written a commanding account of the events leading up to the coup, and the brutality of the Pinochet regime that followed. Among other things, Mike casts a critical eye on our own contemporary coverage.
More than two dozen of you responded to my call for story ideas last week. Clare Jeffrey in Cape Town wants to read about the potential impact of AI on medical training. Writing from Maryland, Carl Widell suggests that we look at how the global reinsurance sector assesses the risks of climate-change-caused natural disasters. Many thanks for your fine proposals; all have been passed on.
This week I invite your suggestions on what an endgame in Ukraine might look like. Should Ukraine’s allies continue their support until Russian troops have withdrawn from all occupied territory, including Crimea? Or might Mr Zelensky (or a successor) eventually have to accept some sort of peace-for-land settlement? Please send thoughts on this, and anything else, to [email protected].