Ukrainian diplomat: Tanks for the help
Among 100 students packed into a Yale School of Management classroom Thursday for a talk by Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations, Jimmy Byrn held a keen interest in the U.S. decision one day earlier to finally send M1 Abrams tanks to the nation fighting back a Russian invasion.
Byrn, a Milford resident enrolled at Yale for a law degree and a masters in business, told Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya after the discussion that he had been an Abrams tank commander in the U.S. Army. He reached down to his tie — he was the only student in the room wearing one — and removed a silver clasp with a tiny replica of the tank.
Byrn handed the tie clasp to Kyslytsya and suggested he wear it to the U.N. Security Council. Kyslytsaya smiled, thanked him and a few minutes later, put it on his own tie.
With that gift, we might say Ukraine has received its first Abrams tank. The 31 actual American tanks, upward of 70 tons each, powered by jet fuel, along with an undetermined number of German Leopard tanks, will arrive on the battle scene in Ukraine later this year.
To hear Kyslytsya talk about efforts to boost support for Ukraine around the world and concerns about what will happen after the battles end, the Abrams tank tie clasp reflects the real thing.
“We really appreciate every single penny that is sent to Ukraine,” Kyslytsya, who’s known for speaking his mind freely, told the students. “The military assistance, the financial assistance. … We finally have reached the point that we get a steady flow of necessary types of weapons.
“But it is not enough.” Kyslytsya was the guest of Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, the Yale management professor, associate dean and leadership expert who has created a moral and business case for the 1,400 corporate exits out of Russia, by his count. The ambassador, as both a student of history and embattled diplomat, described how the war that started 11 months ago fits into a geopolitical picture of colonialism, shaky alliances and national self-interest.
The case for every democracy on Earth stepping up aid to
Ukraine is a moral one on some levels, led by the appeals of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy — who joined Sonnenfeld and U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. in an online conversation with a Yale audience on Oct. 28.
“How many Ukrainians before the war … ever cared about war in Sudan or about the war in Yemen?” Kyslytsya asked, adding that since 2015, “there were 11,000 children killed in Yemen. So those counties also have legitimate concerns.”
That moral case is the same for any victims of war.
But Kyslytsya also sees aid to Ukraine as a sort of transaction. Ukraine is also hugely strategic to the balance of power in the world and the global economy as a giant producer of grain and conduit for energy. To him, the aid that amounts to an average of 0.1 percent of gross domestic product for Western nations – three times that from the United Kingdom — is a bargain investment.
Yes, we heard jokes from Sonnenfeld and Kyslytsya about “tanks for the help” and “tanke schön” instead of “danke schön,” German for thank you very much. And by the way, Egypt has 1,300 tanks, the diplomat said, putting the offer of a few dozen advanced tanks in perspective.
“So I’m not saying we are greedy,” he said. “But what is also very important to understand is that it’s not, it’s not a charity. … It is an investment in the security of the United States. It is an investment in the security of the U.K., of Germany, of France, of Poland. And in fact it is a very successful investment.
“It is a very inexpensive way for those countries to deal with the real military threat emanating from Russia. … without sending your own armies or soldiers.
“That’s a cynical view,” he conceded.
Since I had asked the question that led to that answer, he turned to me and said, “I’d like you to quote from me that we
really do appreciate every single penny” — generating some laughter after all that talk about needing a lot more.
Kyslytsya drew some attention early last March, a couple of weeks after the invasion, when he responded to a ridiculous tweet from the Russian embassy in London, which said, “The goal of Russia’s special military operation is to stop any war that could take place on Ukrainian territory or that could start from there.”
At a U.N. meeting, according to Newsweek, Kyslytsya said those Russian diplomats and anyone who believes them “need mental assistance.”
On Thursday at Yale, he slammed the United Nations for continuing to let Russia hold a permanent seat on the Security Council with veto power over actions.
“In the case of Ukraine, the Security Council clearly failed to deliver on its primary mandate and that is the prevention of wars and the resolution of conflicts and it’s basically due to the fact that the Russian Federation is allowed to enjoy the rights of the Soviet Union,” he said. “The whole process of how it happened was very dodgy.”
He’s looking for that to end
at a 2024 U.N. summit, he told me afterward. Meanwhile, “The real problem is everyone and every single country come to basically nothing through the international law instruments or international bodies to make Russia solve the war.”
American and German military leaders balked for months about sending the tanks out of fear of escalating the war and worries over logistical issues with the advanced weaponry — worries Kyslytsya waved off. He called Putin’s threat of nuclear strikes “blackmail” that has failed. And he said military aid has been a slow “drip, drip, drip” because Western intelligence services all thought Ukraine would surrender quickly.
Byrn, who gave him the tie clasp, was an Army captain who led a tank company and served in Europe from Fort Drum, N.Y. He said he strongly supported the tank offer to Ukraine and is confident the training and complex logistics will succeed.
“The military defeat of Russia is important but it is not the most important thing,” Kyslytsya said. “Russia will continue to be a threat, or the threat, to the entire continent as long as there is no regime change in
That would come from within Russia, a country in a decline that Sonnenfeld has documented, including what the professor said are Russian lies that the 1,400 Western corporations have not pulled out.
“We don’t need Russia. Russia has become an economic irrelevancy. The EU doesn’t need one ounce of Russian gas anymore anymore and they were so dependent a year ago,” said Sonnenfeld, who blamed Wall Street for stoking fears about a global domino effect, notably J.P. Morgan Chase for wrongly predicting oil would hit $380 a barrel last summer.
“The Russian society is sick,” Kyslytsya said. “So this question, how to de-Putinize Russia, even after the military defeat of Russia in Ukraine. I think that nobody has the answer.”
Kyslytsya challenged these elite students to go find a solution to the Putin challenge. He knew it wasn’t an idle plea. Some of them will emerge as global power brokers in a few years. They’re likely to remember this blunt-speaking Ukrainian diplomat who stood before them at a crucial moment in history.