Brave Zelensky should set up a government in exile – this is the best choice for Ukraine

If you have an extra $20,000 lying around, I know of a website where you can buy a lock of King Charles I’s hair.

Charles I was the king executed by the Puritans in 1649. The leader of the Puritans, Oliver Cromwell, then took power. Charles’s son, the future Charles II, goes into exile in France.

As soon as Cromwell came to power, things started to change. He closed the inns and the theatres. Women were forbidden to wear make-up. The boys caught playing football were whipped.

Surprisingly, most English people did not like living under Cromwell’s regime. People began to yearn for Charles II. Apart from being the rightful king of England, he also had a reputation as the best playboy in Europe.

One of Cromwell’s advisers suggested a compromise: Why not arrange a marriage between his daughter, Frances, and the young king? But as a good puritan, Oliver refused. Charles was “damn debauched”. He would destroy all the progress they had made, flogging footballers and so on.

Charles, for his part, was quite hurt. “They have done me too much honor by giving me so many beautiful ladies,” he said, as if I could satisfy half of them.

Last month, Zelensky turned down the US airlift offer, saying “I need ammunition, not a ride.”
Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP

Anyway, Cromwell did not budge, and in 1658 he died. Two years later Charles II was proclaimed king. Once again the streets were full of kids kicking the ball around. Hostels have been reopened, as have theaters. More than that, women were allowed to act in plays for the first time. No more boys with oranges stuffed in their shirts.

To this day, Charles II is known as the “Merry Monarch”, and he is one of the most popular kings in English history.

Let this be a lesson to Volodymyr Zelensky.

As Russia pledges to redouble its efforts to seize Kiev, some advisers to the Ukrainian president have urged him to flee the country. He could form a “government in exile”, like Charles II.

A map of Russia's attacks on Ukraine as of March 10, 2022.
A map of Russia’s attacks on Ukraine as of March 10, 2022.

Zelensky doesn’t like the idea. Last month, when the United States offered to airlift him out of Kiev, he flatly refused. “The fight is here,” he said. “I need ammunition, not a round.”

Zelensky is brave. But is he smart?

If he dies fighting in Kiev, his sacrifice could rally the Ukrainian people for a final push. Or the loss of their capital and leader can crush their morale. Probably, it would be the latter.


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Charles II thought so. In 1680, he succeeded in rallying Scotland to his cause. Cromwell quickly overran and crushed the Scottish army, killing or imprisoning its leaders. Charles was one of the few to escape, fleeing the country.

A man rides a bicycle on a street damaged by shelling in Mariupol, Ukraine.
Russia severely damaged several Ukrainian towns, often targeting civilians.
AP/Evgeny Maloletka

This may seem cowardly to us. At the time, no one thought so. Because Charles wasn’t just a man. He was a symbol. He represented freedom, tradition and, yes, good old fashioned fun.

Charles had no choice to live or die. His life was not his. If he died, old England would die with him. He owed his people to live.

Some have compared the idea of ​​a government in exile with Charles de Gaulle leading the French Resistance in London. And that makes sense. But the comparison with Charles II is actually better, for a reason: General de Gaulle was a soldier, but Zelensky is the democratically elected leader of his country.

He has something no Western power can ever give him and something the Russians can never take away from him. It has legitimacy. He is the people’s choice.

Others have proposed that NATO declare Lviv a “free city”. Zelensky could decamp to this new provisional capital far from the Russian front. Well, Charles II tried that in Scotland. It may work, at least for a little while. Or it may simply delay the inevitable.

President Joe Biden meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the Oval Office.
President Joe Biden has resisted sending US troops to fight in Ukraine.
Evan Vucci/AP

Moreover, President Biden wisely refused to send troops to Ukraine. (By “President Biden” I mean the cabal of spies and bureaucrats currently running the country while Joe watches “Matlock” in his basement.) If Russia attacked the Free City of Lviv, America should fight. Sounds like a non-starter to me.

The bottom line: Zelensky shouldn’t be afraid to save his own life, if only so he can fight another day. His people will not blame him. On the contrary. When Ukraine win, his triumphant return will make their victory all the sweeter because he can share it with them.

Michael Warren Davis is the author of “The Reactionary Mind” (Regnery, 2021).


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