Bush calls Zelenskyy ‘tough dude,’ says Ukraine can win

DALLAS (AP) — Former President George W. Bush called Ukraine's president a “tough dude” on Wednesday, saying he believes Volodymyr Zelenskyy can win the war against Russia — as long as they get the support they need.

“Absolutely they can win, they're winning,” Bush said at a conference held at his Dallas institute. "But they won’t win if the United States and the free world says it’s not worth it anymore.”

The conference, which touted itself as focusing on ways to advance freedom and democracy around the world, was set to feature a virtual conversation between Bush and Zelenskyy. But because of Russia's attack a day earlier across Ukraine, Zelenskyy had to “deal with matters at home,” said David J. Kramer, executive director of the George W. Bush Institute.

A barrage of Russian missiles hit Ukrainian energy facilities across the country on Tuesday, causing widespread blackouts. The aerial assault followed one of Ukraine’s biggest military successes — the retaking last week of the southern city of Kherson.

During the Russian attack, two people were killed when a missile fell in neighboring Poland. On Wednesday, NATO’s chief and the president of Poland said Ukraine likely launched the projectile as it was fending off a Russian air assault, and there were no indications it was a deliberate attack by Russia on Poland.

Those initial assessments appeared to dial back the likelihood that the blast in Poland would trigger another major escalation in the nearly 9-month Russian invasion of Ukraine. If Russia had targeted Poland, that could have risked drawing NATO into the conflict. Still, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and others have laid overall, but not specific, blame on Russia's invasion.

Speaking at the conference, Bush said Ukraine was a “peaceful democracy that was growing its institutions” when Russia invaded in February. “And from that moment forward, people of the Ukraine have suffered mightily,” Bush said.

Bush said he believes history will judge Zelenskyy “as a remarkable leader," adding that it is important for the U.S. to support Ukraine's fight against Russia.

President Joe Biden is currently asking Congress to provide more than $37 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine.

“Failure in Ukraine will affect future generations of Americans,” Bush said. “An unstable Europe, a Europe in which a tyrant is on the march, is going to affect our national security.”

The Bush administration led the invasion of Iraq, which toppled longtime dictator Saddam Hussein but led to decades of death, chaos and violence there.

The conference opened with a video message from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who noted that the gathering “could not have convened at a more significant time” as democracies around the world are being “challenged on a daily basis.”

The leader of the self-governing island said the Russian invasion of Ukraine is “proof that dictatorships will do whatever it takes to achieve their goal of expansionism.”

“The menacing behavior of authoritarian regimes should be a wakeup call to all democracies," Ing-wen said. “We must work together to strengthen our resilience and safeguard our values.”

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine