April 19. 2024. 7:52

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The Brief — Zelenskyy Superstar


The visit of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to London, Paris, and Brussels is yet another example that he and his advisers in Kyiv are excellent communicators, capable of advancing the interests of their country to a maximum.

Since Euromaidan in 2013, pro-EU Ukrainians have become very talented in promoting their country to Western audiences.

There are many excellent bloggers on Twitter, the platform most popular in Brussels circles, from which a real civil society PR army has made Europeans gradually aware of the fatefulness surrounding Ukraine – and the Russian aggression proved them right.

After the 24 February invasion, the many Ukrainian journalists, scholars, and civil society activists, who regularly attend discussions in TV studios in various countries have excelled in their communications. Each one of them deserves to be an ambassador of their country.

The whole world has discovered a different Zelenskyy compared to the pre-war period. The former actor lacked identity prior to the war and appeared as a rather weak leader, possibly manipulated by powerful economic circles.

Zelenskyy has even changed his physical appearance, growing a beard, adopting a stern countenance and speaking in a hoarse voice. His now iconic military-style outfits are probably designed by a skilful team, in the style of the equally iconic military fatigues and facial hair of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.

Unlike Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who is usually pictured in a room without windows that may well be a bunker, Zelenskyy made sure he was seen in the open air and where the action is, even at the peril of his life, as was his appearance in the re-captured city of Kherson.

Zelenskyy’s daily addresses became the unavoidable touchstone of Ukrainians and of a wider global audience.

He addressed online audiences around the world, ranging from national parliaments to the Grammy awards ceremony. Every forum and every organisation was honoured to host Zelenskyy as the symbol of his courageous people.

There are various reasons why the West, which was initially hesitant, if not opposed, to sending military aid to Ukraine, changed its attitude. One of them, not to be neglected, is Ukrainian lobbying, embodied above all by Zelenskyy, which changed the paradigm.

Zelenskyy’s first trip abroad, to the US, was a big public relations success as it conveyed the message to the American public and to Congress that Ukraine deserves to be an aid priority and should remain over the long term.

The second Zelenskyy visit abroad was rightly in London, as the UK is the second largest military donor to Ukraine.

The visit to the EU has cleverly been choreographed with an initial stopover in Paris, joined by the German chancellor, before heading to Brussels, home of the Euro-Atlantic institutions and venue of an EU summit that will be remembered.

Last but not least, Zelenskyy’s wife Olena has been replicating her husband’s public relations stunts at appropriate levels in a way nobody would have expected from the spouse of a head of state who normally has no real prerogatives.

As a journalist, I am sceptical, and like many others, I ask myself questions about how genuine the Zelenskyy product is, how much of it is the result of spin doctoring and whether somebody is pulling the strings.

I have spoken to Ukrainians who ask themselves the same questions. One of them even said: “Zelenskyy is OK during the war, but I would not vote for him in normal times.”

But judging from the enthusiasm in Britain’s parliament or in the European Parliament hemicycle, where apparently everyone wanted to appear in a photo with Zelenskyy, what counts is the result.

During this war, Ukraine has found – or has produced – the leader it needs.


The Roundup

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy received a hero’s welcome in Brussels on Thursday as he lobbied EU leaders to expedite the delivery of modern weapons to halt Russia’s upcoming spring offensive.

Bulgarian President Rumen Radev made comments contradicting most of his peers at an EU summit on Thursday (9 February), as he called for peace in Ukraine at a time when President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was due in Brussels to ask for more weapons to free the territories occupied by Russia.

Chipmaker Intel wants more than the €6.8 billion promised by Berlin to build two mega fabs- state-of-the-art microchip factories- in Germany, according to media reports.

In a vote on Thursday (9 February), the European Parliament’s industry committee set out its position on future rules governing hydrogen networks in a bid to transition away from fossil gas.

After a recent EU court decision to block the emergency use of bee-toxic neonicotinoid pesticides, the European Commission is still unclear on what exactly this ruling means in practice.

As major platforms submitted their first progress reports on compliance with the updated Code of Practice on Disinformation, EU officials criticised Twitter for its scant efforts, which gave the impression it “didn’t take it seriously enough”.

Rail operators are backing a shift to digital technology to remove barriers to cross-border journeys, a move in line with EU goals to double the share of rail freight and high-speed rail traffic by 2030.

Don’t forget to check out our Economy Brief and the Politics Decoded for a roundup of weekly news across Europe.

Look out for…

  • Commission President Ursula von der Leyen participates in Special European Council, which continues on Friday.
  • Commission Vice-President Dubravka Suica on official mission to Washington.
  • EU Commissioner Ylva Johansson in Berlin, meets with co-chair of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) Saskia Esken.
  • EU Commissioner Thierry Breton receives President of Confindustria Carlo Bonomi.