Analysis: Zelenskyy’s Washington trip marks a victory in the PR war with Putin


In the last week before Gregorian Christmas, the optics of Russia’s war in Ukraine has taken on a different dynamic, showing that the battle is not only being fought on Ukraine’s icy front lines, but is also becoming something of a PR hit -did .

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has harnessed the media to become a ubiquitous figure on screens around the world, beaming himself into parliaments, conferences and even music festivals.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former master of propaganda, is pushing his own agenda through his absolute control of Russia’s state media. Comparisons between the two reveal a rift that may reflect the broader narrative of the war.

Last Friday, according to the Kremlin, Putin “spent the whole day working on the joint staff of the military branches involved in the special military operation.”

But the only images that surfaced were of Putin at the head of a table of generals, dressed in a navy blue suit and tie, listening to the military chiefs indulge in his every whim. There was no venue for this meeting, no reading, nor did the President make any public comments.

Visit to the Joint Headquarters of the military branches involved in a special military operation

Zelensky, on the other hand, broadcast his location to the world.

He spent Tuesday morning on the frozen front, visiting troops in the besieged town of Bakhmut. The location was significant: Zelenskyy and his generals have repeatedly said that this part of Ukraine’s 1,300 km front line sees the most stubborn and deadly fighting. Dressed in khaki suits, he called his soldiers “superhuman”.

Zelenskyy is no stranger to the front lines in the east of his country. Last week he posted a selfie video from the city of Sloviansk. Perhaps this visit prompted the Kremlin to act.

On Sunday, the Russian Defense Ministry released a video purporting to show Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu inspecting troops involved in the so-called “military special operation” in Ukraine.

However, the video was not marked as being from a specific region. No identifying locations have been revealed either. In fact, she only revealed Shoigu in a helicopter at all, and that Russia still has a few working helicopters.

The strongest contrasts came this week.

Vladimir Putin presented medals in the gilded halls of the Kremlin in Moscow on Tuesday – again in a dark suit and maroon tie. The honours, including a red sash, were presented to the Russian-installed leaders of Ukraine’s occupied regions: Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhia and Kherson.

The hand-wringing and waving of bouquets of flowers could not have been more contradictory to how President Zelenskyy ended his visit to Bakhmut. Standing in a secret underground location, he bestowed medals on soldiers with weapons slung over their shoulders, risking their lives in defense.

Selenskyj delivered stirring words from Bakhmut: “The East is holding out because Bakhmut is fighting. This is the stronghold of our morality. In fierce battles and at the cost of many human lives, freedom is defended here for all of us. Bakhmut’s defenders deserve our maximum support and deepest gratitude.”

President Zelenskiy visits Ukrainian military personnel at their positions in the frontline town of Bakhmut.

But the coup de grace was announced by Zelenskyy’s office in a press statement on Tuesday evening. “The President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy has started an official visit to the United States of America,” it said.

It is no coincidence that Zelenskyy has decided to make the US his first official visit outside of Ukraine since the 300-day-old war.

On Monday, President Putin made a rare trip to Minsk, Belarus, to visit his ally, President Alexander Lukashenko, who is often nicknamed Europe’s last dictator. The two men, considered pariahs by much of the western world, were seen embracing on a red carpet at a Minsk airport on a freezing morning.

In contrast, Zelensky will shake hands—and maybe even hug—the leader of the world’s most powerful nation, the free world, speak to reporters on the South Lawn, sign a momentous defense package that includes the vital Patriot air defense systems that the Kremlin as a “red line” and addressed Congress.

It is Zelenskyy’s ultimate flex to Putin and a not inconsiderable achievement for his first trip abroad since the beginning of the war.

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