Zelensky’s message: Ukraine fights for good over evil

Kyiv, Ukraine — Before Russia’s sweeping invasion of Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was often dismissed as a former comedian who stumbled into the job of head of state with a seemingly naïve promise to clean up Ukraine’s endemic corruption.

After a brief trip Tuesday to the bloodiest theater of war, he arrived in Washington on Wednesday a national hero and global superstar, having forged a style of leadership that combined personal daring with deft messages to serve his people at home and allies abroad collect.

This aura has served him and his country well so far. But Mr. Zelenskyy arrives in Washington at a crucial time for Ukraine, as his troops’ lightning counter-offensives have waned since this fall. He will plead for more powerful weapons, which he believes Ukraine needs, but he will have to walk a fine line.

By taking a daring trip abroad during the war, he is trying to project strength and show confidence that Ukraine will ultimately prevail. But to plead for continued financial and military support, he must draw attention to the dire threat Ukraine still faces without seeming weak.

“President Zelenskyy wants to present this trip as a serious step forward in the war,” Volodymyr Ariev, a member of parliament for the opposition European Solidarity Party, said in an interview. “It’s a pretty clear message that the alliance between the United States and Ukraine is upheld and is quite strong.”

In Ukraine, the visit was also seen as linked to the American political calendar, as control of the House of Representatives will shift to the Republican Party, some members of which have expressed skepticism about continuing to support Ukraine.

Another of Mr. Zelensky’s main goals, analysts say, is to maintain unanimous American support for the war and do whatever it takes to avoid it becoming a partisan affair.

“Zelensky should not maneuver between Democrats and Republicans,” said Yevhen Mahda, a political commentator in Kyiv, in an interview. “He should propose a new paradigm – the paradigm that Ukraine is today at the epicenter of the struggle between good and evil.

“And by supporting Ukraine, the United States is supporting good,” Mr Mahda added. “That is the necessary message.”

Mr. Zelensky, a former comedian, has always had a keen sense of image and storytelling in politics, as evidenced in his speech to Congress after visiting the front in the eastern city of Bakhmut – with artillery blaring in the background.

“It’s an honor to be here today,” said Mr. Zelenskyi, telling soldiers in Bakhmut, where Russia has been pushing a bitter offensive for months. To those with children, he said: “I wish that your sun, that is, your children, shines for you, so that they motivate you to survive safely and to defend your families, our families, our entire state and the future of our children.” .”

At a press conference Wednesday with President Biden in Washington, where he personally made the case for more economic and military support, he had a similar message when asked what he wanted to say to the world: “I wish you peace,” he said, Switch from Ukrainian to English. “And you only understand it when the war is in your country.” He added, “I want you to see your kids when they go to college and see your kids.”

Analysts say Mr. Zelensky is also aware that he must boost the morale of his people, who will make millions of people live without electricity, water or heat as winter approaches.

But mostly Mr. Zelensky felt no political pressures at home and was free to tailor the trip to the need to replenish his military’s arsenal for war.

The United States is by far the largest foreign arms supplier to the Ukrainian army. But the Biden administration has carefully calibrated its aid to Ukraine, holding back longer-range weapons and more powerful weapons for fear of Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory that could draw NATO into the war.

Two successful Ukrainian counter-offensives in the north-east and south have run their course, and the Russian and Ukrainian armies are digging in along a new 600-mile front line. To sustain this progress, the Ukrainian military needs more advanced weapons systems, Ukrainian officials and analysts say.

Mr. Zelenskyy will have an opportunity to address US lawmakers’ concerns about overseeing military and financial aid to Ukraine, and he may be pushed on domestic issues such as freedom of the press, fighting corruption and ensuring checks and balances between courts and executive branches.

But Mr. Zelensky’s primary goal is to portray the war in clear terms of good and evil, which he hopes will transcend American politics and “give a sense of the rightness of his cause and a sense of what his people and soldiers feel.” said Yuri Makarov, the editor-in-chief of the Ukrainian national broadcasting company.

Maria Varenikova contributed to the coverage from Kyiv.

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