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Analysis: Zelensky’s D.C. trip marks victory in PR war with Putin


In the last week before the Gregorian Christmas, Russia’s perspective on the war in Ukraine has taken on a different dynamic and demonstrates that the battle is not just being fought on the freezing front lines in Ukraine, but that it also becomes a kind of public relations. -tat.

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

Russian President Vladimir Putin, a former propaganda master, drives his own agenda through his absolute control of Russian state media. Comparisons between the two show a chasm that may reflect the larger narrative of the war.

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

But the only images that emerged were of Putin at the head of a table of generals, dressed in a navy suit and tie, listening as military leaders bow down to his every whim. There was no mention of a location for this meeting, no reading, and the president made no public comment.

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

He spent Tuesday morning on the frozen front lines, visiting troops in the besieged town of Bakhmut. Location was important: Zelensky and his generals have repeatedly said that this part of the 1,300 km long front line in Ukraine sees the most persistent and deadly fighting. Dressed in khaki fatigues, he called his soldiers “superhuman”.

Zelensky 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. This visit may have 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 “special military operation” in Ukraine.

But the video was not labeled as coming from a particular region. He also did not reveal any places of identification. In fact, the only thing he revealed was Shoigu in a helicopter, and that Russia still has working helicopters.

The starkest contrast came this week.

In Moscow on Tuesday, Vladimir Putin presented medals in the golden halls of the Kremlin – again, dressed in a dark suit and brown tie. Honors, including a red sash, were awarded to leaders installed by Russia in occupied regions of Ukraine: Lugansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.

The wringing of hands and waving of a bouquet could not have been more at odds with how President Zelensky concluded his visit to Bakhmut. Standing in a secret underground location, he handed out medals to soldiers, weapons slung over their shoulders, risking their lives in defense.

Of Bakhmut, Zelensky spoke catchy words: “The East holds because Bakhmut fights. It is the fortress of our morale. In fierce battles and at the cost of many lives, freedom is defended here for all of us. The defenders of Bakhmut deserve our maximum support and greatest gratitude. »

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

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

It is hardly a coincidence that Zelensky decided to make the United States his first official visit outside Ukraine since the 300 Day War.

On Monday, President Putin made a rare trip to Minsk, Belarus, to visit his ally, President Alexander Lukashenko, often dubbed Europe’s last dictator. The pair, considered pariahs by large swaths of the Western world, were seen hugging on a red carpet on a freezing morning at an airport in Minsk.

In contrast, Zelensky will shake hands with – and maybe even kiss – 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 vital systems of Patriot air defense, which the Kremlin described as a “red line”, and give an address to Congress.

It’s Zelensky’s ultimate flex to Putin and not a trivial achievement for his first trip out of the country since the start of the war.

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