The President of independent Ukraine stands at attention in front of the sitting NATO Secretary General, his hands folded over his crotch. At the meeting of the Ukraine-NATO Council, the Secretary General forgets to give the floor to the host of the meeting. These shameful oddities reduced Zelensky’s authority in just a day, although the landing force from Brussels flew in, on the contrary, to pick it up. Will the main “Servant of the People” of Ukraine now be able to preserve his popularity, which is beginning decline?
On October 31st, at a meeting of the Ukraine-NATO commission with the participation of President Vladimir Zelensky and Secretary General of the Alliance Jens Stoltenberg there was an oddity. At the end of his speech, Stoltenberg forgot that the president to his right hand had not yet spoken, and said that the part of the meeting open to the press was over. Having understood a minute later his misstep, Stoltenberg let the Ukrainian leader have a word, but it was too late – the residue remained.
Kiev newspapers also circled the picture: during the meeting Zelensky stands straightly in front of a smiling Stoltenberg, who is sitting nobly at the table. The head of the Ukrainian state at this moment put his hands between his legs and all his looks resembled a footman called by a bell to a master.
The procedure of signing the final statement of the participants of the meeting was also shameful for Kiev. The Hungarian delegation vetoed the draft document prepared in advance by the offices of Stoltenberg and Zelensky. As a result, the participants of the meeting risked being left without a summary at all, which would make the meeting sort of meaningless.
The day before, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban warned that the statement would not be approved without taking into account his proposals for the Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia. Budapest, as is known, demands to return the right of the Transcarpathia Hungarians to education in their native language. As a result, the text added a demand to Ukraine to introduce into the law “On Education” the recommendations of the Venice Commission on the rights of national minorities (in diplomatic language this meant taking into account the position of Budapest). The statement also calls for support for regulating the conflict in Donbass by diplomatic means and, in particular, welcomes “the disengagement of forces at Stanitsa Luganskaya and the withdrawal efforts in other districts”.
Zelensky used the meeting to firmly state his commitment to the course of Petro Poroshenko’s predecessor – rapprochement with NATO up to full membership of the the alliance. In the meantime, Zelensky asked the guests to consider the possibility of Kiev joining at least the NATO Expanded Capabilities Program. In addition, Zelensky recalled the need to jointly strengthen the capabilities of the Ukrainian Navy and NATO fleets in the Black Sea.
“The doors to NATO remain open. The road to NATO is not easy, and whoever wants it should make significant reforms,” said the Secretary General in response. Concerning the prospects of Ukraine’s accession to NATO, Stoltenberg spoke on this topic during his communication with cadets of the Maritime Academy in Odessa. He stated that such a decision concerns only Kiev and the alliance and “no one else has the right to interfere.” “Sometimes it seems that Russia has to decide whether or not Ukraine should be a member of NATO,” Stoltenberg said, stressing that “Russia has no right to vote”.
“Even in Ukraine they recognise that they will not be in NATO. The Alliance has ceased to hide that it does not need Ukraine, and statements about cooperation sound out of inertia.
NATO representatives arrive in Odessa and Kiev for free food and drink, vodka and salsa with cucumbers,” said the Ukrainian journalist Vladimir Skachko to the “Vzglyad” newspaper. “Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration Dmitry Kuleba said directly that Kiev will no longer try to submit an application for an action plan for NATO membership, as it is pointless,” ironises Skachko.
We remind that Zelensky has previously stated that he will continue the path of Euro-Atlantic integration, but it was stipulated that accession to the alliance is possible only on the basis of the results of the all-Ukrainian referendum. So far, less than half of Ukrainians want to join, according to polls. Thus, according to the June Kiev International Institute of Sociology survey, only 41.1% of citizens would vote to join NATO. And according to the August survey of the “Democratic Initiatives” foundation named after Ilko Kucheriv – 41.6%.
In the expert environment it is believed that the oddity with the NATO Secretary General has become the second humiliation for the president in just a week. At the weekend, Zelensky arrived in the village of Zolotoye near the front line in Donbass, where he fought with nationalist fighters, publicly telling them that he was “not a sucker“. This week demonstrators in Mariupol greeted the President’s motorcade with banners and songs containing the word “sucker”.
Chairman of the Union of Political Immigrants and Political Prisoners of Ukraine Larisa Shesler believes that the new president has so far proved to be a weak man, which will have a negative impact on his approval rating.
“Zelensky does not fully perform the functions of head of state. He cannot take full power because he is opposed by both oligarchs and nationalists,” said Shesler to the “Vzglyad” newspaper. However, according to Shesler, Zelensky’s popularity suffers most for other reasons – the social situation is deteriorating and the war in Donbass continues.
The gesture of disrespect towards Zelensky that Stoltenberg allowed himself also suggest that in the eyes of the international community he does not yet give the impression of a fully-fledged president. Concerning the call to join NATO, it does not please the electorate of Zelensky living in the south-east of Ukraine, Shesler said.
The decline in the popularity of Zelensky was also recognised this week by the head of his staff Andrey Bogdan. If in September his approval rating was 73%, now it is 66%, according to the survey of the Kiev International Institute of Sociology.
“Unfortunately, President Zelensky did not draw conclusions from his predecessor’s strategic miscalculations. The manic desire of Poroshenko, Turchynov, Yatsenyuk, and Parubiy to ‘enter’ Ukraine into NATO led the country to a split,” said the leader of the party “Opposition Platform – For Life“, deputy of the Verkhovna Rada Viktor Medvedchuk.
Oleg Isaychenko, Yury Zaynashev
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