Reel world is vastly different from the real world for all actors. They can mostly fancy about reel becoming real. Volodymyr Zelensky might have thought he belonged to the league of exceptions when he became Ukraine’s president in 2019. Not too many actors have seen that much success in the world of politics Donald Trump and Ronald Regan of the US are some recent examples.
For spies, brutal realities of nationalism are the world they operate in. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin lived in a contrastingly different world from which Zelensky came into politics. And theirs has been a tussle between a hardcore ruthlessly nationalist politician and a comedian-turned-political greenhorn.
Zelensky lived a reel life in the politically turbulent space of Ukraine when he ran for the presidential election in 2019. Till then, Zelensky was best known for his satirical television series, Servants of the People. He played the character of a teacher who accidentally became the president of Ukraine.
The TV series had established him as a comedian-actor in Ukraine. Zelensky was a millionaire thanks to his production company and had millions of followers on social media. But in civil war-ridden Ukraine, Zelensky decided to take on business-turned-politician Petro Poroshenko in the presidential election.
BBC reported that Zelensky avoided discussing serious issues during his election campaign and depended on posting light comic videos on social media as part of his canvassing plan. On one occasion, he left then Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko and a candidate in the election to ‘debate’ with an empty podium. Volodymyr Zelensky did not turn up for the televised debate.
Zelensky secured almost three-fourths of votes, catapulting the comedian-actor with no experience whatsoever in politics and administration to the top post in Ukraine. On the other side of the border, in the east, was a seasoned Vladimir Putin.
HOW PUTIN RESPONDED
Russia welcomed Zelensky’s election as Ukraine’s president, saying that the Putin government wanted him to show “sound judgement”, “honesty” and “pragmatism” to improve bilateral relations.
Poroshenko was considered an anti-Russia president who had taken over in 2014 from pro-Russian Victor Yanukovych following violent protests in Kyiv and the rest of Ukraine. Back then, Putin had ordered the annexation of Crimea.
Zelensky had promised to renew ties with Russia in the election but with decision-making independent of Russia.
Three days after Zelensky’s victory, Putin signed a government order for issuing passports to people living in eastern Ukraine, in areas controlled by rebels. Zelensky’s team called Russia “an aggressor state which wages war against Ukraine”.
Putin defended the passport offer, saying there was “nothing unusual” about it as Russia was only taking care of Russians living in Ukraine. All this happened in April 2019.
A TRUMP ANGLE
In July 2019, Zelensky turned to US President Donald Trump, seeking an audience in the White House over American support in countering Russia in Ukraine.
This was apparently when Trump asked Zelensky for “a favour” a probe into his then-presidential election challenger Joe Biden and his son in connection with an energy company. This “favour” request led to Trump’s impeachment in December 2019.
In July itself, Trump had ‘blocked’ the US military aid to Ukraine as Zelensky struggled to deal with Putin’s ‘aggression’ in East Ukraine. Trump reportedly asked Zelensky to sort out his issues with Putin in a friendly manner. The aid was delayed for several months.
KIEV TO KYIV
For years, Ukraine’s capital was spelt as Kiev. Zelensky, in September 2019, moved to change the spelling to Kyiv, leaving commentators recalling William Shakespeare’s famous line: “What’s in the name?”
Here it was a Ukraine and a Russia in the capital’s spelling. Kyiv is the Latin transliteration of the city’s name in the Ukrainian language, which lost its place in what is called ‘Russification’ during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Ukrainian is the official language of Ukraine, which has adopted Latin standards for spelling names in place of Cyrillic (used for Slavic languages, including Russian).
Kiev was the Russian way of pronouncing and spelling the Ukrainian capital’s name. It became popular during the times of the Russian Empire and continued during Soviet rule. Zelensky dropped this Russian tag for a nationalistic one.
But Kyiv has a nationalist appeal not only to Ukraine but to Russia and Belarus as well. It was the centre of the first Slavic state called Kyivian Rus also called the birthplace of Russia and Ukraine founded in 988 AD.
Zelensky’s promise to end the war with the rebels in East Ukraine suffered multiple jolts, with Russia keeping supplies running to the separatist fighters.
Two months after sending troops to the border, Putin wrote an article declaring the Russians and Ukrainians a one nation. In his article, Putin said, “Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians are all descendants of Ancient Rus, which was the largest state in Europe.”
“The name ‘Ukraine’ was used more often in the meaning of the Old Russian word ‘okraina [periphery]’, which is found in written sources from the 12th century, referring to various border territories. And the word ‘Ukrainian’, judging by archival documents, originally referred to frontier guards who protected the external borders,” said Putin.
Putin left no doubt that he considered Ukraine a Russian front which his government was obliged to guard against Nato or even a president, who was ‘too novice’ to understand his geostrategic nuances.
Russian troops kept assembling on the Ukraine border through 2021 and from January 2022, war loomed large on the European horizon.
In February, Russia and Belarus conducted a joint military exercise near the Ukraine border about 550 km from capital Kyiv. Putin followed it up by recognising two rebel-controlled regions independent in another nudge to Zelensky this week.
Culled from India Today