Zelensky Interview: Making His Case To The West

Zelensky Interview: Making His Case To The West

Zelensky Interview: Making His Case To The West

President Volodymyr Zelensky was initially dismissed as nothing more than a comedian who had gotten himself elected.

The American media wanted to write him off the way they did Donald Trump – as a publicity stunt turned into a presidency. Now, with his country under attack, they see him more as a Reagan figure – the actor who rose to the occasion when events demanded it. 60 Minutes had an exclusive interview with Zelensky, where you can now see how they are framing his acting career as a positive.

In this war, Zelenskyy is the leading man in a tragedy but he worked his entire career to make people laugh. He was Ukraine’s favorite comedian whose sitcom was popular in Russia too.”

In his show, called “Servant of the people,” he played a high school history teacher whose anger at corruption in Ukraine explodes into a profane rant. A student posts the tirade and the teacher is elected president.”

In 2019, Zelenskyy turned parody into power. He ran on an anti-corruption platform and won 73% of the vote. He was 41 years old. He brought longtime friend and business partner, Andriy Yermak, in as chief of staff.”

Andriy Yermak: He’s smart. He’s strong. He’s brave. And he is person who is self-made. Zelenskyy is not just the leader of our heroic nation. I think he is the leader of the free world.”

Scott Pelley: Why do you say President Zelenskyy is the leader of the free world now?”

Andriy Yermak: Because Ukraine defend not just Ukraine. We defend all democracy.”

Given the circumstances, I don’t know that Yermak is wrong. For those who have the time, the interview can be seen here.

And in a nice nod to the Ukrainians, the full interview without an English overdub was also released on YouTube and Twitter.

However, Zelensky has definitely learned how to be diplomatic. Scott Pelley, who did the interview, asked some interesting questions about how Zelensky perceives Joe Biden and the help he is getting from the United States.

Scott Pelley: And so what are you asking of President Biden?”

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, translation: To tell you the truth. Long ago, I asked President Biden for very specific items. He has the list. President Biden can enter history as the person who stood shoulder to shoulder with the Ukrainian people who won and chose the right to have their own country. [This] also depends on him.”

Scott Pelley: You are frustrated with President Biden?”

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, translation: No. I’m not disappointed. I don’t know how another president in his place would help us, I don’t know. It’s difficult. We have a good relationship. I think so at least. Ukraine depends on the support of the United States. And I, as the leader of a country at war, I can only be grateful.”

It’s hard to parse the response from Zelensky, especially because these comments are translated into English. And translating from one language to another is not exact, as the tweet from 60 Minutes notes. But I do think we can read between the lines regarding what Pelley asked and how Zelensky replied.

Zelensky says that Biden has the list of the things he needs, and that he was specific. Well, one of the specific things Zelensky asked for was a no-fly zone, or the support for the Ukrainians to provide their own air coverage. As we all saw play out in a truly humiliating diplomatic screwup, Biden himself tanked the deal that would have given the Ukrainians the old MiG-29s from Poland. Pelley and Zelensky both know about this, and this has to be on both their minds when Pelley asks if Zelensky is “frustrated” with Biden. The translation here is interesting, because Zelensky says “I’m not disappointed.” Does that mean he is frustrated? Especially if, as he says, Biden has a list of what Ukraine needs, and deliberately blocked them from getting the fighter jets on that list? Like I said, Zelensky is doing quite the diplomatic dance here. He can’t insult Biden, but he probably IS frustrated with him, and the West in general. After all, Zelensky has been speaking to Congress, to the British House of Commons, to the United Nations, and even at the Grammys, begging for help. And while he has gotten some financial help and matériel, that has to be little comfort when the sheer horror and brutality of what Russian troops have done to Ukrainian civilians is being uncovered.

Behind St. Andrew’s Church there is a sandy trench not quite full of civilian residents of the town of Bucha. Ukraine stopped the Russians here, 45 minutes from the center of the capital city. The Russian retreat was so hasty, it seems there was no time to cover up the war crimes. President Zelenskyy visited Bucha two days before our interview.”

Scott Pelley: What did you see in Bucha?”

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, translation: Death. Just death.”

Last Monday was the first time Zelenskyy saw, with his own eyes, what Russia has done in what Vladimir Putin calls the liberation of Ukraine. The day after our interview, we found civilian neighborhoods in Bucha, blocks and blocks shelled and blasted with no purpose but terror. Bodies and parts of bodies lay in the streets, “left out like trash,” Zelenskyy told us. No one knows how many victims are still in their homes, yet to be found.”

Scott Pelley: There’s a photograph, Mr. President, of you in Bucha with an expression on your face that you have not allowed your people to see during this war. And I wonder what we’re seeing there. Is that heartbreak? Is it anger?”

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, translation: It’s anger. It’s anger because we don’t understand [the Russians]. You can’t really understand this world. That there are people on this planet who give these orders and people [who carry them out].”

And Zelensky is adamant about what Ukraine needs now.

Scott Pelley: President Biden says he is outraged by Bucha. NATO leaders say they are outraged by Bucha. So, what should they do now?”

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, translation: Weapons, number one. They need to be very serious about it. They definitely understand what I’m talking about right now. They have to supply weapons to Ukraine as if they were defending themselves and their own people. They need to understand this: If they don’t speed up, It will be very hard for us to hold on against this pressure. The second factor is sanctions. Because we’ve found some things in sanctions that are easy for financial experts to circumvent. Russia has been circumventing them, and this is absolutely true. The Western world knows it. This shouldn’t be allowed. This is not a movie, this is real life. Stop fearing the Russian Federation. We’ve shown we are not afraid.”

And herein lies the problem. The West isn’t afraid of Russia – the West, in general, is too weak to stand up against Russia. We all know Europe has put themselves in thrall to Russian oil and gas, and can’t cut themselves off for long. Joe Biden is condemning Putin out of one side of his mouth, and giving him wet slobbery kisses with the other side as he begs Russia to help him out with the Iran Deal (may it die a flaming death chopped into tiny little pieces). Prime Minister Boris Johnson did visit Kyiv and President Zelensky just this weekend.
That is some amazing footage, and Joe Biden would never be able to walk around Kyiv like that, even if he was physically able to keep up with a man half his age. Why? Because Biden is fundamentally weak, and so is his administration. They will pay lip service to supporting Ukraine, they will send money, but so long as Biden is trying to resurrect the Iran Deal, there’s no way that this administration can be serious about throwing weight behind their support for Zelensky and Ukraine. I’m afraid that Zelensky is going to continue to be frustrated by Joe Biden – even if he will never say it out loud.

Featured image: President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, official portrait, cropped, Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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