Zelenskyy reaches out to court international support for Ukraine

LONDON – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been giving online addresses to national assemblies and holding virtual meetings with leaders around the world as he seeks to build international support for his nation and counter the military superiority of Russian forces.

One month has passed since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. Zelenskyy remains in the capital, Kyiv, from where he has launched a sweeping diplomacy campaign.

He holds telephone talks with world leaders almost daily. As of Tuesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had been on the other end of the line 12 times — the most of any leader — since the invasion began. Zelenskyy also had spoken with French President Emmanuel Macron nine times, European Council President Charles Michel eight times and U.S. President Joe Biden six times.

Zelenskyy’s frequent dialogue with Johnson stems from expectations that Britain will provide support at a level on a par with the United States. During ceasefire negotiations with Russia, Ukraine has sought assurances about “security guarantees” from the United States, Britain and Turkey in exchange for dropping ambitions to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

In 1994, Britain was involved in an agreement with the United States and Russia in which Ukraine was given security assurances in exchange for giving up its nuclear weapons. Johnson has claimed Britain has a historical responsibility to support Ukraine, and he has rolled out a flurry of packages including supplies of weapons and economic assistance.

Zelenskyy has used his media appearances and addresses to national assemblies in the United States, Europe and elsewhere to rally public support for Ukraine in those countries.

The Ukrainian president has significantly amplified his message by, for example, quoting from Winston Churchill, Britain’s prime minister during World War II, in his address to the British Parliament, and touching on the Pearl Harbor and Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in his speech to the U.S. Congress.

Zelenskyy does not use his addresses simply to express gratitude to each nation for the support they have provided. He also requests further military assistance and criticizes conventional policies that were conciliatory toward Russia.

As criticism of the Russian military’s indiscriminate attacks mounts, Zelenskyy has raised awareness about the crisis directly facing Ukraine and, by skillfully reinforcing the image of himself as a guardian of the international order, increased his ability to be a unifying force.