Zelensky's Brussels voyage: President's strides and mistakes on first foreign visit
Summing up the outcome of the first foreign trip of the newly elected President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, who visited Brussels, I should start off with what Europeans wanted to hear from the new Ukrainian leader. Both the EU and NATO wanted to hear only one thing: that Ukraine remains on its European and Euro-Atlantic path, that its position remains unchanged, and that it will try to be part of Western civilization.
President Zelensky made statements sought to be heard in Brussels
Did the West receive an answer from Ukraine on the issue? It did. President Zelensky made statements sought to be heard in Brussels.
On the other hand, what was it that Ukraine wanted to hear from Western partners, from the EU and NATO? The country wanted to make sure that both of these structures would continue supporting Ukraine, helping it with reforms, and helping it counter Russia's aggression.
Did Ukrainian officials hear such messages from the European Union and NATO? They did.
So, it can be stated that both sides have taken political steps they expected from each other and they have confirmed that their course remains unchanged. This is an important political aspect of the first visit of the newly elected president.
The European Union says it will help Ukraine, but ...
But there is one "but". The European Union says it will help Ukraine, but ... And there goes a list of issues to which the EU draws the attention of the new Ukrainian leadership, and without which, unfortunately, promises of macroeconomic assistance will remain just words.
The European Union sent the Ukrainian leadership a clear signal: assistance in exchange for reforms. This has been on the table for years. We've promised this very often, but due to certain political, economic and personal circumstances, we never fulfilled our promises.
Consequently, the EU proposal has once again been voiced: implement reforms, and we will support you to this end. Now the ball is in our pitch: if reforms continue, there will be support from the West; and if there are no reforms, there will be no such support either.
Actually, the same was voiced by IMF mission officials who recently came to Ukraine: concrete results of reform will yield financial injections. This is a normal, principled business-like talk of partners who want results, not slogans.
So now everything is being translated into a practical plane. The West will be analyzing Ukraine's ability to move in this direction.
It was also politically important that Zelensky clearly stated that Russia is an aggressor, while Ukraine expects that Western pressure on Russia will remain in place. This is a fundamental point. It means following the line earlier pursued by President Poroshenko.
Thus, the position of the new Ukrainian leadership has been articulated regarding the main directions of Ukraine's foreign policy: the EU, NATO, and Russia. And these words saw responses that are positive for us.
I should also touch upon certain episodes of Zelensky's first foreign visit as president.
Firstly, rather warm was Volodymyr Zelensky's meeting with President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. I think that not only political but emotional factors worked there. Juncker is already leaving his top post, so perhaps he would like to demonstrate that the Ukraine issue remains on the agenda, and this is reflected not only in political points but also in human relations. Juncker had a very friendly relationship with Petro Poroshenko. Perhaps, he used the same note willing to demonstrate that the new president would have his personal attention and respect.
Secondly, while in Brussels, Zelensky talked with Polish President Andrzej Duda. The tone of the conversation was acceptable – it was conciliatory and on both sides aimed at bringing Ukrainian-Polish relations out of the difficult situation they have found themselves in. But I suspect that each party had its own vision in this regard.
As we know from practice, vague beautiful slogans get broken into very specific practical things, which the other party does not want to agree with. If, say, behind these beautiful slogans voiced by Duda, once again stands a proposal to allow the Polish side to do whatever they want to do in Ukraine, while, at the same time, leaving Warsaw's general approach to historical events as it is, all these vague slogans will bring no effect.
Modern politicians cannot change history: it is what it is. We can only try to draw conclusions from historical events, but not to make countries get into a fight with each other, but to prevent the tragic events of the past from happening in the future. If Ukraine and Poland proceed from realizing this, there is a chance to achieve what political leaders in Brussels have been talking about. If not, Ukrainian-Polish relations will once again shift to the stage they've already been at.
Thirdly, following Zelensky's voyage, an agreement was reached on joint NATO training in the Black Sea and the holding of the Ukraine-EU Summit in Kyiv. Both events are scheduled for July.
These are important agreements demonstrating that there are very important practical actions, required by both sides, in Ukraine-NATO and Ukraine-EU relations.
The EU-Ukraine Summit is traditionally an analysis of all that was done in the previous period, which means that the areas will be identified where there may be some delays or issues. This is a good reason to once again look at problems and think of the ways to tackle them. This is a good forum that sums things up and puts forward new challenges.
With regard to joint NATO exercises in the Black Sea, we all understand the significance of the Black Sea area. Taking into account the things Russia has been doing there, Ukraine's joint drills with NATO are an important tool to stabilize the situation. Therefore, any kind of presence of NATO naval forces is a positive fact as such, while joint training shows that Ukraine is seriously supported by NATO.
Therefore, plans for joint exercises are a sign that, in addition to the politically correct slogans, there is practical work underway, which is very much needed. This should be welcomed.
Zelensky repeated in Brussels the correct and powerful phrase that Poroshenko had voiced a few days ago. But this didn't cause any deterioration in the relationship between Ukraine and the EU
In addition, after Zelensky's visit to Brussels, a scandal broke out in Ukraine surrounding the president's speech. Zelensky was accused of partial plagiarism: one of the paragraphs in the address was "borrowed" from Poroshenko's recent speech.
We must admit that plagiarism is a global problem. I remembered how a few paragraphs were taken from Michelle Obama's speech, to be repeated by the incumbent U.S. First Lady, Melania Trump. It was, too, a real scandal. Things like that happen...
Zelensky repeated in Brussels the correct and powerful phrase that Poroshenko had voiced a few days ago. But this didn't cause any deterioration in the relationship between Ukraine and the EU. Of course, it would have been better if he added a little touch: "as my predecessor said."
I doubt that it was right to bring the subject to public discussion. The phrase has been said, and it was powerful, correct, and strong. I believe it was not worth focusing on this.
But, since this information is already being spun, it is not necessary to search for culprits. It is necessary to create a powerful working group around President Zelensky who will work out all the materials that the president will use during his foreign visits or public events to further avoid such situations.
I didn't quite like hearing the words like "sabotage" as Zelensky's team accused Foreign Ministry employees. You see, the Foreign Ministry does not work for Poroshenko, Zelensky, Petrenko, or Sidorenko. According to its status, the MFA works for Ukraine, for the state. Therefore, searching for "provocateurs" is an absolutely foolish endeavor. And I wouldn't like seeing some "diplomats case" emerge in Ukraine alike the "doctors case" in Stalin's Soviet Union. It would be very sad, indeed.
Typically, presidential speeches are being prepared in different ways: sometimes the draft is being provided by the Foreign Ministry, and sometimes – the Institute for Strategic Studies or the National Security and Defense Council. Sometimes it is several agencies that draft the address. But it is the Presidential Administration that is tasked with finalizing the piece. There is a Deputy Head of the Administration and his office to analyze and refine the speech, verify data and facts, and then submit the address to the president for approval.
Perhaps in this transitional period, someone has overlooked something. This could be the case. Therefore, it is not worth making the incident an issue in Ukraine's foreign policy. This would be simply unprofessional.
So, the first foreign visit of the newly elected President, Volodymyr Zelensky, was rather successful. It had a symbolic meaning given the location: the capital of united Europe. Also, it once again confirmed that the priorities have not changed. Now it's up to us – we must follow through on our promises.
Volodymyr Ohryzko is a Ukrainian diplomat, Former Minister of Foreign Affairs