Analysis: Zelenskyy, Biden show different styles, missions

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. President Joe Biden and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy are men of different generations, countries and styles — and with very different missions.

Zelenskyy fights to save his nation. Biden to restore a broken world order – without starting a world war.

The contrasts were there on Wednesday. First, the Ukrainian leader made an impassioned appeal to Congress for additional military assistance to combat the three-week Russian invasion. Then came Biden, with a more technocratic rhetoric promising more weapons and humanitarian aid but clarifying the limits of what the United States is prepared to do.

Zelenskyy, 44, was vigorous but unshaven and tired. Dressed in military green, he made a lethal call for help via video link from some bunker. Biden, nearly 80, was calm as he spoke about sanctions and coalition building from the made-for-TV set built next to the White House.

“I’m almost 45; today my age stopped when the hearts of more than 100 children stopped beating,” Zelenskyy told US lawmakers. “I see no meaning in life if it can’t stop the dead.”

Speaking for 15 minutes, he spoke of uniquely American moments of conflict and significance: the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the September 11 attacks, Martin Luther King Jr.’s quest for civil rights. He called on Biden to be “the leader of peace.”

It marked the latest leg of Zelenskyy’s live world tour, as he seeks to portray Ukraine as defending more than its own land and tries to stir up even tougher military and other action against Russia.

“We are fighting for the values ​​of Europe and the world,” he told lawmakers.

Zelenskyy pleaded with the United States to engage more directly to help his people – including for the United States to help Ukraine use Soviet-built planes against Russia and for an enforced no-fly zone in the country. over Ukraine, although he admitted that was unlikely. Biden has warned that responding to such demands could push Russia and the United States – two nuclear-armed countries – into direct conflict. It’s a chance he’s not ready to take.

Biden watched Zelensky’s speech from the White House residence and called it “powerful.”

His own remarks—three hours later and half as long—were less noble, delivered from a small auditorium studio to a room full of reporters. He talked about what the United States can do now, stopping long before he granted everything Zelenskyy was looking for.

Biden has spent the past few months working to align NATO allies and Group of Seven partners behind tough economic sanctions on Russia. It started as an attempt to prevent invasion and has now morphed into an effort to ensure the conflict leaves Russia isolated and economically weakened.

Biden crossed American arms to arrive in the final installment of missiles, drones and bullets. He reviewed the sanctions already imposed on Russia and the humanitarian aid sent to Ukraine. Mostly, however, while lamenting the horrific losses so far, he expressed America’s interest in the conflict in terms of protecting democracy around the world – rather than focusing on Ukraine itself. same.

“What’s at stake here are the principles that the United States and the United Nations stand for around the world,” Biden said. “It’s a matter of freedom. It is about the right of people to determine their own future. It’s about making sure that Ukraine will never be – will never be a victory for Putin, no matter what advances he makes on the battlefield.”

Max Bergmann, a former State Department official who is now a senior fellow at the Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress, said that despite their general alignment, Biden and Zelenskyy play very different roles.

For Zelenskyy, “it’s an existential threat to him. The very survival of Ukraine is at stake here. The Ukrainian leader, he said, is showing “determination and desperation”.

Biden, he said, empathizes with Zelenskyy’s position. “It’s not just about moving chess pieces around the board. It’s about defending a country fighting for freedom.

But Biden, he said, has limits. “There is going to be a difference and we just have to understand that. It’s part of being the leader of the free world, which is to weigh these competing demands.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki acknowledged the competing interests,

“If we were President Zelenskyy, we would also ask for everything possible,” Psaki said. “But the way President Biden makes decisions is through the prism of our own national security.”

Daniel Fried, former US ambassador to Poland, said Biden’s age – and coming of age during the Cold War – helps him understand the issues in a different way than the Ukrainian leader.

“Biden doesn’t look at Zelenskyy with cold indifference,” Fried said. “He grew up with those lessons.”

“The Ukrainians have support. And I think they feel it. But very tough tests lie ahead.


AP writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.


EDITOR’S NOTE – Miller and Megerian cover the White House for The Associated Press.

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