Between “overreaction” and “moderation”, the missile episode in Poland says a lot about Zelensky

A missile landed on Polish soil killed two residents of the border village of Prjewodow, allies of Ukraine (NATO member since 1999), which condemned Poland’s territorial violation, and the United States, which ensured that Russia had “nothing to do”. the international community, which is still interested in the incident and the origin of the missile. Earlier in the week, the “shooting incident in Poland” raised fears of an escalation of the conflict. During this chaotic episode, Vladimir Zelensky remained flat on his boots for several days before subtly changing his speech. The Ukrainian president, who disagrees with Washington and NATO, initially claimed that the missile was “Russian” and “I don’t know what happened.” 20 minutes Alexander Eyries, a lecturer-researcher in Communication and Information Sciences at the University of Lorraine, tries to translate Volodymyr Zelensky’s relationship.

What did Vladimir Zelensky say after the rocket fell in Poland?

On Tuesday, a rocket fired by the Russian military in the Polish village of Prjewodow near the border with Ukraine killed two people. After a period of questioning about its origin and the risks of escalation, Warsaw on Wednesday deemed it “highly likely” that it was an “unfortunate accident” caused by a Ukrainian missile. As for Volodymyr Zelenskiy, he immediately reacted and casually said on TV: “I have no doubt that this missile was not ours. “Today, Russian missiles hit Poland, which is the territory of an allied country (…). We must act. This is a very significant escalation,” the president of Ukraine hastened to comment on Tuesday evening.

Very quickly, the international community takes a more moderate position and does not approve the Ukrainian leader’s version of the facts. Thus, Poland considered “high probability” that the missile was mistakenly fired by Ukraine on Wednesday.

Although Russia has denied being the author of the shooting and criticized President Zelensky’s “provocation”, US President Joe Biden considers the possibility of Russia’s shooting “impossible”, while France calls for “more caution”, while Germany warns against “hasty conclusions”. . “Let’s be clear. This is not Ukraine’s fault,” said NATO head Jens Stoltenberg.

Just two days later, this Thursday, Vladimir Zelensky said he “doesn’t know what happened” in Poland, thus returning to his claims. “I don’t know what happened. We don’t know for sure. The world does not know. But I’m sure that it was a Russian missile, I’m sure that we fired from air defense systems,” the president said in a statement issued by the Ukrainian presidency. And let’s add: “It will be possible to draw conclusions about the origin of the shooting only after the investigation.”

Why did Volodymyr Zelensky take so long to reconsider his accusations (not at all)?

“A rude step back? This can be perceived as a sign of weakness, “Analyzes Alexandre Eyriès. According to our expert, a pure and simple apology may cause Volodymyr Zelensky to lose the support of a part of the population. “He is acting without completely abandoning his position. Otherwise, it may seem inconsistent Remaining moderate allows him to keep Ukrainian and international opinion under pressure,” says Alexander Eyries.

The fact is that since Tuesday, the Ukrainian leader has started a struggle for semantics, crisis communication. The president first publicly blamed Moscow before “believing” the strike to be of Russian origin. Finally, Ukraine’s foreign minister declared on Thursday that Russia “bears full responsibility” for the incident, regardless of the origin of the projectile. According to our expert, “a smart way to blame the other party”.

As Ukraine continued to suffer from a barrage of Russian missiles on Tuesday, the US, like NATO a day earlier, aligned itself with this version, believing that Russia bore “ultimate responsibility” for the Prjewodow episode. “The American statement legitimizes Zelensky’s first statement, strengthens the president and wins him a new battle in dealing with the Russians. It’s a positive thing for him,” Alexander Eyries said, adding that as long as there is no “absolute proof” that the missile belongs to Ukraine, the leader can continue on the arrow of caution.

And Vladimir Zelensky will announce this Thursday that Ukrainian experts will also participate in the international investigation responsible for shedding light on the incident.

What does “Rocket Case” reveal about Vladimir Zelensky’s personality?

Since the beginning of the conflict, the head of state’s communication skills have been well established. But the Polish episode reinforces the narrative that the latter has been trying to push since the start of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine. “Because of storytelling, Volodymyr Zelensky does not sacrifice himself, showing that he embodies the face of a suffering people attacked by his neighbor. For him, any war action that escalates the conflict is in Russia’s favor. This discourse maintains support and mobilisation”, says Alexander Eyries, considering that the Ukrainian leader was able to quickly assume the symbolic role of commander-in-chief.

But all is not positive for the former serial actor. “Rocket Case” also showed the limits of his “just-in-time” communication. The context of war, mental fatigue, piecemeal management can lead to “overreaction”. “Once the conflict is over, there may be some kind of backlash a posteriori some of his statements”, predicts Alexander Eyries.

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