Dr. Tahseen Mahmood Aslam witnesses a change of perception
Biden Ukraine and Zelensky Amongst the confusing noises coming out of the Ukrainian crisis one thing has clearly emerged and that is the change in perceptions about the leadership of Joe Biden. Since assuming office Joe Biden was widely rated as a political lightweight who was brought to the highest executive office of the United States for the ostensible reason to deny Donald Trump further victories in his pursuit of xenophobic plans. The 79-year old veteran politician was regarded as weak in the face of the policies pursued by Russia, Iran or North Korea. There was hardly anyone satiated with the explanations offered by Biden’s supporters pointing out that he was trying to balance a firm hand with pragmatism to overcome multiple international crises and focus on a rising China. The standoff with Russia over its buildup of troops on Ukraine’s borders fanned the flames of these accusations.
The most problematic aspect of the situation was though Biden may have adopted a martial tone, amped up warnings and even sent troops to Eastern Europe but his resolve is being called into question. It was widely held that Biden often approaches issues as an analyst instead of the executive head of the greatest power on the earth. Biden’s apparent weakness in the Ukrainian crisis was particularly exposed by US intelligence agencies that quickly identified the pattern of Russian aggression belying his stance as a president who entered the White House with a promise to US allies that America is back. This stance clearly indicated a willingness to seek compromise at the risk of giving an impression of hesitation.
It is now noted that the situation has considerably changed as it is pointed out that six months ago, the transatlantic alliance was on shaky ground but now Biden and his administration have redeemed themselves in the eyes of many NATO allies with a tough stance on Ukraine and the successful wrangling of the often-fractious alliance to support it. In the present climate Ukraine’s fate and Russia’s future relationship with the West remain uncertain yet Biden appears to have regained considerable lost ground with his strong actions.
On the other side of the spectrum is Ukrainian president Zelensky, a former actor and a political satirist, who was underestimated even by his supporters but the current events have shown that he possesses something many politicians lack; something that enables him to rise above himself and shine, especially in times of crisis. Zelensky appears to be building a larger-than-life persona though it is not clear what will happen to him in the coming days and weeks. Reports are circulating that Russia intends to kill him and Zelensky himself has speculated that one of the aims of the Russian attack is to overthrow him and said the enemy has declared him their number one target.
This is a formidable transformation for a man who just a few years ago was an actor satirising corruption and mismanagement in Ukraine by playing the Ukrainian president in a popular television. Elected the real president in 2019, he has quickly developed into a serious statesman who seems effortlessly able to strike the right tone in a crisis. Perhaps it is precisely because, before becoming president, he was a comedic actor, presenter, and outstanding rhetorical talent, which enabled him to use words to achieve the greatest possible impact.
Now that Russia has invaded, the situation in Ukraine seems increasingly perilous and each of Zelensky’s appeals has been more urgent and impassioned than the last. Observers regard the speech he made just after the Russian invasion began as the best of his life. Emotional, fearless, and resolute, he told the Russian troops: “If you attack, you will see our faces, not our backs!” Zelensky has probably never been as popular in Ukraine as he is right now. Yet before the war with Russia, many of his countrymen were anything but satisfied with their head of state.
He was unable to keep the overambitious promise he made when he took office three years ago: that he would end the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The progress envisaged in the Minsk agreements — which aimed to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine — failed to materialise; instead, the accords gradually disintegrated altogether. But the Russian invasion has changed everything and has brought Zelensky to the fore.
History is the best judge of events and it is now being made in Ukraine. Not only Zelensky but Biden and rest of the political leaders are now under the relentless focus of history and their future images would be determined by the current crisis. Up to now Biden and Zelensky have done right what was expected of them in such untenable situations but only future could finally judge what lays in store for them. TW
Dr. Tahseen Mahmood Aslam is an educationist with wide experience