President Biden’s warnings of imminent Russian aggression are clashing with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s efforts to project strength, urge calm and inspire confidence in Kyiv’s ability to defend itself.
Russia has homed in on that gap in messaging to paint the West as stoking hysteria and inciting conflict in the region, part of a larger campaign that the Biden administration and foreign policy experts warn are in fact part of Moscow’s attempts to create a pretext for invasion as a defensive action.
The Ukrainian president’s statements appeared to signal a shift from his message last week in which he accused Washington and the media of instigating panic. Zelensky reportedly said he told Biden in a phone call last week it was a “mistake” to raise the alarm of a large-scale war.
Jim Townsend, adjunct senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security, said Zelensky’s rhetoric reflects a frustration that Kyiv is being caught in the middle of a larger conflict between the U.S. and Russia.
“He doesn’t want to come across to Moscow or anybody as looking weak, like he’s panicky. ... He wants to look in control,” Townsend said.
“From Kyiv, it looks like you’ve got the U.S. and Russia pounding on each other rhetorically, at least, and he’s kind of caught in the middle, and I don’t think he likes that feeling of being caught in the middle.”
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