Zelensky Didn’t Try To Be Churchill — and It Worked
He addressed Congress, and America, in a speech executed with humor, emotion, and even props — a Ukrainian battle flag and an olive sweater with the nation’s coat of arms.
The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, is being showered with compliments comparing his congressional address to that of Winston Churchill, but history isn’t doling out the British Bulldog’s cigar and siren suit just yet.
The night began with a blunder sure to make Ukrainians cringe and the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, snicker. Speaker Pelosi introduced Mr. Zelensky as “president of the Ukraine,” which is considered odious. In 2014, a former ambassador to Kiev, William Taylor, told Time, “Ukraine is a country. ‘The Ukraine’ is the way the Russians referred to that part of the country during Soviet times.”
Since independence is what’s at stake, Mrs. Pelosi gave Kremlin propagandists something to highlight, but if they do, it’ll prompt Russian citizens to check out a speech executed with humor, emotion, and even props — a Ukrainian battle flag and an olive sweater with the nation’s coat of arms.
For a non-native speaker, one impulse would be to agonize over pronunciation, which frustrates an audience. Mr. Zelensky chose a better option: He laid out what’s at stake and let that transcend his accent. Although he read from a printed page, he kept his head up and maintained eye contact with those in the chamber as well as those watching on TV.
In short, Mr. Zelensky didn’t try to be someone he’s not. And while he couldn’t wield the English language with Churchill’s mastery — who, but a tiny few, can? — he did echo the address that the prime minister gave to Congress almost 81 years ago to the day, on December 26, 1941.
Sir Winston was elated that with America at its side, the Empire could strike back, and Ukraine’s president seems to be itching to counterpunch, too, if we keep the weapons and ammo coming. He even cited the speech President Franklin Roosevelt gave after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“‘The American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory,’” Mr. Zelensky quoted him as saying before adding, “The Ukrainian people will win, too.” He also made a point to thank both of the major political parties several times, a sign of how divided our nation is when thanking “America” is no longer deemed sufficient.
Mr. Zelensky chose not to mention that America and the U.K. failed to live up to the Budapest Memorandum, which they signed with the Russian Federation on December 5, 1994, guaranteeing Ukraine’s borders in exchange for Kyiv surrendering its Soviet nuclear arsenal.
When Mr. Putin invaded Crimea and the Donbas 20 years later, he ignored that agreement just as Hitler had ignored so many, and the Anglo-Americans ignored the ignoring. President Obama responded to the violation by assuring Mr. Putin that it wouldn’t spark “another cold war,” saying, “The United States and NATO do not seek any conflict with Russia.”
Earlier this year, as the Kremlin balled up its fist, President Biden said, “I think what you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades,” and, “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion and then we end up having a fight about what to do and not do” within NATO, vague language interpreted as a green light.
Churchill didn’t shy away from criticizing similar blunders in 1941. “Five or six years ago,” he told Congress, “it would have been easy, without shedding a drop of blood, for the United States and Great Britain to have insisted on the fulfillment of the disarmament clauses of the treaties which Germany signed after the Great War.”
Mr. Zelensky, without an empire to back him up, chose instead to thank Americans early and often, but still laid out what’s at stake for the world in his nation’s fight. “The struggle,” he said, “will define in what world our children and grandchildren will live…. It will define whether it will be a democracy of Ukrainians and for Americans.”
Ukrainians are resolved never to surrender and to never again let Russia subjugate them as “the Ukraine.” Said Ukraine’s president over the summer: “I would not compare myself to Churchill.” It turns out that he didn’t need the cigar or the siren suit. Just being Volodymyr Zelensky was enough.
Mr. Karayanis worked for the king of talk radio, Rush Limbaugh, for over 25 years with stints in TV news, on campaigns, and ghost/speechwriting for a variety of newsmakers. He is the creator/host of the History Author Show on iHeart Radio, producer of its documentary-style video specials, and a contributor of political and social commentary for various news organizations. He is a producer for the Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show.