Thursday, February 2

Zelensky’s diplomacy by phone and tweets that has moved the EU

From a besieged Kiev and through phone calls, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has persuaded the West to accept a series of sanctions against Russia that only a week ago seemed inconceivable.

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Sensing the reaction of European public opinion to the bravery of his people, Zelensky has spent much of his time on the phone with Western leaders and using his Twitter account to persuade, encourage, scold and praise the allies. While he did so, sanctions that a week ago would have been branded as unthinkable have been transformed into moral principles. The pace at which the West has been acceding to new sanctions has also left the government officials, lawyers and bankers working at top speed to turn headlines into reality gasping for air.

“We are surprised, maybe it is not ultimately saving Ukraine or changing Russia, but it is changing Europe,” says a source in a European president’s office.

From the UN to the Vatican

The diplomacy displayed on Saturday is an example of the activity of the Ukrainian president. Zelensky said that he opened the day on the diplomatic front with a call to Emmanuel Macron. As the day progressed, that first communication was followed by calls to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen; the Prime Minister of Italy, Mario Draghi; the president of Switzerland, Ignazio Cassis; the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi; the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan; the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev; the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte; the Secretary General of the UN, António Guterres; the chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz; to the Pope; the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic, Petr Fiala; and the President of Poland, Andrzej Duda. The last communication was a virtual toast with the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson.

This Sunday Zelenski also with the Spanish president, Pedro Sánchez, as announced by La Moncloa.

The number of calls had been similar a day earlier, all focused on the request for more weapons and tougher sanctions against Russia. It is hard to understand how Zelensky manages to make these calls, unite the home front, command the army and sleep. “He is very direct, very passionate and very practical,” says one person who has seen him in action.

Changes in Germany and Italy

For Zelensky, those calls have become valuable and have helped change the course of events.

In all wars, social changes accelerate, but the 180-degree turn given by Germany in just one week to support the sale of weapons to Ukraine, increase its defense spending to 2% of GDP, and agree to remove Russia from Swift banking payment system, represents not only a set of extraordinary political changes but a real break with the way of thinking that has prevailed in the country since the Second World War.

In another realization that political opposition to immediate tougher measures had evaporated was Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s statement earlier in the week on the need to seek long-term solutions to wean Italy off Russian gas. .

From his office they have denied the reports that mentioned Draghi raising strong objections to the exclusion of Russia from the Swift system. They have said that the issue had not been seriously raised during the G7 leaders’ meetings last week. But they admit that the initiative to convince others that Russia should be excluded from the Swift had been left to the UK, Canada and France thanks to Zelensky’s ingenuity and Moscow’s arrogance.

Economic consequences

On Saturday night, following Zelensky’s calls, the EU announced the exclusion of a group of Russian banks from the Swift payment system. In addition, it took the completely unexpected decision to block the assets of the Central Bank of Russia outside its borders, in an attempt to deny Russia the ability to hold the ruble and thus generate inflation that suffocates its economy.

Before this announcement, some European leaders had commented that the asset freeze would be the measure that would end up collapsing Putin’s economy. “We had it in our back pocket but it’s going to mean a drop in the ruble on Monday that they won’t be able to contain,” a senior European official said.

This Monday, the sanctions have begun to show their effects: the Russian Central Bank has doubled interest rates in an attempt to stabilize the country’s financial markets, after the ruble fell 27.02%, to 119.8 rubles per dollar. The regulatory body has stated that “external conditions for the Russian economy have changed drastically.”

Another senior European official admitted that the Ukrainian Army’s chances of resisting vastly superior Russian forces in the long term are limited. The real goal is to make Putin pay such a high economic and political price that he has no choice but to realize that he cannot win like this.

Translation of Francisco de Zarate