Ukraine : la communication offensive de Zelensky en guerre contre l’oubli

Ukraine : la communication offensive de Zelensky en guerre contre l’oubli

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After videoconferences in front of many national parliaments, Volodymyr Zelensky addressed, on Wednesday, for the first time, students from Sciences-Po Paris. Should we see in this new intervention the sign of a breathlessness of the communication of the Ukrainian president after two and a half months of war against Russia? Response elements.

“Volodymyr Zelensky’s main weapon is his image,” says Arnaud Mercier, professor of information and communication at Paris-Panthéon-Assas University. After having spoken before the American Congress, the European parliament as well as numerous political bodies in the world, and less political ones such as the Grammy Awards ceremony, to plead the cause of his country, the Ukrainian president chose to address , Wednesday, May 11, to students – a first. Those of Sciences-Po, the Paris Business School (ESCP), the Ecole Polytechnique and the National Institute of Public Service (INSP) more precisely. According to the university establishments’ communication service, the intervention was initiated by the Ukrainian embassy, ​​which contacted several French institutions with the aim of “addressing as many people as possible. And that goes through students and the big schools. It is a necessity”.

It is not surprising that the Ukrainian head of state intervenes with students, when we know that he has hired an armada of junior communicators and young graduates fresh out of European or American universities to manage his image and his communication . In short, his professional entourage is essentially made up of “young people bathed in a post-Soviet culture, but they have for them the modernity of this generation very versed in social networks, new media. This dual culture gives them communication weapons very powerful”, explained to France Inter the researcher in political communication Alexandre Eyriès.

War of attrition

This intervention with students also delivers two lessons on Volodymyr Zelensky’s communication strategy. The first is that “by addressing the youth, he knows that the war will now take place in a long time, believes Arnaud Mercier. Talking to the youth elite is in a way trying to imbue the minds of the future decision-makers of tomorrow so that they are forever marked with the seal of the Ukrainian cause and even later take the best decisions for it.” The second, – no offense to the students of Sciences-Po -, also reflects a breathlessness of its communication. “Volodymyr Zelensky has scoured the most prestigious forums from the powerful American Congress to less influential parliaments such as Taiwan. Speaking now in front of students, we see that he has made the rounds of decision-makers and falls back on more modest targets. Sciences-Po students may well be the decision-makers of tomorrow, today they have no power over the decisions taken today in the conflict”.


In doing so, Volodymyr Zelensky is above all pursuing his strategy of occupying the media field at all costs. But by dint of intervening at all costs, without anything new to bring to the debate, the “speech becomes dull, recognizes the professor. By wanting to speak too much, one becomes inaudible”. On the 77th day of war between kyiv and Moscow, “the conflict has settled into a routine, there is no longer the indignation of the beginnings vis-à-vis the fate of Ukraine, we feel a wear and, ultimately, a risk of disinterest”, notes Arnaud Mercier.

“Even the stones cry”

In this context, there are therefore only two possibilities, according to the expert: to have a classic political communication where one does not express oneself when one has an announcement to make, or to maintain a communication offensive so as not to sink into oblivion. “His communication unit had to arbitrate between two risks. It opted for the least-worst strategy”.


Nevertheless, during his videoconference with the students of Sciences-Po, it seems that the leader at war tried to renew the code of his interventions. Anxious to establish a dialogue with the students, this time he lent himself to a game of questions and answers, by also submitting a series of questions to the young speakers, asking them in particular what they thought of the posture NATO or Russian aggression. Dressed in his now usual military khaki T-shirt, he also ventured into the more personal terrain of feelings. “How am I living this war? I don’t know. I am giving everything I have – my brain, my time – to achieve victory, the freedom of Ukraine. Because everything loses its meaning, even the stones cry, when you lose your children, you lose the reason to live,” replied the President of Ukraine.


Universities, an infinite communication space

Finally, by speaking in front of an audience of students, the president opened up new communication perspectives. “Contacting universities also means opening up new forums to plead one’s cause and certainly find an audience committed to one’s cause. It is now not impossible to see him intervene in many other universities such as Yale, Berkeley , Stanford or Oxford”, concludes Arnaud Mercier.

Because the war is far from over. On the ground, fighting remains intense in the south and east of the country. In Mariupol, hundreds of soldiers remain in the Azovstal steelworks while the city is held by the Russians. The latter seem to be moving away from the city of Kharkiv. Tuesday, May 10, American intelligence warned that the war in Ukraine could be prolonged and did not rule out the scenario of an escalation or an extension of the conflict to neighboring Transnistria.


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