"What the hell are you doing on these galleys?"
January 5, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky "found himself" in Oman. Not that we would have lost him, but what the head of state did after the New Year celebration (which he spent in his native Ukrainian Carpathians) was unknown. It turned out - he was packing his purple t-shirt and his favorite cap (familiar to us from his vacation on the Odesa beach) in order to fly away from the slushy Kyiv winter.
The first portal published information about Oman trip was Strana.ua. It also posted a picture where the president is having breakfast with the unknown person, visible only from the back. Insiders of the portal reported: the president settled near the capital of Oman - the city of Muscat, in the 5-star Al Bustan Palace Ritz-Carlton Hotel. A day of living there costs 4000 thousand euros - almost as much as the Ze-team promised the average teacher as a monthly salary.
Two hours after this publication, the president’s press service (which, by the way, was silent from December 31) created a message that Zelensky was busy on the Arabian Peninsula in obtaining profitable investment projects for Ukraine. It’s just that he didn’t speak about investments with the head of state (people say that the Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said, is mortally ill and de facto dies, therefore he is busy exclusively with the transfer of power). Zelensky’s interlocutor was Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, who - in translation into Ukrainian official ranks - is the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
“It seems that they involved the first official who was free at that time in order to camouflage Zelensky’s vacation,” says Ruslan Bortnyk, director of the Ukrainian Institute for Political Analysis and Management. “Meeting with the Foreign Minister is not at the level of the president. In general, Oman is a country with very weak ties with Ukraine and with a modest role in the world. Therefore, all this argumentation regarding investments or something like that is doubtful. He had to honestly say that it was a difficult year, children are asking to go to the sea, the wife is asking the same, and there are responsibilities not only as the president, but also as the father and husband... ", he adds.
Kyrylo Sazonov adheres to the same opinion: “The president must meet with the president, with the sultan, with the dictator, with the leader of the tribe - anyone, but with the first person of the state. And meeting with the minister is a clear mistake, and there can only be an exception when countries are not comparable in influence. For example, the president of Ukraine may meet with the head of the US State Department, and that will be normal, but not with the Minister of Oman."
Karma for laughing at Poroshenko?
For the most part, the expert community is unanimous that Zelensky’s business negotiations in Oman are just a fig leaf for covering up the presidential shame. And even this leaf was chosen unsuccessfully and unprofessionally. Because Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdallah is one of those officials in Oman who supported Iran in the conflict with the United States that arose because of the liquidation of General Qassim Suleimani. It is unlikely that this moment will make a deep impression on the White House, although there is still a risk of deterioration of the already difficult relations with Washington.
Truly, president Zelensky has become a kind of curse for his American colleague Donald Trump, but it seems that he himself has problems. At one time, the current president - and then the showman of Kvartal 95 - ridiculed his predecessor Petro Poroshenko for his vacation in the Maldives. The slogan of the then performance can be considered the phrase “in order not to blush in front of people, you need to get a tan”. Now Zelensky has an opportunity to test this joke for himself.
However, the Institute for Global Strategies Director Vadym Karasev believes that Zelensky and Poroshenko cannot be compared. “The stories seem to be the same, but the context is completely different,” he says.
“The story with Oman looks different than the story with the Maldives. Because Zelensky did not run in a camouflage along the line of collision and did not say patriotic speeches, as Poroshenko did. Because Poroshenko called on everyone to repulse the aggressor, to the war. In this contrast, the Maldives played a negative role for him. And what Zelensky did? He defends peace, and this was reflected in his New Year’s address. This was not an appeal to the nation, but to the layman, to the tradesman - in a word, to a person who has the right to peaceful life and the right to enjoy it. And the president is also a human being, and therefore his Oman will not sound like the Maldives of Poroshenko. Journalists and bloggers can be gossiping and trolling, but their parallels with Poroshenko are very arbitrary," Karasev is convinced.
Two years ago, in January 2018, Petro Poroshenko was trolled as best as journalists could for a secret vacation in the Maldives. The ex-president has been there for at least a week - obviously, with the whole family. Relax under the palm trees cost the former guarantor a pretty penny - about 500 thousand dollars or 14 million UAH at the then exchange rate. But the most outrageous fact was that Poroshenko voyaged under the name Mr. Petro Incognito. That is, de facto he renounced not only the real name, but also the Ukrainian passport, that is, the state as a whole.
“Our presidents seemed to have come out of the forest,” Ruslan Bortnyk is indignant. “Yes, take 3-5-10 days of vacation for yourself, and if you haven’t got a vacation yet, because of a little working period, then arrange it for your own funds. The presidents are also living people. But ours always try to hide, come up with some kind of incognito. The problem is not in relaxation, but in the fact that our presidents do not know how to relax in a civilized manner."
The tradition of lying, indeed, is a long and deeply rooted one among the heads of the Ukrainian state. It originates from Leonid Kravchuk, who once convinced the public that he was building not a house in Switzerland, but rather a “small hut.” The examples can be continued, but the essential thing is that in the end each of the visionaries loses his authority, and therefore his power. We asked experts if Zelensky’s “Omani case” would affect his rating. As it turned out, there is no unequivocal opinion on this matter.
Not now, but later
Bogdan Petrenko, deputy director of the Ukrainian Institute for the Study of Extremism, notes the following: “Poroshenko had a negative rating at the time of the Maldives, so this story only worsened his already bad reputation. Zelensky has a positive rating so far. It’s unlikely that his popularity will be so shaken, unless in the range of 3-4%. In principle, if society has a good attitude towards politics, it is not so easy to change it - the politician already has carte blanche for a series of actions for which someone else would be strictly condemned.”
By the way, Petrenko does not believe in the version of Zelensky’s business visit. “I think Zelensky just went to rest. But since our civil servants do not like to advertise their vacation, there was a need to urgently disguise it with a meeting - with a quick hand, at least with the first minister who came across. There were no state attributes of Ukraine , and this once again proves that it was not planned. Moreover, there are no important strategic relations between Ukraine and Oman. Just after the press service informed about the business nature of the trip, it was necessary to create the good cover,” Vadym Karasev notes.
However, he is convinced, "Zelensky’s rating will not fall significantly. There is still a margin of strength and trust. Confidence is gradually melting away, but not falling, and these are different things."
"Such moments accumulate imperceptibly and weaken the president. Until one fine day he feels how much people dislike him. And he understands that he cannot carry out his reforms not because someone is not happy with their content, but because these reforms come from an extremely toxic figure," says Ruslan Bortnik.
However, the expert leaves Zelensky the opportunity to make excuses. If, upon returning home, the president will answer all the questions that arose during his absence. "For example, he says that he was resting at his own expense, but did the state security work for him at his own expense? Now much depends on how the authorities explain this voyage," Bortnik notes.
But in the opinion of Kyrylo Sazonov, not Zelensky’s explanations, but the actions of his enemies will be of decisive importance. “It all depends on how his political opponents react to Zelensky’s voyage, although the scandal with Oman has the potential. The opposition can spread it to the fullest - because Zelensky’s supporters reproached Poroshenko for the Maldives. It was about the vacation of the commander-in-chief of a belligerent country. Now Zelensky is the commander-in-chief in the same belligerent country. And when shellings continues in Ukraine, the soldiers die or go to the hospital, and the head of state travels to Oman, there are very little excuses," said the expert.
By the way, Zelensky’s opponents are already taking concrete steps to “drown” yesterday’s idol of the electoral majority. The European Solidarity Party managed to disturb the Office of the President and the Foreign Ministry over the Omani negotiations. Poroshenko wants to know all the details of this visit and, it seems, they just won’t be left behind. But will this make an impression on the “ordinary Ukrainian”?
“So far, the idea that Zelensky is the same guy as we are, continues to work. And the President also worked on his image with his New Year’s address, but this is not about that. We should not expect a sharp drop in Zelensky’s popularity, although the sum of such steps will make effect, and the quantity will turn into quality. Prerequisite: the imposition of economic components on all political scandals. For example, there could be some kind of collapse within Ukraine or the global economic crisis...", comments the politologist Yevgen Bulavka.
He points to another difference between the time when the Maldives-gate was being promoted and the current situation: "Under Poroshenko, there was a whole class of investigators, opinion leaders, etc. who dominated the information space and actively disseminated information about the Maldives. They created a negative resonance around this story. Here you can "thank" foreign donors who funded anti-corruption activities of all kinds. Plus, the trend that of Yanukovych had its effect: any power a priori is considered bad, any of its actions must be viewed from a critical angle. Such moods in society, plus a lot of centers of public opinion formation had an impact on the scandal with the Maldives."
Now, Bulavka continues, the number of investigators has fallen sharply - because some of them are working for the current regime. “Many of those who dispersed the ideas of betrayal on Poroshenko have now turned out to be very loyal to the new government and to Zelensky in particular. And here is the question: was their attitude to Poroshenko a principled position or work for another political team?” he wondered.
But we will leave this question unanswered. Because we are interested not so much in repainting yesterday's anti-corruption workers as the current behavior of the head of state. “Poroshenko positioning himself as the “president of war,” and Zelensky as the“ president of peace ”does not affect objective reality. As long as the country is in war, they are all presidents of war. Whether they want it or not. We live in a warring country, and the war is about each of us, from the president and the commander-in-chief to the grandmother, who transfers her five hryvnias to volunteers. It’s not comme il faut to position ourselves as president of peace and rest in Oman when people die under shellings, "summarizes Kyrylo Sazonov.
It remains only to convey this idea to Omani vacationers. Moreover, since President Zelensky inauguration, it is not his first or even second vacation.