PR advice could be useful to Zelensky, who through videos and remote speeches addressed to virtually anyone willing to listen has called on world leaders and the general public to support his country. But sometimes his efforts have drawn backlash, as when he brought neo-Nazis from the Azov Battalion to a speech before the Greek parliament.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in recent weeks has received media advice from public relations consultants who worked for former Israeli Prime Minister and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, the Walla! news website reported on Tuesday.
According to the report, Srulik Einhorn, a senior consultant for Netanyahu’s Likud party in the most recent elections, has advised Zelensky. He is also said to have spoken with Jonatan Urich, a senior Netanyahu aide who is still the former prime minister’s spokesman.
Together with Ofer Golan, another Netanyahu adviser, Einhorn and Urich currently work at strategic consultancy firm Perception.media. The company describes itself as a “leader of significant and creative processes in the private and public sectors in Israel and abroad.” In late March, Einhorn praised Zelensky’s media efforts on behalf of his country, writing an op-ed in The Jerusalem Post detailing the Ukrainian president’s media strategies.
‘Ukraine Has a Weak Army, But Social Networks Are Strong’
Back then, in an article titled “On social media, Zelensky already won,” Einhorn said that although the world was not sure whether Russia would stop its special military operation due to the enormous sanctions pressure or would ultimately “overwhelm Kiev,” he was certain that “the social-media campaign conducted by Ukraine is one of the most brilliant campaigns orchestrated by countries in recent decades.”
“The Ukrainians have taken a complex rather than one-sided political situation and managed to sweepingly mobilize public opinion in the West,” he wrote. “If Ukraine manages to survive, it will only be thanks to the influential campaign.”
According to the PR adviser, Zelensky made two wise strategic judgments, “maybe because of his background in public relations, comedy and television.” He began by portraying Ukraine as the weaker side.
“Once upon a time, being strong was considered an advantage. Today, thanks to social media, power has passed into the hands of the weak,” he explained.
Second, Zelensky did not reportedly strive to negotiate an agreement with Russia, instead, he “depicted Ukraine as poor and weak.”
Moreover, Einhorn noted that in his many remarks, Zelensky stopped mentioning NATO after he admitted that Ukraine was not welcome there. Instead, he allegedly exploited the Western belief that those who are weak are deprived, unaccepted, and in need of assistance. He rapidly persuaded the West that the complicated issue of the ongoing Ukraine crisis and the reasons behind the current events was black and white – “us” or “them.”
Einhorm noted the fact that on Western television, there are no Ukrainian military officers to be seen. And given that Ukraine has an army, and they employ violence as well, they are still “entirely under the radar” for the Western viewers. “We see only Zelensky and only civilians,’ he pointed out.
“The West is excited about Ukraine. Zelensky has recognized the means of soft power and emotions in the Western World and is making the best of them to exert pressure and sanctions on Russia. Without it, he would have been very quickly defeated,” Einhorn concluded, adding that “Ukraine has a weak army, but social networks are strong.”
For instance, last month, Zelensky initiated a social media campaign with the hashtag #ArmUkraineNow to put pressure on states to ramp up weapons deliveries to Ukraine.
In the same month, Zelensky spoke with US officials as part of a bigger push for the West to supply Ukraine with heavy weapons. The president has called for more weapons to counter Russia’s campaign in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass area.
While the West has provided Ukraine with military hardware, Zelensky has stated repeatedly that the country requires long-range air defense systems as well as jet fighters.
However, Zelensky’s PR campaign has occasionally made serious mistakes, such as when ethnic Greeks who are part of the neo-Nazi Azov battalion, which is now part of the national guard of Ukraine, appeared in front of the Greek parliament at the Ukrainian leader’s invitation last month.
Their address was met with public outrage in Greece. And commenting this week on the situation with the Azov battalion and far-right groups in the country, Zelensky said he was very “grateful” to them and suggested that neo-Nazi appeals and slogans were strictly their own business, adding that there was “almost no” radicalism in the country.