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Did Volodymyr Zelensky call for ‘preventive nuclear strikes’ against Russia? Not exactly

Social media users have been circulating a video of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, claiming that the footage shows him calling on NATO to launch preventive nuclear strikes against Russia. It turns out, however, that this footage isn’t new – Zelensky made these statements back in October 2022. Moreover, the translation of his statement, originally in Ukrainian, leaves out some nuance.

  • Far-right Twitter accounts have been sharing a video of Volodymyr Zelensky speaking in Ukrainian. According to the English subtitles on the speech, Zelensky is calling on NATO to “launch preventive strikes against Russia” and “use nuclear weapons”. These accounts said the footage was evidence of a risk of “nuclear war.”
  • The video also circulated in French-language accounts and was even shared by a French senator. 
  • Turns out, however, this footage isn’t new. It was actually recorded on October 6, 2022 – and Zelensky’s comments did create a bit of a stir. However, the subtitles on the video that has been circulating recently are a little off, making Zelensky’s words sound even more menacing than the reality……………………….

Old footage and inexact translations 

If you type “Zelenskyy preventive strikes” into Google, then one of the first things that comes up is an article published by Politico on October 7, 2022. 

The article says that Zelensky participated in a discussion at the Lowy Institute, an Australian think tank. During that discussion, Zelensky said through an interpreter that NATO should take “preventive strikes”, before the interpreter corrected himself to say “preventive action”.

………….. The FRANCE 24 Observers team also consulted with the Ukrainian-language team at RFI.  The team said that the subtitles on the video weren’t quite accurate. 

The interviewer asks Zelensky what more he would like NATO to do to deter Russia. 

Zelensky doesn’t say that “they could use nuclear arms against Russia”. What he actually says is that they should “prevent Russia from using nuclear weapons”. 

Essentially, he says the opposite of what the subtitles indicate. ……………………

In the video posted by the Lowy Institute (at 25:30), you can hear the interpreter correct himself. He starts by saying “preventive strikes” before correcting himself, saying “preventive action”. However, the Ukrainian word that Zelensky uses, удари, does mean strikes. 

So what did the Ukrainian president mean? At one point he mentions the period “before February 24”. That would mean the time before Russia invaded Ukraine. 

While the president’s word choice is confusing, it is possible that he meant using economic or diplomatic sanctions to dissuade Russia from using its nuclear weapons.

That’s the interpretation taken by a number of Ukrainian officials, including Zelensky’s adviser Mykhailo Podolyak. Podolyak was interviewed by a Ukrainian media outlet on October 6, 2022. 

“Zelensky was referring to Russia’s nuclear threats and suggesting that the world should make clear the consequences for Russia [if they do use nuclear weapons] and intensify strikes against the Russian Federation, like sanctions and providing armed assistance [to Ukraine].”

Back in October, Russian authorities did criticise Zelensky’s choice of words, believing they were a call to strike Russia. Dmitri Peskov, spokesperson for the Kremlin, said that Zelensky’s words were a call to “kick off a global war with disastrous and impossible-to-predict consequences”. 

In summary, this footage doesn’t show Ukrainian President Zelensky calling on NATO to strike Russia using nuclear weapons in 2023. The footage is from 2022 and the translation isn’t accurate; it makes his statements seem more threatening.

February 11, 2023 - Posted by | Ukraine, weapons and war

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