In a 2015 episode of the Ukrainian television program Servant of the People, president-elect Vasyl Holoborodko practices for his inaugural meeting with Angela Merkel. Holoborodko is played by the comic actor Volodymyr Zelensky, who won Ukraine’s real-life presidential election in a landslide last May.
“Shake her hand gently,” Holoborodko’s adviser chides him. “She should dominate. The handshake decides how much aid Germany’s central bank will give us.” Ukraine’s dependence on German and EU goodwill is a given, as is the Ukrainian president’s duty to submit. Such is the lot of one of Europe’s poorest countries.
The real-life Zelensky’s deferential posture now features in an international scandal. In August, a whistleblower reported that President Trump threatened to withhold nearly $400 million in promised military aid until the Ukrainian president delivered dirt on Joe Biden’s supposed corrupt activities in Ukraine. Trump responded by releasing a rough,
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