‘Putin’ Your Foot in it! Biden Stumbles Over His Words as He Calls Zelensky ‘Vladimir’ at NATO

White House

President Biden found himself momentarily lost in his own words after he called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “Vladimir”, the forename of his Russian enemy, before correcting himself in Vilnius, Latvia on Wednesday.

Speaking at the closing ceremony of the annual NATO summit, hosted this year in Vilnius, Lithuania, U.S. President Biden read from his notes as he made remarks about the developing relationship between the alliance and Ukraine.

Saying that NATO had cleared a path to membership for Ukraine, Biden went on to speak of new promises the alliance was making to the country. Trying to refer to his opposite on a first-name basis, the U.S. President said: “Vladimir and I… we… uh… I shouldn’t be so familiar. Erm, Mr Zelensky and I talked about what guarantees we can make in the meantime…”.

Vladimir is, of course, the forename of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Both names derive from a common Slavic root, hence the similarity. Like many forenames, Vladimir/Volodymyr has a traditional meaning and in this case is said to mean “ruler of the world”, or “great ruler”.

While the mispronunciation of two names of a common root may seem trivial, Ukrainians have taken differentiating themselves from their Russian neighbours very seriously since the invasion began last year. The world now has a new spelling and pronunciation for the Ukrainian capital, for instance, switching to Kyiv after it being known worldwide as Kiev for living memory.

The NATO conference has been a gaffe-prone trip for President Biden. He appeared to become confused and needed shepherding by Britain’s King Charles III on Monday, and also walked in front of the monarch while reviewing troops, a faux-pas which the media roundly criticised President Trump for, but appeared content to ignore for President Biden.

On Tuesday, Biden was a no-show at the NATO leader’s dinner in Vilnius, a key event during the summit where alliance leaders can speak on more informal terms. Apparently needing an early night, Biden’s aides excused the absence by explaining the President needed the time to prepare for a speech.


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