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Zelenskiy, Poroshenko, And The Curious Case Of The 'Plagiarism' In Brussels

Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Petro Poroshenko spoke to Europe with one voice -- exactly the same one, it seems.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) and Petro Poroshenko spoke to Europe with one voice -- exactly the same one, it seems.

KYIV -- Volodymyr Zelenskiy seemed to be saying all the right things in Brussels.

Even his critics and backers of his presidential predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, appeared pleased. That may be because they'd heard some of it before, from Poroshenko himself.

Zelenskiy, a political outsider who beat Poroshenko in a landslide in April, is being accused of plagiarism in remarks he delivered in the EU capital during his first trip abroad as president on June 4-5.

Back home, the scandal threatens to cast a shadow over what was initially seen as a diplomatic success.

Zelenskiy, who abandoned his typically casual attire in favor of a suit for the two days of meetings with senior EU and NATO officials, reaffirmed his commitment to the West and to reforms back in Ukraine.

His administration has placed the blame for any uncanny echoes of Poroshenko in Zelenskiy's remarks to holdovers within the Foreign Ministry, whom it accuses of a "provocation" and of secretly working to undermine the new head of state.

His office has announced an investigation to get to the bottom of it.

At issue are comments Zelenskiy made after his meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk.

"Ukraine in the EU is the death of the Russian imperial project," the Zelenskiy administration's Twitter account quoted him as saying. "Moreover, it is a heavy blow to Russian authoritarianism, a path toward democratic change in Russia and in the whole post-Soviet space."

But those words appear to have been borrowed for the occasion.

Poroshenko spokesman Svyatoslav Tseholko has accused Zelenskiy of "banal plagiarism," arguing that a "whole paragraph" in the Brussels statement was lifted verbatim from a speech Poroshenko gave at his European Solidarity party congress on May 31. He included a video of Poroshenko delivering those remarks.

Some Ukrainians on social media also dug up a tweet from Poroshenko's official account on May 18 -- Europe Day in Kyiv -- that included wording remarkably similar to Zelenskiy's message.

The Zelenskiy sentences in question do not appear in the official readout of the Zelenskiy-Tusk meeting on the president's official website in Ukrainian, Russian, or English.

The Zelenskiy administration has gone into damage-control mode as a result, launching an internal probe into the matter.

In a statement, Zelenskiy's office blamed Foreign Ministry employees who it accused of "continuing to work for Poroshenko" while they prepared some of Zelenskiy's talking points for Brussels.

"If confirmation is found of private cooperation of state employees from the Foreign Ministry with Poroshenko," it said, "harsh administrative, disciplinary, and personnel steps will follow."

But embarrassment aside for a man whose wildly successful career as a TV comic was built on intellectually copyrighted material, it is unclear what consequences the gaffes might have for Zelenskiy this early in his five-year term.

Even Tseholko, the Poroshenko spokesman, tried to look on the bright side. In his Facebook post, he quipped, "It's nice that Volodymyr listens to Petro Poroshenko."

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