12 Jul 2023
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.