Yes, this is his first foreign trip since the Russian invasion began. And yes, Ukraine has defied all odds in holding out for 10 months against an aggressor that expected to claim his country’s capital within days.
But the watching world should be on notice: The war is far from over.
Such was the message from President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine when he stepped onto the lawn of the White House to be greeted by President Joseph R. Biden and the first lady, Jill Biden, and then later, at a joint news conference with Mr. Biden.
Or rather, such was the message conveyed by the olive green sweatshirt (complete with Ukrainian trident at the throat), cargo pants and hard boots Mr. Zelensky was wearing, before he had even said a word.
It is impossible to believe that Mr. Zelensky, a president familiar with optics from his years as a performer, chose by happenstance to appear in the militaristic garb that he has made his wartime uniform, rather than adopt the dark suit and tie normal to White House visits (de rigueur for most senators and representatives, and for visiting dignitaries and cabinet members alike).
By remaining in the character he has played since the war began, Mr. Zelensky offered an immediate visual reminder of his purpose to all those watching. Including his people, his fighters, his allies — and, not least, his foe in the Kremlin.
Whatever he and Mr. Biden say to each other behind closed doors, Mr. Zelensky’s in-the-trenches regalia was impossible to ignore — as it has been since he first appeared in an olive green T-shirt in a Kyiv bunker after Russia invaded in February. On Wednesday, the impact was only heightened by the contrast with Mr. Biden’s businesslike navy suit, worn with a navy and yellow striped tie in a nod to the national colors of Ukraine, and the sky blue coat of Dr. Biden.
Had Mr. Zelensky resorted to the mufti of the capital, he would have blended in with his surroundings, suggesting, perhaps, that amore familiar or reassuring stage of the conflict had begun. That he didn’t was as much a strategic choice as any deployment, this one targeted to an image-consuming age.
Mr. Zelensky is a wartime leader, and he is making sure that all anyone has to do is look at him to get the point.