When Volodymyr Zelenskyy made his dramatic trip to Washington, D.C., it was kept under wraps until hours before he arrived.
When the Ukrainian president plotted a similar visit to Brussels this week, it was splashed across news sites a full three days before his expected arrival. There was even a (hastily deleted) official tweet about it.
Not great operations security, in other words.
The “secret” trip is now in doubt with just days to go before Zelenskyy may arrive to meet with EU leaders during one of their regular summits on Thursday. And the blame game is on in the Brussels bubble.
Scrutiny has been trained on the European Parliament, which had been expected to host Zelenskyy for a speech during his trip. Several officials told POLITICO’s Brussels Playbook that Parliament was responsible for the leak.
Then there’s the tweet.
“We look forward to welcoming you in Brussels, Mr. President Volodymyr Zelensky,” the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), the Parliament’s largest group, tweeted from its official account on Monday afternoon, after the story had started making the rounds in the media.
The missive was later deleted. But screenshots never die.
A few hours later, Barend Leyts, a spokesperson for the European Council, which brings together the 27 EU leaders, intervened. He conceded that Council President Charles Michel had invited Zelenskyy “to participate in person in a future summit of the European Council.” But he stayed mum on whether it would be this summit.
“For security reasons, no further information will be provided,” Leyts added.
Several people briefed on the discussions told POLITICO on Monday that preparations are indeed underway to welcome Zelenskyy in Brussels on Thursday. The tentative plan is for Zelenskyy to have lunch with EU leaders, in addition to addressing the Parliament.
Monday’s leaks may have jeopardized those plans, however.
If Zelenskyy travels to Brussels, it would be the second time the Ukrainian president has left his country since the beginning of the war, after his U.S. visit last December.
Because of the threat looming over his life since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last February, Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington D.C. was planned in the greatest secrecy, with only a handful of senior officials on both sides involved in the discussions — a sharp contrast to the latest developments in Brussels.
The officials told Playbook that Parliament President Roberta Metsola’s office was responsible for the leak, which took place after all parliamentary groups were briefed about the planned visit. Two officials added that Metsola’s office also asked the EPP to delete its tweet, following complaints from European Council officials.
A spokesperson for Metsola did not confirm the allegations. Spokespeople for the EPP, the Council and Metsola’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
The Ukrainian presidential office similarly did not respond to a request for comment.
Wilhelmine Preussen and Veronika Melkozerova contributed reporting.