French President Emmanuel Macron listens on during the Vivatech start-ups and technology event in Paris on June 17, 2022. (Photo by Michel Euler / POOL / AFP)
An awkward-looking exchange between French President Emmanuel Macron and Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky that was captured on camera in Kyiv drew commentary and mockery online on Friday, with some seeing deep meaning behind the body language.
The image, taken by AFP photographer Ludovic Marin, appeared on newspaper frontpages and quickly became a meme on social media in Ukraine and beyond.
It was taken at the end of a joint news conference on Thursday where Zelensky appeared alongside Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Premier Mario Draghi and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis.
Although it appears as if Macron is hugging a frosty Zelensky, who is not recipricating, Marin said the notoriously tactile French leader was instead saying something into his Ukrainian counterpart’s ear.
“Why is Zelensky looking at us? I don’t know,” said Marin, who has been AFP’s chief photographer covering Macron for five years. “It’s true that there’s a difference in the way they look which is very striking.”
“Obviously everyone was trying to interpret the warmth between them after the exchanges that have taken place.”
Just before this photo, Macron and Zelensky had shaken hands — in the manner of an arm wrestle.
They hugged when they first met at the Ukrainian presidency earlier in the day.
Jokers on a social media were quick to suggest captions for the image given past tensions between Macron and Zelensky over the French leader’s repeated phone conversations with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
“Me talking to him doesn’t mean anything, I’ve always loved you,” quipped Ukraine-based reporter Tanya Kozyreva on Twitter, imagining Macron’s words.
“So much love and only six Howitzers,” wrote Yevhen Buderatsky on Facebook, referring to Macron’s pledge in Kyiv to deliver six more Caesar artillery pieces to Ukraine’s beseiged forces.
Zelensky insisted Thursday that he and Macron had “turned the page” after tense exchanges in the past over the French leader’s insistence on not “humiliating” Russia, which has caused dismay in Kyiv.
“I have to say that my relations with President Zelensky have always been good, irrespective of the controversies that there may have been,” the French leader told BFM television as he travelled back on Friday.
It’s not the first time the 44-year-old’s manner with other leaders has aroused curiosity, with him repeatedly engaging in handshake battles with former US president Donald Trump intended to show he would not be intimidated.
They once grasped each other for 29 seconds and photos in 2018 showed how Macron turned part of Trump’s hand pale with a blood-squeezing grip on the sidelines of the G7 summit in Canada.