Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president of Ukraine, appeared to mock Russian President Vladimir Putin’s long meeting table during a press conference.
“Sit down with me to negotiate, just not at 30 meters,” Mr Zelenskyy said on Thursday, seemingly referring to Mr Putin’s long meeting table that he reportedly uses to avoid risking a Covid-19 infection.
“I don’t bite. What are you afraid of?” the Ukrainian president added.
“Any words are more important than shots,” he said, urging the Russian president to choose diplomacy over continued battle.
Last month, Dr Ben Noble, associate professor of Russian politics at University College London, told The Independent that the Kremlin is nervous about the possibility of Mr Putin contracting Covid – mainly due to the political fallout if the 69-year-old were to fall seriously ill or die.
“Given Putin’s centrality to the functioning of the current system – which often relies more on informal connections than formal institutions – his illness poses an existential threat to its continued functioning,” Dr Noble said.
“A question of personal health, therefore, becomes a question of national security, especially given uncertainty about who would actually take over if he were to become seriously (or gravely) ill,” he added.
Olga Khvostunova, director of the Institute of Modern Russia – a US-based think tank – said the deliberate distance established between Mr Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron was about control rather than the threat of coronavirus.
“It is to make Macron uncomfortable, to show who is boss in these situations,” she told The Independent.
“It’s all about unnerving the opponent – state leaders are not used to being treated this way, so it is often quite effective – and, at the same time, signalling to the supporters that Mr Putin has got the upper hand. It’s what Russians call a ‘subtle trolling’ (tonkiy trolling).”
The Associated Press contributed to this report