No other president in the history of Ukraine has had such resources under his control while facing such a weak and fragmented opposition and enjoying such enormous popularity among his compatriots. In this new reality, a “velvet usurpation” with the consent of most of the population no longer seems like an impossible outcome, nor does the expression “comic dictator” seem like such an oxymoron.
The schism in the pro-Russia camp is preventing the return of the political model of two Ukraines, a model that is the perfect breeding ground for politicians who boost their ratings by fanning the flames of the interregional confrontation in the country. Typically, the same thing is happening in western Ukraine, too, where unity in the pro-European-patriotic camp has been splintered by rivalry between former president Petro Poroshenko’s European Solidarity party and rock star Svyatoslav Vakarchuk’s Holos (Voice) party.
Zelensky is trying to find balance on the incendiary issue of the Donbas. During his visits to Europe, he adhered carefully to the previous foreign policy line, calling on European leaders to keep up pressure on Russia through sanctions. But at home, he is more open to compromise, and is trying to find allies among the oligarchs.
In calling early parliamentary elections, Ukraine’s new president is clearly hoping for yet another round of voting against the current authorities, in which the party system of the last five years will be defeated. But in destroying the system of checks and balances based on the “corrupt consensus” of oligarchic groups, Zelenskiy risks getting carried away and crossing the line into usurping power.
Ukraine’s president-elect Volodymyr Zelensky has formulated his ideal country as one that is neither a “corrupt partner of the West,” nor “Russia’s little sister.” This pragmatic kind of civil patriotism is close to the hearts of most Ukrainians, for whom the most important task right now is to fix the country’s domestic problems following the crusade-like presidency of Petro Poroshenko.
The Kremlin will soon wish it were still dealing with a Ukrainian president who so much resembled its own.
The Russian authorities have never been inclined to consider Ukraine a truly separate state.
With polls showing incumbent Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko heading for a major defeat in the runoff election, governors and ministers are looking for contacts with the likely winner and his team. The president has fired a series of governors to send a warning to the rest. But the message is too late and not convincing.
The clash between the new populism of Zelenskiy, who staked everything on Russian-speaking Ukraine, and Poroshenko’s national-patriotic conservatism is leading to a partial resumption of the old standoff between the two Ukraines.
Ukraine is going to the polls amid stalled reforms, multiple corruption scandals, and low trust in political institutions. Despite this, more than 80 percent of voters plan to take part, and the election is truly competitive. And although one candidate is leading in the polls, top political operatives are predicting a different outcome.