New Ukrainian President Zelensky Is Already Facing A Moment Of Truth

Three months have passed since Volodymyr Zelensky was surprisingly elected as the new president of Ukraine, after inflicting a heavy defeat on the incumbent Petro Poroshenko, obtaining 73% of the votes. After taking office in May, the new president, repeating his electoral promise to set new foundations for the political system in Ukraine, made use of his faculty to dissolve parliament, which led to early elections (parliamentary elections were originally scheduled for October) that are being held today.

Ukraine remains a hybrid between a presidential republic and a parliamentary system: although the president has strong prerogatives, without the support of parliament Zelensky would have risked finding himself held hostage of the government that preceded him before he could even start to work. The party of Zelensky, Sluga Narodu , or “Servant of the people”, should be able to obtain the widest consent; according to some polls, it could even aspire to an absolute majority. A scenario unthinkable only a few months ago, when the party didn’t even exist.

Zelensky’s election was a surprise especially for the European and American observers and partners of Ukraine. The rapprochement between Europe and Ukraine and the beginning of integration processes, both economic and political, made people think that President Poroshenko would be easily re-elected, as guarantor of Ukraine’s new pro-European course. The election of Zelensky instead showed that the priorities of the Ukrainian electorate and those of the European integration policy do not always coincide. The factor of a unknown politician, whose rhetoric, at least in the electoral campaign, had seemed a little more nuanced and slightly less unquestionably pro-European than that of the then president Poroshenko, provoked no little worry pro-Europeanist experts. Some of these, although Zelensky had publicly declared that he was in favor of Ukraine in NATO, feared that Poroshenko’s exit could have meant a rapprochement between Russia and Ukraine.

However, in his first two months in office Zelensky seems to have succeeded in dispelling the doubts surrounding his pro West credentials. In his first visit abroad, two weeks after his investiture, the new Ukrainian president met NATO secretary Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels, with whom he held a press conference in which the Atlanticist course of Ukraine was reiterated. Zelensky had promised during the election campaign that he would put the question of a possible future of Ukraine in NATO to the popular vote with a referendum (an issue that his predecessor had hastened to have included in the constitution in order to give a legal basis to the course strategic of the country), but after his election of this promise there was no more mention.

Another question of fundamental importance is that of the Donbass. Zelensky, unlike his opponent Poroshenko, positioned himself as the candidate of the reconciliation between the Donbass and Ukraine, and also in his inaugural speech he reiterated the need to talk to everyone, even to Russia, in order to reach the goal of peace. It was an approach that was frowned upon by many, as it was considered a capitulation to Russia, but the election result seemed to have proved Zelensky right, showing how the vast majority of Ukrainians were tired of a conflict that lasts already for five years. An agreement for a ceasefire was reached a few days ago, but it is not the first of this type of agreement. The problem will be to see this time how long the ceasefire lasts. Previous agreements set the conditions necessary for the reintegration of the Donbass into Ukraine with a wide federal autonomy, but these were not then respected and led to new and frequent shelling.

Another great surprise of these elections should also be the probable result of the “Blocking of the opposition – For life” party, to which some polls give as much as 20%. The party funded and supported by the oligarch Vyktor Medvychuk, which in addition to a peaceful solution to the conflict in the Donbass, pushes for a normalization of relations with Russia (in Ukraine he is almost invariably referred to as “Putin’s godfather”, because he acted as Putin’s daughter godfather in 2004). Surely an unexpected result for those who in recent years have been conditioned to interpret the Ukrainian crisis as a conflict not only between Russia and Ukraine, but between Russians and Ukrainians, as if these two peoples had always been eternally enemies and were destined to be enemies for ever, the “European” and “democratic” on one side, the other “despotic” and “Asian”. Poroshenko’s party, “European Solidarity”, should obtain the third place and thus allow the former president to enter parliament, even if the ambitions for the post of prime minister of the chocolate magnate would have to be greatly reduced. The party of the famous and popular blogger Anatoly Sharij instead, a Ukrainian journalist who has been living abroad for years as a dissident and a strong critic of the Poroshenko government, seems destined not to pass the 5% threshold.

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