Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Zelensky’s popularity falters in the face of the crisis with Russia

As a novice in politics and a comic actor in the past, Volodymyr Zelensky surprised the Ukrainian presidential elections in 2019 by winning incontestably with three times the support of his rival (73.1% compared to 24.5). %). The newly elected president vowed to reach out to Russian-backed rebels fighting Ukrainian forces in Donbas and move toward resolving the conflict. Some priorities that gave him victory. But after two and a half years in office, Zelensky sees his support disintegrate as the country heads toward what the United States has called an imminent Russian invasion (before February 20).

To make matters worse, Petro Poroshenko, whom Zelensky defeated in 2019, has boldly returned to the country to face charges of treason and draw criticism against him.

Source: Ukrainian Presidential Press Office / AP

Meanwhile, analysts suggest that Moscow is seeking to bolster support among pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine and that the buildup of 130,000 Russian forces near the former Soviet republic’s border is partly aimed at destabilizing the country’s politics. British intelligence services said last month that Russia was seeking to overthrow the Zelensky government and replace it with the leader of a small party that opposes Ukraine’s ambitions to join NATO and the European Union, something that, if fulfilled, would it would unleash a war, Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned.

Zelensky tried to calm the political turbulence on Sunday by downplaying intensified warnings from the United States about the possibility of a Russian invasion “at any moment.” “We understand all the risks,” said the president, while asking if anyone had “information about a 100% safe invasion, starting on the 16th,” to prove it, since his government was not aware of a greater danger.

Political maneuvering and consternation among ordinary Ukrainians present a significant challenge to a country where democracy has been chaotic for decades. In the past 20 years, Ukraine has endured two significant uprisings: one that forced a rerun of a fraud-ridden presidential election, and the massive and bloody protests that drove the Kremlin-supporting president to flee the country in 2014. Fistfights have broken out in parliament. Political alliances often change and parties transmute into new entities.

“The biggest risk to Ukraine and the biggest risk to the sovereignty of our state… is destabilization within our state,” Zelensky warned last month. But Ukrainians have lost confidence that their current president can guarantee them the stability he promises. According to a January poll by the International Institute of Sociology in Kyiv, only 30% of the country’s population want Zelensky to run for a second term and even fewer, 23%, would vote for him.

Kyiv International Institute of Sociology

Only 30% of the country’s population want Zelensky to run for a second term and even fewer, 23%, would vote for him.

The endless conflict in the pro-Russian east and the prospect of a full-scale war with Moscow are not the only factors explaining his declining support. “Zelensky promised to end the war and defeat corruption, but it hasn’t happened,” complained Anatoly Rudenko, a 48-year-old driver in Kyiv. “Prices are going up, corruption hasn’t disappeared and we’re starting to get even poorer,” he continued. “The miracle has not happened. The situation is only getting worse,” lamented Tatyana Shmeleva, a 54-year-old economist.

Zelensky initially made a name for himself in Ukraine as a comic actor playing a teacher on television who inadvertently becomes president after criticizing corruption. In one analyst’s view, he was wrong as president to take a similar path. “Zelensky made a mistake by starting a confrontation with all the oligarchs in Ukraine at once, who control the main political forces, parties, television channels. This is a very dangerous, very risky game,” says the director of the Penta analytical center, Vladimir Fesenko.

Among the oligarchs mentioned by this analyst is Poroshenko, the confectionery tycoon who preceded Zelensky and now faces treason charges for allegedly buying coal in the area of ​​Donbas controlled by pro-Russian separatists. Eastern Ukrainian industrialist Rinat Akhmetov, who controls an opposition faction. And Viktor Medvedchuk, the country’s most prominent pro-Russian politician, whose three television stations have been blocked for allegedly spreading misinformation and who is close to Putin, godfather to one of his daughters.

These oligarchs are not aligned: while Medvedchuk and Akhmetov are affiliated with rival opposition factions, Poroshenko’s presidency was marked by strong antipathy towards Russia. But many observers believe Moscow is trying to exploit any opposition to Zelensky.

There are no open pro-Russian forces that can come to power in the elections in Ukraine, which means that the Kremlin must seek hidden allies

Vladimir Fesenko, Director of Penta

“There are no open pro-Russian forces that can legally come to power in the elections in Ukraine, which means that the Kremlin must seek hidden allies and conduct secret negotiations with several Ukrainian actors at the same time,” Fesenko said. Russia “is pulling economic, energy and political strings, trying to find ‘flexible’ political forces,” she added.

“What does Putin want? His task is very simple: it is the destabilization of our state. Will he be able to do it militarily? No, he cannot. To do this, he needs internal destabilization,” said Oleksiy, head of the Ukrainian Security Council. Danilov. However, analyst Volodymyr Sidenko of the Razumkov Center said that “the scenario of collusion between one of the Ukrainian oligarchs and the Kremlin seems unlikely since there are no conditions for the formation of stable Russian-Ukrainian trade chains.”

Ukraine’s next parliamentary elections will be held in 2023 and all opinion polls show that the ruling pro-presidential Servant of the People party may lose control of parliament. This would complicate Zelensky’s ambitions for another term in 2024, so the political landscape could change dramatically.

However, the current tensions may even work in your favor in the long run. “Paradoxically, Russian threats can help Zelensky: he is just trying to unite all those who defend an independent and European Ukraine,” said Grigory Khoronenko, a programmer in Kyiv. “There may not be a war, but Zelensky has already received military and financial assistance from the West, which will go towards maintaining morale,” he added.

The British intelligence report claiming that Russia might try to install politician Yevheniy Murayev as Ukraine’s president did not give any scenario as to how such a plan might work. Murayev was once part of Medvedchuk’s opposition party but has split and formed a party of his own that has no seats in parliament. The UK report sparked much speculation about Russia’s possible nefarious intent, but many Ukrainians dismissed it as far-fetched.

“I view the British version of Murayev with skepticism – this may be something that Russia deliberately launched… to create a false smokescreen and hide the real players the Kremlin is targeting,” Fesenko said. Last Friday, Ukraine’s national security council imposed a five-year ban on a television channel owned by Murayev.

As for Poroshenko, who returned to Kyiv on January 17 after a long vacation, his messages on social networks and the media managed to receive him at the airport between 3,000 and 5,000 people, before the former president proceeded to appear before a court for high treason.

The former leader polarized Ukrainian society for days, part of which went to court and the streets in his support, as he considers the accusation to be politically motivated and instigated by Zelensky. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for internal unity in Ukraine over this case when he recently visited Kyiv.


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