US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — When comedian Vladimir Zelensky became a presidential candidate a year ago and won a landslide victory in the election, he promised to root out corruption, imprison the main Ukrainian crooks, stop the Russian war against Ukraine and attract billions of dollars of foreign direct investment to the country. After his inauguration on May 20, 2019, exactly a year has passed, but not one of these grandiose promises has yet been fulfilled, and it is very far from fulfilling them.
Therefore, many Ukrainians are losing patience. Zelensky faces not only internal, but also external problems, since in the international arena he has to deal with the West absorbed in his own thoughts and with a strong Russia. If Zelensky is unable to keep his election promises and offer a clear, serious and West-oriented reform program,
Prior to his incredible election victory, Zelensky was a comedian, and the culmination of his career was the political satire “Servant of the People.” In this series, corrupt officials are ridiculed, and Zelensky plays the role of a purposeful, dedicated and successful (albeit implausible) leader of the country. Relying on the success of the series, and conducting a campaign based on populist rhetoric, Zelensky received the presidency, as well as a parliamentary majority for his party. But in the political arena, his first year in power was far from as simple and unambiguous as in the movies. Although Zelensky has unprecedented powers overseeing the executive and legislative branches, his own team has many contradictions between different factions that have very different agendas. There are people promising reform,
Such a lack of clear signals turns into a fundamental problem for Zelensky. The consequences for Ukraine could be most serious if the loyalty of its foreign partners weakens.
The first alarm sounded in January, when Zelensky’s closest ally in parliament and the leader of the Servant of the People’s parliamentary faction, David Arahamia, raised concerns at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, saying that Ukraine should not pass laws to harmonize ties with the European Union. For many Ukrainians, such a statement became a betrayal of the new government and a departure from the Association Agreement with the EU, which was won at a high price, which was signed in March 2014. This agreement aims to harmonize the political and economic course of Ukraine with the legislation of the European Union, as well as redirect the country to the western path and alienate it from Russia. When loud criticism sounded on social networks, Arahamia backtracked and said that his words were “incorrectly translated.”
Even greater concern among Western countries was caused by the fact that the Zelensky government began to delay reforms promised by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This fund, which provides vital financial support to Ukraine, provided it with billions of dollars in cash on the condition that Kiev adopt a law on the rehabilitation of the banking sector. In particular, such a law provides that the largest bank in the country, Privatbank, nationalized at the end of 2016 after discrepancies of $ 5.5 billion were found in its accounts, will not be returned to its former owners Gennady Bogolyubov and Igor Kolomoisky. Kolomoisky is a former business partner of Zelensky, and his television channel has actively advertised the presidential campaign. The IMF, concerned about the prospect of a return of Privatbank to discredited former owners,
However, Kolomoisky supporters in parliament introduced a record number of amendments to the bill (16,335), which slowed its passage. (On May 13, the law was finally adopted in the second reading, which will surely open the way for the next tranche of the IMF for a little less than two billion dollars.) Someone immediately credited Zelensky. But in reality, the law could have been adopted for a long time, given the fact that its party controls both branches of government. Such a slow and sluggish work of Ukraine on the adoption and implementation of reforms such as this threatens the continuation of financial support from foreign partners.
When Zelensky came to power, he inherited a country weakened by the Russian war in eastern Ukraine, but moving confidently towards the West. Zelensky promised to establish peace in Ukraine and end the war. Therefore, he immediately agreed to meet with the Russian leader at the so-called Summit of the Norman Four in Paris in December 2019. During this meeting, Russia won several victories, in particular, having received a profitable gas deal, having agreed to exchange prisoners and strengthening its control in the occupied Ukrainian territories.
Zelensky’s political appointments in the first year of his presidency reinforced doubts about his determination to negotiate a peace with Russia, and gave rise to suspicions that he would capitulate to the Kremlin and change Ukraine’s policy towards the EU.
On February 11, Zelensky replaced Andrei Bogdan (former Kolomoisky lawyer and a very dubious person) with Andrei Yermak, known for his business connections with the Russian elite. With respect to Yermak, the media are now conducting journalistic investigations, and they have already managed to identify his family’s involvement in corruption activities, including the fact of receiving bribes for appointment to government posts. After the appointment of Ermak in March, major shifts were made in the cabinet, and the drawbacks were the same.
Zelensky made Irina Venediktova the new Prosecutor General, who is criticized for backing the anti-corruption movement. Of particular concern is the fact that Alexander Babikov was appointed to the position of one of her deputies Venediktov, who worked as a lawyer for the discredited ex-president of Ukraine and a loyal friend of the Kremlin, Viktor Yanukovych, deposed during the Euromaidan revolution in 2014. Meanwhile, another Prime Minister of Ukraine Denis Shmygal said that he supported the idea of renewing the supply of water from Ukraine to the Crimean peninsula annexed by Russia, and he did this immediately after his appointment on March 4.
A few days later, Ukrainian lawmakers, including Viktor Medvedchuk, paid a visit to Moscow, where they met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Parliament Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, causing great irritation in Ukraine. (Putin is the godfather of Medvedchuk daughter.) Then there were other steps for Russia’s benefit, including attempts to start a dialogue with Kremlin proteges in the Donbass and house arrest of former deputy Tatyana Chernovol, who actively participated in the 2014 revolution. Despite the loud criticism of these actions in Ukraine, Zelensky remains silent.
New appointments in the government give equally incomprehensible signals about future relations between Ukraine and NATO. The administration officially declares its interest in Ukraine becoming a member of the alliance someday. But the recent statements by the new Minister of Defense, Andrei Taran, raise doubts about this interest. Speaking on assuming office on March 11, Taran called the “ambitious but unattainable goal” the full adaptation of the country’s armed forces to NATO standards. A stormy reaction followed, including from his predecessor. This forced the Ministry of Defense to clarify. However, such statements, coupled with attempts to liquidate the ministry’s supervisory authority, raised questions among analysts about whether Ukraine retained the intention to integrate into NATO structures.
Ambitious and obscene statements emanating from Zelensky’s administration undermine Ukraine’s stability. Critics of Zelensky present such efforts as evidence that he is ready to seek peace with Russia at any cost, even if for this Ukraine has to turn its back on the EU. This, in turn, facilitates the work of the Kremlin lobbyists aimed at lifting anti-Russian sanctions. They will necessarily indicate Ukraine’s unwillingness to follow the Western path and will use the services of Ukrainian lawmakers loyal to the Kremlin in order to weaken the country’s cooperation with its Western partners. All this will inevitably lead to increased Russian influence in the region.
Western leaders should seriously consider that Ukraine could return to Russia’s embrace. The success of Ukrainian democracy is vital to the success of other post-Soviet states in this region. Strengthening relations with Ukraine will serve the interests of the West in the long run.
Western countries should continue to provide Ukraine with extremely important and reform-oriented financial assistance. This means that international financial organizations, such as the IMF, should not allow Ukrainian deputies to cut corners by implementing the promised reforms. Western democracies should also consider imposing sanctions on tycoons and oligarchs who are friends with Russia, barring them from entering EU countries and the United States, as well as imposing sanctions on their companies and relatives. This will increase pressure on the main Ukrainian crooks and give new strength to the anti-corruption fight. Western countries should demand clear and firm statements from the Zelensky team, because now it is evasive, and often just disingenuous. Besides,
Domestically, Ukrainian reformers must finally unite in the fight against corruption. Strong solidarity in the ranks of reformers in Ukraine is possible, and the Euromaidan revolution proved this. Currently, systematic reforms in the country are practically not carried out, because sound and adequate reformers are scattered throughout the legislative bodies or are simply tired of failures in the reform process. There are disagreements in the ranks of the Ukrainian intellectual elite, and the reason for this is the obligations and attachments that developed even before the last election. However, the time has come to put aside political contradictions filled with emotions, so that justice fighters in Ukraine can fight a giant on their eastern border and at the same time resist widespread corruption within the country.
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