On New Year’s Eve, Ukraine’s top comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced that he will run for president.
The timing of the announcement was curious: Zelenskiy’s short spot aired before President Petro Poroshenko’s annual address on the second most popular TV channel “1+1,” which belongs to Ihor Kolomoisky. The order caused many to speculate that the Ukrainian oligarch Kolomoisky is backing the forty-year-old comedian.
The experience of the past four years shows that in Ukraine, it is far easier and more effective to shrink the space for corrupt practices than to deter corruption by punishing guilty individuals. To this extent, Ukraine’s anti-corruption reforms have been working.
Ukraine is back on the front pages of the world’s top newspapers. Twice in the past three weeks Ukraine featured on the cover photo of the Financial Times. The headlines read: "US Backs Kyiv in Naval Clash with Kremlin" and "Kyiv Splits from Russian Church." The news headings highlight the U-turn that Ukrainians have made shifting away from Russia and turning to the West ever since the 2013-2014 Revolution of Dignity.
The same shift is also happening in business.
Ukraine’s information technology sector has been among the country’s fastest growing industries, and IT experts from Ukraine have found international success. Its companies, however, have developed largely in service and outsourcing. IT in Ukraine may outgrow these market segments eventually, but it isn’t there yet.
My recent article “What Would a Tymoshenko Presidency Mean?” caused indignation among numerous experts and journalists in Ukraine and indigestion among some in Washington. Obviously, there are a number of problems with Yulia Tymoshenko and her presidential bid, such as her leftish populist slogans and the financial sources behind her expensive campaign. Yet, the fact remains that the real choice in Ukraine’s 2019 presidential elections will likely be between incumbent President Petro Poroshenko and Tymoshenko, not a young reformer and a representative of the Kuchma-period elite.
Given these realities, I argued that the West should start establishing a constructive relationship with Tymoshenko as the most likely future leader.
So, what's Putin to do? He's caught between a rock and a hard place. Although war—whether big or small—would serve no Russian interests, it is all the more likely as Putin grasps at straws to sustain his declining legitimacy.
On the most viewed series in Ukraine, Servant of the People, the famous Ukrainian comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyi plays an honest schoolteacher who becomes president and fights corruption. In real life, Zelenskyi is undecided but ranks second in recent polling among potential presidential candidates.
Pro-Russian candidates are hampered from achieving success in the 2019 parliamentary and presidential elections by four factors.