Europe

  • How the West Helped Put a Comedian in Reach of Ukraine’s Presidency

    With polls putting Ukraine’s incumbent president Petro Poroshenko far behind TV actor Volodymyr Zelenskiy ahead of Sunday’s run-off election, it is worth considering how the West helped put this secretive comedian, backed by oligarchs, on the cusp of becoming commander-in-chief of a country at war with the Kremlin.

    A case in point occurred in February, a month before the first round gave Zelenskiy 30 percent compared to Poroshenko’s 16 percent. When Denis Bihus, a muckraking journalist funded by the United States and the European Union, accused “the president’s friends” of smuggling Russian military parts in 2014, it seemed like a bombshell.  

    In fact, it was a hatchet job.


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  • Don't Believe the Hype. Presidential Elections Aren't What Matters in Ukraine

    There’s election fever in Kyiv, and with less than a week before Ukrainians go to the polls to likely elect an inexperienced comedian as their next president, the outcome is all but certain. Volodymyr Zelenskiy should easily defeat incumbent President Petro Poroshenko on April 21.     

    The far more interesting question is who will win the October parliamentary elections and who will lead the next government.


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  • What Does It Mean to Be Ukrainian Today?

    The day of judgement in the Ukrainian presidential election is almost upon us. This is not just a contest between two political contenders and their supporters, representing different backgrounds, styles, and constituencies, or even visions, but something more fundamental.

    It is a clash between the old and the new. Between traditional Ukraine, in the political sense, of the last thirty years, as represented by incumbent President Petro Poroshenko, an establishment figure, and between modernity, represented by political newcomer, showman Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

    The frontrunner is a young, successful Russophone showman, with a novel approach to politics, projecting his appeal and winning power. He is a product of the post-Revolution of Dignity Ukraine and the inchoate modern political nation that has been crystallizing during a time of war with Russia in the east and the country’s simultaneous determined movement westward.

    The election is not about Ukraine’s orientation, east or west. That issue has been decided. Neither Poroshenko nor Zelenskiy have questioned this. It is mainly about the way in which the country has been managed, or rather mismanaged during the last five years, and whether a change, not only at the top, but of the system as such, is needed.


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  • Finland’s Elections: Big Lessons from a Small Country?

    Need a respite from watching the slow self-immolation of British politics over Brexit?  Discouraged by French and German leaders asking—no longer sotto voce—if they can still count on the United States? If so, it’s instructive to look at what’s happening in Finland, a country whose 5.5 million people count slightly less than the population of Minnesota. In this country, the art of compromise is still practiced and the transatlantic relationship highly valued.        
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  • Three Predictions for Ukraine’s Presidential Run-off

    Voters knew the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election on March 31 was a freebie, but they will make their vote count in the run-off on April 21. It was clear to the public that there would be no candidate who would receive 50 percent in round one, so Ukrainians were able to vote their conscience as well as send a message to the political establishment. The message was one of disappointment and anger directed toward incumbent President Petro Poroshenko. The incumbent received 16 percent, enough to make the runoff. Comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy scored 30 percent, which slightly exceeded expectations. Now that the run-off will produce the next president, voters may be more circumspect this time.  


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  • Is Zelenskiy Really the Kremlin’s Best Hope in Ukraine?

    In the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election, the leading pro-Russian candidate secured 11 percent of the vote. Compare this to 2010 when pro-Kremlin candidate Viktor Yanukovych received 49 percent. This dramatic decline reflects the scale of the damage done to Russian interests in Ukraine by Vladimir Putin’s ongoing war. Russian aggression has alienated millions of Ukrainian voters while disenfranchising many more, leading to an unprecedented collapse of Kremlin influence in a country that has been at the heart of Russia’s imperial identity for centuries. Could the remarkable rise of comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy help to reverse this Russian retreat?


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  • Brussels Agreed to Brexit Extension to Avoid No Deal, EU Official Says

    By agreeing to extend the deadline for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU) to October 31, EU leaders and British Prime Minister Theresa May “managed to avoid the most disruptive [potential] scenario, which would have been no-deal Brexit,” top European Commission official Valdis Dombrovskis said at the Atlantic Council in Washington on April 12.

    The extension, which would first be reviewed by the EU on June 30 but could last as long as October 31, would give the UK Parliament time to “reflect and work on what is really their preferred scenario,” Dombrovskis said.


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  • A Little Knowledge on Brexit

    At last we know something. The United Kingdom will not be crashing out of the European Union on April 12 and it will take part in the European elections on May 23. But that’s about the extent of our knowledge. We still do not know how, or when, or even whether, Britain will make its exit from the EU.  Nor can we be sure that anyone elected to the European Parliament in May will actually take their seats when the new Parliament opens for business on July 2.

    Those are the main conclusions from the European Summit that ended in Brussels in the early hours of April 11. Officially, the UK was given until October 31 to get its act together or, in Brussels-speak, to gain an extension to the Article 50 process under which it is supposedly quitting the EU.


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  • Stronger with Allies: Spanish and US Navies Doing More Together

    The Álvaro de Bazán-class Aegis frigate SPS Méndez Núñez (F-104) steaming alongside one of our most lethal and capable naval assets, USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), is a sight to behold. For a better part of the past year, Méndez Núñez and its crew, led by Capt. Antonio Gonzalez del Tanago de la Lastra, have integrated into the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group, and will continue to operate as one of Lincoln’s escorts during its around-the-world deployment, which is currently underway. This is a powerful display of how integrated the United States is with its NATO allies, including la Armada Española, the Spanish Navy.
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  • Will the Elections Give the Ukrainian Economy the Kick It Needs?

    Between the two rounds of the presidential election, a strange calm has grasped Kyiv. The election billboards are gone, and so are the many local protests. The only drama takes place on the Internet, where the two remaining candidates duel with videos. This is a propitious moment to take the temperature of the Ukrainian economy.


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