Eastern Europe

  • 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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  • 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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  • Ukrainians Are World Champions at Coping with Crisis

    Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s stunning victory in the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election on March 31 would have sparked scenes of mass panic in virtually any other European country. With a novice comedian poised to take over the country’s top job and assume responsibility for an ongoing war with Russia, many people would have begun packing their bags, stockpiling tinned food, and preparing for impending catastrophe.

    There was little evidence of this in Ukraine in the first days of April as the dust settled on Zelenskiy’s triumph. The majority of Ukrainians simply shrugged and got on with their daily lives, perhaps pausing to gossip about the latest political circus as they enjoyed the fine spring weather. The economy did not crash and there was no rush on the country’s banks. Instead, the Ukrainian national currency actually strengthened slightly against the dollar. Once again, Ukrainians had provided a reminder of why they are the undisputed world champions when it comes to coping with crisis. 

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  • What Ukraine Needs from the West Isn’t Just Cash

    In 2019, Ukraine celebrates the centennial anniversary of the unification of its national lands. On January 22, 1919, theAct of Union marked a historic milestone: for the first time in centuries, the Ukrainian people had revived their nation and unified most of its territories. Then Russian aggression destroyed our freedom, like it did again in 2014. The aggression of the Bolsheviks was tragically supplemented by the West's shortsighted policy of pressure, misunderstanding, and non-recognition of Ukraine. The division and occupation of Ukraine subsequently created the conditions for the emergence of the Soviet empire and eventually led to colossal historical upheavals and causalities both on our land as well as throughout Europe.

    The anniversary of Ukraine’s unity is a symbol that captures the continuity of our struggle for independence and unity. For Ukrainians it is also a reminder of the high price of political mistakes and mass ignorance. For Europe and the world, it is an important reminder that it must not sacrifice the weak and or permit the local agendas of its neighbors to abandon its strategic values.

    Next week, we welcome government officials, experts, and diplomats to Kyiv for the annual Kyiv Security Forum. This year’s forum takes place between the first and second round of Ukraine’s presidential election, which is linked with the election of a new parliament in October and the subsequent formation of a new parliamentary coalition. The danger of a prolonged political confrontation and the high probability that the results of election cycle will yield a president limited in actions, a fragmented parliament, and an incapacitated government is no less a threat than Russian aggression in Ukraine’s east.

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  • Zelenskiy Wins First Round But That's Not the Surprise

    The results of the first round of Ukraine’s presidential election did not surprise many. The four exit polls were remarkably close to one another and to the last comprehensive polls. They all displayed a similar picture: Volodymyr Zelenskiy would face off in the run-off with Poroshenko, who beat Tymoshenko. With the votes now counted, Zelenskiy took 30 percent, Poroshenko 16, and Tymoshenko 13.

    There were a few surprises.

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  • How Poroshenko Could Win and Zelenskiy Could Lose

    The first round of Ukraine’s presidential election went overwhelmingly to Volodymyr Zelenskiy, but his victory in round two is by no means self-evident—especially if his rival, incumbent President Petro Poroshenko, plays his cards right.

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  • Who Is Really Advising Zelenskiy?

    Showman Volodymyr Zelenskiy may soon become the next president of Ukraine. His chances of winning the second round, slated for April 21, are high. He has long prepared to go into politics, thus his victory in the first round was neither sudden nor unexpected. However, he lacks any political experience and seems to have little understanding of domestic or foreign policy, which makes many in Ukraine and the West increasingly wary of his potential presidency.

    In this situation, understandably, much focus has been placed on his future political agenda. Western leaders have called on Zelenskiy to reveal his plans, yet it is fair to say that as of now they simply do not exist. Zelenskiy has been a blank page upon which almost anything might be written. His views on a wide range of political issues are only now being shaped. Therefore, more important than what he says, or does not say, is who has his ear.

    There are four main groups around Zelenskiy who try to influence his thinking.

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  • US Sen. Chris Murphy Warns Allies to Be Vigilant About the ‘Quiet Things’ Russia is Doing

    Says Russia funding ‘fight clubs and biker clubs’ in the Baltic States to exploit domestic instability

    US Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) on April 3 warned NATO allies to be “constantly vigilant about the very quiet things that the Russians are doing that could ultimately lead to a traditional military confrontation.”

    Pointing to Russian support for “fight clubs and biker clubs” inside the Baltic States, Murphy said they are “just there waiting for some kind of domestic instability to allow for an opportunity to do in a NATO country what the Russians have successfully done inside Donetsk and Luhansk provinces in Ukraine.”

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  • When Javelins Aren’t Enough

    Russia’s war with Ukraine has entered its sixth year, and despite the asymmetrical nature of the conflict, it has reached a stalemate. Russian President Vladimir Putin has clearly breached all international laws, but nobody wants to do the heavy lifting required to dislodge Putin from the occupied territories.

    To Ukrainians, now entering the second round of their presidential election, the war is second only to corruption as the most important issue facing their nation. Each candidate must now detail his blueprint to resolve the lingering and costly conflict. President Petro Poroshenko has vowed to fight until the territories are returned and join NATO, and frontrunner Volodymyr Zelenskiy wants the territories returned, has pledged to hold a referendum on joining NATO, and says he’s willing to talk with Putin.

    Several US military experts were asked about the best way forward and were divided as to priorities: More military aid, more diplomacy, more sanctions, a clean-up of Ukrainian corruption, or all in varying degrees.

    “I don’t think it is complicated,” said Phillip Karber, a defense advisor to NATO governments and president of the Potomac Foundation. Karber has been in Ukraine thirty times, including spending one winter at the front. “Nothing is going to change until Putin decides he’s not going to do it anymore.” Karber said that the West must find ways to increase the costs on Putin in the Donbas.

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  • What Zelenskiy Needs to Do to Next

    On March 31, Ukrainians gave a first-round victory to Volodymyr Zelenskiy for president with an endorsement of just over 30 percent. The incumbent, Petro Poroshenko, obtained around 16 percent, entering the runoff over third placed Yulia Tymoshenko. The voters clearly expressed their disillusionment with the existing political establishment and have chosen as frontrunner an outsider with no political experience. The elections have been accepted by most observer missions as being run fairly with relatively few violations.

    The key factor which appears to have been central to these results is the failure of the incumbent president to fulfill the promises which he made in the 2014 elections. We should recall that he swept into office with an overwhelming first-round win. The most glaring of broken promises include the failure to fight corruption, to bring to justice the criminals of the Yanukovych regime, to curb the power of the oligarchs, and to establish the rule of law. On the economic front, while a number of reforms were accomplished, improvement in the economic well-being of the average citizen was not realized. Unsurprisingly, Poroshenko was unable to deliver on his promise to “quickly” end Russian aggression in the Donbas though a strengthened army and a stand-off has been achieved. Sadly, the incumbent’s 2014 electoral promise of “Living in a New Way” never materialized and he lost the confidence of many voters.

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