Eastern Europe

  • Will Zelenskiy Put Ukraine’s Interests First?

    President Volodymyr Zelenskiy must distance himself from recent statements by oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky that Ukraine should default on its IMF commitments, said wealthy and established Ukrainian businessman Mohammed Zahoor.

    “He should have the balls to say this openly,” said Zahoor, former owner of the Kyiv Post, in an interview yesterday. “He must personally and strongly say that Kolomoisky is a detached oligarch and has nothing to do with us. We are running our own government and he’s not involved in any way.”

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  • Zelenskiy Sows Confusion and Another Chance for Change

    Volodymyr Zelenskiy may be popular among Ukrainians, but he is getting the cold shoulder from its political elite. Ukraine’s new president has few friends in the parliament and government. Within days of taking office, Zelenskiy suffered a defeat in the Rada as the parliament has not considered his bill for a new electoral law. The Rada didn’t have the votes to put the president’s bill on the agenda, despite Zelenskiy claim that the bill was the result of a compromise among parliamentary factions. The government met Zelenskiy with a wave of resignations, most notably from Prime Minister Groisman, who tendered his resignation and announced plans to run for the parliament. But without support from the Rada and the government, Zelenskiy has no leverage to push his policy agenda through. Zelenskiy needs quick wins to point to before the parliamentary elections, especially given his lack of experience.  

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  • How to Create the Impossible in Ukraine

    Volodymyr Zelenskiy won in a landslide. Ukrainian voters blamed incumbent Petro Poroshenko for two problems: the lack of significant success in combating corruption, and insufficient economic growth in the poorest country in Europe. These two problems have a common solution, which is transitioning Ukraine from a post-Soviet industrial economy to a knowledge economy.

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  • Ukraine Inaugurates New President

    Wasting little time after winning Ukraine’s April 21 presidential election in a landslide, the country’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, vowed in his inauguration speech on Monday to dissolve the parliament and hold early elections. After winning 73 percent of the vote in the second round, Zelenskiy may be hoping to ride the political wave, and early polls show his party in the lead, with 26 percent support.

    Originally scheduled for October 27, elections for the parliament, or Rada, will now be as early as July 21, if Zelenskiy has his way. The new president also indicated a desire for a wholesale change in government appointees, and a number of officials, including the prime minister, Volodymyr Groisman, have announced their resignations. A new day may be dawning in Ukraine.

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  • Critical Questions for Ukraine’s New President

    Ukraine's domestic politics will change fundamentally in 2019. On May 20, Volodymyr Zelenskiy was inaugurated as president of Ukraine. The country’s upcoming parliamentary elections this summer or autumn will likely reconfigure much of the governing elite, and lead to deep changes in the country’s legislative, executive, and judicial branches.

    Five major topics will keep Kyiv and its partners busy in 2019 and beyond. None are easy. They include politics, domestic reforms, gas, relations with the EU, and the Donbas conflict.

    Since Zelenskiy’s inauguration four days ago, we have a slightly better picture of what is to come: the new president disbanded the parliament and called for early elections on July 21. Prime Minister Volodymyr Groisman will probably resign. But many issues remain unknown. Zelenskiy wants a new election law to govern the parliamentary elections, but the parliament has refused to consider his law. The details matter and the election law will influence who enters the next parliament.

    Foreign observers also wonder how many and which new pro-reform parties will compete in the elections and what the likely composition of the new parliament will be. It’s possible that Zelenskiy’s party could end up dominating a new government, and if it doesn’t, the question is which parties will form the new coalition government. And, of course, the big question is who the new prime minister will be. There are rumors that Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and Naftogaz chief Andriy Kobolyev want the job, but everything is in flux.   

    After a new government is formed, it will confront a host of sticky problems.

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  • Where Should Zelenskiy Start?

    After Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s landslide victory, Ukraine is in a regime change situation, whether we call it so or not. The previous administration carried out great economic reforms, but the country’s law enforcement and judicial system remain predatory. What Ukraine needs most of all is rule of law.

    Zelenskiy has a tremendous popular mandate, 73 percent of the vote, but this is an anti-mandate against the old dysfunctional system, which has rendered Ukraine the poorest country in Europe. Ukrainians want Zelenskiy to break up this system and build something better.

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  • Strong Start

    May 20 was a historic day for Ukraine and beyond. Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a political newcomer dismissed and denigrated by his political opponents, crowned his inauguration as president with an inspirational speech and decisive preliminary actions that have already borne results.

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  • Q&A: Ukraine’s Got a New President. How Did He Do on Inauguration Day?

    On May 20, Volodymyr Zelenskiy was sworn in as Ukraine’s sixth president. His inauguration speech was ambitious: he called for early elections, urged parliament to end parliamentary immunity, pass electoral reform and the law on illegal enrichment. He also wants parliament to sack the head of the SBU, the prosecutor general, and the minister of defense. What did you think of Zelenskiy’s speech? Did he strike the right tone? Are his priorities correct? 

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  • Nazi-Soviet Pact Anniversary Can Help Zelenskiy Heal Ukraine’s Totalitarian Trauma

    Ukraine’s President-elect Volodymyr Zelenskiy waded into the bloodstained waters of the country’s memory wars during WWII memorial events in early May, posting a picture of himself alongside a Soviet veteran and a former member of Ukraine’s Insurgent Army with the message: “The key to peace today is unity among all Ukrainians.” This was something of a departure for Zelenskiy, who largely steered clear of sensitive historical issues during his presidential campaign while promising to move beyond the conflicting interpretations of the past that have plagued Ukrainian society since the Soviet collapse.

    Zelenskiy’s recent WWII photo-op indicates that as the new head of state, he recognizes he will no longer be able to afford himself the luxury of remaining above the fray. Instead, he must now take a lead in Ukraine’s memory wars while choosing his battles carefully, seeking positions that can make sense of the troubled past while mindful of the fact that any potential missteps could reopen old wounds and undermine his calls for national unity.

    Finding historical issues that a majority of Ukrainians can agree on is no easy matter.

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  • Why the West Must Lean in Now

    On April 21, TV comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy won a landslide victory over incumbent President Petro Poroshenko in the second round of Ukraine’s presidential election. By winning an impressive 73 percent of the vote, Zelenskiy secured a strong popular mandate.

    Questions abound about Zelenskiy’s core political beliefs and whether his performance in office will match his campaign rhetoric. Answers to these questions are speculative. However, we do know what issues animate citizens. Opinion polls consistently show Ukrainians want three things. First, they want a statesman who will stand up to Russian aggression and restore Ukraine’s sovereignty. Second, they want a reformer who will take a battering ram to the oligarchic system. Third, they want someone who will increase economic growth, boost wages, and create jobs. To the extent that Zelenskiy can make progress on these three issues, he will continue to enjoy strong popular support. Conversely, moves that undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty, cater to oligarchic interests, or jeopardize economic growth are likely to erode support.

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