Eastern Europe

  • Transition Challenges for an Outsider President

    Volodymyr Zelenskiy, elected to Ukraine’s presidency Sunday in a landslide, may be one of the least prepared leaders to head a democracy in world history. Not only is he an outsider, whose main experience of politics has been to play a president in a satirical television program, he has done little to prepare for the job.

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  • Simakovsky Quoted in Wall Street Journal on Volodymyr Zelensky Elected as the Ukrainian President

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  • Zelenskiy Wins: What’s Next for Ukraine?

    Following his landslide election as president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy must now turn his attention to following through on much-needed economic and anti-corruption reforms, all while continuing to confront Russia in Ukraine’s east and the illegal occupation of Crimea.

    The results of the April 21 contest, which saw Zelenskiy beat incumbent president, Petro Poroshenko, with nearly three-quarters of the vote was “clearly a vote for change,” according to Atlantic Council Eurasia Center Director John Herbst, who is a former US ambassador to Ukraine. Zelenskiy cannot be content with the margin of his victory, Herbst added, as “Poroshenko’s 2014 first round victory was also unprecedented and he was very popular at the time he won” before experiencing a decline in popularity.

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  • Simakovsky Quoted in Wall Street Journal on Ukrainian Presidential Election

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  • 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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  • 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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  • 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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