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25 June, 2019  ▪  Roman Malko

Ghosts of the past

Will Zelenskiy be in charge of previous regime’s political revenge?

The key to Zelenskiy’s stunning victory in April this year is his image as a positive, heartening and honest guy, who would make his voters’ wishes come true – as soon as he becomes a president. Somehow this way, the “Kvartal-95” standup comedian has managed to secure support of the record amount of voters in Ukraine, while barely speaking on public and promising absolutely nothing. 

There are two sides of this coin, thought, which Volodymyr Zelenskiy has flipped when entering the politics. One side of it brought him in total control of millions’ logics and reason. Another side, however, may very soon backfire, quickly damaging that innocent image of a good Samaritan-president, that has brought him to power. The reason behind this is that effectiveness of the campaign led by Zelenskiy and his circle owed a lot to voters’ total distrust and resentment towards the previous government – but as soon as the victorious president-elect becomes the government himself, the voters’ love may quickly turn into hate. From now on every step of the new president will be judged through prism of the personal hopes and expectations, as well as satisfaction or dissatisfaction of an average voter. Thus, as the new president not only lacks any capacity to fulfil their hopes, but also struggles to understand the new environment he got himself into, his popularity as well as citizen’s blind trust will rapidly start vanishing.

Zelenskiy’s patrons and those who have been able to meet him in person, are clearly operating more accurate understanding of the current situation, than the average voters of Holoborodko, the comedian’s fictional character in his famous political TV series. Those patrons hardly perceive Zelenskiy as a magic cure for country’s current problems and short-comings – instead they treat him as a practical platform to implement their own pragmatic goals and plans. They have little delusions, but they have utter political calculations and a solid judgment; they have experience in the game and they know how to play by the rules of the genre. Many have made their way to Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office in order to secure safe grounds for their personal goals and ambitions; while others are tentatively waiting, trying to assess whether it’s better to earn new president’s favor or keep the distance. Every each of them, though, remains in the state of a sheer uncertainty, turbulence and hesitancy. It seems like the president himself remains in the same state right now, especially after all the suggestions, advices, warnings or even threats he has received. One should understand that this is, however, the specifics of the transition period. 

RELATED ARTICLE: Anticipating revenge

At the moment Zelenskiy is not doing himself a favor trying to be liked by everyone, showing off his apparent openness, while being unable to establish a dialog with the citizens, who brought him to the political Olympus, and honestly explain them who he really is and what his goals are.  It is rather possible that he is not able to explain those to himself either – or, potentially, will never be able to do so at all. Soon it may turn out that the pressure he has to put up with, the new tasks and skills he has to develop in order to carry out his day to day duties, the decisions that sooner or later he will have to make, will be a burden on him that he will no longer be able to carry. 

Despite Zelenskiy’s numerous talks of transparency, honesty, openness and his adherence to democratic principles, there was little evidence to suggest that any of those will be implemented on practice. On the contrary, everything seems to be happening according to the classic tradition of the behind-the-closed-doors political games. Sometimes occasional fragments of important information are noticed from the outside, as well as implicit indicators hinting at the forthcoming storm. At this point it even seems plausible that Kolomoyskiy, Zelenskiy’s patron, has intentionally returned to Ukraine prior to Zelenskiy’s inauguration, feeling that his protégé is slipping off his hands and he is losing control over the situation – in any case, Kolomoyskiy’s appearance on the political scene was understandable and expected. However, it has hardly been expected to see Andriy Portnov, the former head of the presidential administration during the Yanukovych times and the mastermind of the “dictatorial laws” preceding Euromaidan, returning to Ukraine. Moreover, his reckless and manic efforts to unfold the campaign to “bring to account” the president Poroshenko may lead one to believe that the possibility of the revenge is not as vague as it seems. Understandably, at this point it is more of a matter of testing the waters, destabilizing the situation, inducing the hysteria and nurturing the panic. Needless to say that Portnov’s appearance in Ukraine is the Yanukovych’s circle attempt to see how much leverage they have got and whether it would be a good moment to return or they still have to wait.

Ironically, now there is even more obscurity surrounding Zelenskiy and his future steps, than it was during election campaign, when he preferred to remain silent on most issues. There are more than one worrisome indicators of the upcoming revenge and many members of the former regime see recent events as a window of opportunity right now. These include the ill-famed court decisions in relation to the PryvatBank, decision of the Constitutional Court to annul the law against acquiring illegal wealth, and, what’s worrying – threatening to annul important political lustration laws. Worrying indicators include Kolomoyskiy’s ruthless demands to take back the control over PryvatBank or pay him billions in break-up fee, as well as his indirect blackmailing remarks to announce default. Additionally, Valeriy Khoroshkovskiy, Ukrainian oligarch that according to The Ukrainian Week’s sources has reportedly returned to Ukraine at some point during the presidential campaign, and has not only established close ties with Zelenskiy’s camp, but has also contributed a considerable sum to his campaign. Add to this Zelenskiy’s ambiguous behavior right since the beginning – his reckless and impudent inauguration speech, dissolution of the parliament, his audacious demand for the government to resign, as well as appointing his close business aides at the top role in the state administration. 

Needless to say that Kolomoyskiy has firmly denied that he has any influence of the new president, Khoroshkovskiy claimed that he has not recently traveled to Ukraine himself, but it was his spouse who flew in, and Zelenskiy has adamantly insisted that no old politicians will be present in the new government – he has even promised to never work with the old members of the Party of Regions, former Yanukovych’s party. Some even insist that the new president should be allowed at least 100 days to adopt to new realities and show his true intentions, before being criticised. At the same time, it is ahrd to believe in his promises, considering the mere fact that the old Party of Region’s hawks were present in Zelenskiy’s campaign from the very beginning. Dmytro Razumkov, the former mastermind behind the youth branch of the Party of Regions, will be leading Zelenskiy’s party Sluga Narodu (“The Servant of the People”) in the parliamentary elections. Andriy Bogdan, Zelenskiy’s head of the presidential administration, is the former deputy minister and was responsible to fight the corruption at the government of Mykola Azarov. Last but not least, Zelenskiy’s close and long-term partnership with Kolomoyskiy is the icing on the cake. Interestingly enough, Zelenskiy has never openly claimed that he will not work with pro-Russian politicians and has announced that he is not afraid to undertake any decisions at any price in order to stop the bloodshed in Donbas. 

RELATED ARTICLE: Master of improvisation

It is easy to fish in troubled waters – there is no doubt in that. While Zelenskiy’s voters are awaiting president’s wise decisions, improvement of their standards of living, immediate lowering of the everyday costs and other miracles, as well as trying to read the hidden message in his public speeches, the real players in this game are slowly, but firmly get on with their agenda. They create new challenges and new circumstances for the president. Every each of them has their own expectations and hopes for him. It would be good if these agreements made behind the closed doors only concerned the entry to the parliament or political partnership. The most troublesome, alarming and petrifying is the fact, that currently, as it seems, nobody is really directing this political drama. Some are more involved, whilst others prefer to stand aside, but what’s terrifying is that even Ukraine’s Chief of Stuff does not know for sure in what country one will wake up tomorrow. Thus, unsurprisingly it is very difficult to predict the aftermath of the chaos and who will fall its victim. The whole uncertainty creates a vast number of rumors and gives the feeling of an unavoidable bad end. As the history has shown, in Ukraine one’s efforts to be liked by everyone as well as attempts to initiate a dialog with the “fifth column” has always ended up in a tragedy for the country. 

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