Last May, President Volodymyr Zelensky took office promising to end the then-five-year old war with Russia – to “just stop the shooting”. As his administration approaches its one-year anniversary, however, Zelensky’s peacebuilding efforts face backlash in Kiev, skepticism in Moscow, and hostility in the Russian-backed breakaways in Donbass.
Before his unexpected victory in Ukraine’s presidential elections, the comedian and political novice Volodymyr Zelensky’s engagement with civil society was almost non-existent.
One year is a very short period of time in which to conclude whether a new president has brought substantial changes to a country’s foreign policy, and even more so when considering, as in the case of Ukraine, a country at war whose orientations towards the West, the EU, and the US are already rooted in important decisions taken by previous leadership; since 2019, Euro-Atlantic integration has been an explicitly stated objective within Ukraine’s Constitu
When a journalist asked Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, to name a “red line” which would make him resign, he said that it would be the abandonment of Ukraine’s pro-Western course. The words of Minister Kuleba very tellingly describe the essence and drivers of efforts and reforms in Ukraine.
The ongoing interest in Ukraine can be easily understood. The armed conflict in Donbass has become the most serious and dangerous challenge to European security since the collapse of Yugoslavia and the subsequent series of ethno-political clashes in the Balkans in the 1990s and early 2000s.
It has been a year since a relatively young and absolutely unexperienced presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky was elected. In the first round of presidential elections (March 31, 2019), where 39 candidates competed to lead Ukraine, Zelensky got over 30% of votes. The incumbent, his closest competitor, got a bit more than 15%.
One year ago, the election of Volodymyr Zelensky as the president of Ukraine made the headlines: not only was he a comedian with no previous political experience but he was also elected with a whopping majority.
2019 is a super-electoral year for Ukraine. A country that survived the tragic change of regime and annexation of Crimea in 2014 and lived through a war in Donbass is expected to re-elect its president in the spring and its parliament in the fall 2019.
The 31 March presidential elections in Ukraine matter to Ukraine, its region and the EU. While the majority of experts deem it impossible to have a winner in the first round and, thus, expect a second one in April, the March contest will be a first important step in the crucial process of determining the direction the country will take. Thus, while we should not hold our breath on election day, we should definitely keep a close eye on the contest and its outcome.
The 31 March presidential elections in Ukraine constitute a test for the stability of the country and the entire region, with repercussions also for the European Union and its relations with Moscow. Five years after the deposition of former president Viktor Yanukovych, Ukrainians are called to evaluate the work of the current president Petro Poroshenko and, more generally, to decide whether and how to continue pursuing the Western-championed reforms.
On March 31st, Ukrainians will head to the polls to vote for their next president, and while the results remain uncertain, what is promised is that these elections will differ significantly from previous ones in the country's history.
“Every election in Ukraine is a crucial one”, so goes the joke among Ukraine experts, east and west. Just like with any joke, there’s some truth behind it. In the post-Soviet landscape, the country has always stood out as relatively pluralistic: its politics, though never completely democratic, are highly competitive, and its civil society is habitually described as “vibrant”.