Prior to this year’s elections, Ukrainians appeared to stumble collectively toward their second civil war in five years, thus forecasting a renewed domestic catastrophe as well as instigating an ominous foreign policy crisis for the Trump administration in a strategically pivotal part of Europe amid enduring tensions between the United States and Russia.
After declaring independence from the disintegrating Soviet Union on August 24, 1991, the elected representatives of the sovereign republic of Ukraine faced two fundamental problems: the establishment of a Ukrainian national state and the creation of a free market economy. Three decades later the verdict is in: successive Ukrainian presidents have utterly failed to make the people the real sovereign, while simultaneously, have managed to turn the Ukrainian economy into a tightly controlled corrupt, criminal political enterprise. The people’s feeble attempt at facing these challenges decisively in 2004, ended in a spectacular failure. A second similar attempt in 2014, proved to be even worse. It was an unmitigated disaster. By early 2019, during the waning days of the Poroshenko presidency, Ukraine was in an extremely deep political, financial, economic, social, cultural, and moral crisis.
Politically, the sovereignty of the Ukranian people was a shame. The citizens were held hostage to the reign of greedy and irresponsible oligarchs. Financially, the local currency, the hryvnia, became almost worthless and the national debt reached 40% of the GDP. Economically, Ukraine has turned into the poorest country of the European continent. Socially, destructive hatred and fear from each other among various ethnic
communities pushed society to the brink of another bloody civil war. Culturally, the establishment of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (Russian: Pravoslavna Tserkva Ukrayiny) on December 15, 2018, has created even among the 43.9% Ukrainian population fundamental confusions concerning their religious loyalties. Morally, this hatred and the resulting mistrust have inflamed long simmering racially motivated enmities mainly between the Ukrainian and Russian inhabitants of the country. As a result of the bloody Maidan coup d’etat and the subsequent policies of former President Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine has lost the Crimea and has triggered a deluge of fire and blood in the eastern part of the country. The latter in particular, has turned into a vicious circle, in which peace has become elusive.
Amid all these fundamental problems and uncertainties, most Ukrainian presidents have oscillated between their citizens’ desire to anchor the country in the West and the formers’ political inclination to maintain dictatorial powers with democratic facade. Their successive power grabs have moved Ukraine ever closer to its eastern neighbor Russia. In this manner, the so-called Ukrainian democracy has become a joke. That the West, in particular the United States of America, has been unable to stop the gradual descent of Ukraine into chaos is a tragedy for its sorry diplomacy. Specifically, the eight years of the Obama administration that allowed Vice President Joe Biden to take advantage of the all pervasive corruption, and help his son Hunter to enrich himself to the detriment of both countries, have been an unequivocal disgrace. Regrettably, the same Obama/Biden bureaucrats still control Ukrainian affairs from the State Department. Thus, American policy toward Ukraine remains abysmally contradictory and absolutely ineffective. In order to redefine the bilateral relationship with the new Ukrainian administration, the Trump administration should be guided by the facts on the ground. Accordingly, the White House must understand that what has transpired in the spring and more recently in the summer in Ukraine has been a real and fundamental transformation, in which the vast majority of the people have participated in a bloodless revolution to prevent another bloody civil war.
Onto this political minefield has stepped as an unlikely presidential candidate in early 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky. A lawyer by education and an entertainer by profession, he has succeeded to trigger a national uprising not just against President Petro Poroshenko who was running for a second term, but also against three decades of political and economic corruption.
The young Volodymyr Zelensky first introduced himself to the national audience in 2002, in the widely popular Russian language show called The Club of the Joyfuls and the Resourcefuls (Russian: Klub Viselikh i Nakhodchivikh). Starting to run in the Soviet TV in 1960, the show quickly became a national phenomenon. In 1972, Leonid Brezhnev closed the show, because of its increasingly critical political content. Under Mikhail Gorbachev the show was reinstated. In 2002, the best team was named The 95 Resident (Russian: 95-iy Kvartal) led by Volodymyr Zelensky from the town of Krivoy Rog. The team turned its newfound success into a permanent television show. Under the title Kiev Night (Russian: Vecherniy Kiev), they appeared every Saturday night on one of the Ukrainian TV channels. Not being satisfied with a weekly show, the team also performed live on streets and squares throughout the country. Finally, starting in 2006, they introduced a thirty five episode program entitled Servant of the People (Russian: Sluga Naroda) that became by far the most popular television show in Ukraine.
The storyline of the show is as simple as effective. A poor high school history teacher by the name of Vasyl Goloborodko (meaning in Ukrainian Clean Face), who lives with his parents, are convinced by his students to run for president. The show presents a critical picture of conditions in Ukraine from the Maidan events in 2014 on. Based on this criticism, the hero of the show builds a national movement and decisively wins the presidential election. In real life, Volodymyr Zelensky beat Petro Poroshenko 73.23% to 24.46%. Following the dissolution of the Verkhovna
Rada on May 20, 2019, parliamentary elections took place on July 21, 2019. President Volodymyr Zelenski’s party, appropriately named Servant of the People, received 254 mandates out of 424 overall.
In his inauguration speech, President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that presently he has no intention to run for a second term. Then, admonished his countrymen and countrywomen to internalize their desire to be an integral part of Europe. He added that anyone who feels to be Ukrainian and would like to help the country are welcome and could obtain citizenship. Turning to politics, he emphasized the overwhelming importance of peace. To achieve peace, he stated that he would be willing to go the extra mile. He proposed direct talks with all parties involved. He strongly emphasized the unity of the entire Ukraine. Ukraine cannot be divided. The Donbas region and the Crimean peninsula are parts of Ukraine. Acknowledged that the social conditions in the country are untenable. Accordingly, everything must be done to restore the viability of the economy. Finally, President Volodymyr Zelensky proposed symbolic measures to restore the people’s faith in government.
The most important question is how to achieve these objectives. First, the new president, as soon as members of the new parliament are sworn in, must deliver a decisive and crushing blow to all who took part in running Ukraine to the ground. Second, Russia should neither be hated or feared. Negotiations must be conducted with a great deal of patience, because Russia is also fears and even hates any sovereign government in Ukraine. However, peace in the east and negotiations regarding the future of the Crimean peninsula are vital to normalization of domestic and foreign affairs of Ukraine. Third, the most thorough audit of Ukraine’s finances must be undertaken by foreign auditors. Finally, the president must work to realize the two major unfinished objectives, namely, the establishment of the Ukrainian national state and the creation of a national free market economy.
The United States of America and the European Union must wish success to Ukraine and extend all the assistance they can possibly marshall for this onerous undertaking.