By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
A new phenomenon has emerged in the Ukraine, after 42 year old Wolodomyr Zelensky became elected President with an overwhelming majority (73%) over his competitor President Poroshenko. The electoral result was a shock since most western media had been mocking about this “comedian” who became famous by his TV series “Sluga Narodna” (Servant of his people), a TV series which made jokes about the corrupt political elite in the country. Zelensky, being supported by the arch enemy of Poroshenko, the Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomojskyj (who lives at present in Tel Aviv) was capable to win the hearts of a majority of the Ukrainian people which is tired of the fratricidal war carried out on its soil since 2014 and wants to rebuild the country.
In his inaugural speech Monday 20th Zelensky (he was born in Donbass and his mother language is Russian, aside Ukrainian) unleashed a political earthquake which may bring some motion into the political landscape in Ukraine with repercussions on future East/ West geopolitical events. The inauguration ceremony was a shock, beginning with the fact that Zelensky didn’t want to be escorted in a limousine, but preferred to walk by foot to the parliament greeting the waiting crowd with handshakes.
His speech was combative but serious. Zelensky emphasized the need to bring the war in Ukraine – which from the beginning was heavily supported by the US and Western Europe- to a quick end. He emphasized that this can only be achieved with the help of the Ukrainian people where (Zelensky referred to his little son who had told him after the election that he is now President) “each of us is the President. Not just the 73 percent who voted for me, but all 100 percent of Ukrainians. This is not just mine, this is our common victory. And this is our common chance that we are responsible for together. …From now on, each of us is responsible for the country that we leave to our children. Each of us, in his place, can do everything for the prosperity of Ukraine.”
In reference to the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine which is raging since 2014 having left 10.000 dead alone in the Eastern Ukraine region Donbass, he addressed the “common pain” which is shared by all: “Every day we lose each one of us in the fratricidal war with Russia. And each one of us is a refugee – the one who has lost his own home and the one who has opened the door of his home. And each one of us is migrant worker – the one who couldn’t find himself at home, but has found income in a foreign country, and the one who struggling with poverty, is forced to lose his own dignity.”
The recurring theme of the president’s inaugural speech was “unity” and “reconciliation” within the Ukrainian people: “We are all Ukrainians: there are no bigger or lesser, or correct or incorrect Ukrainians. From Uzhgorod to Luhanks, from Chernigiv to Simferopol, in Liv, Kharkiv, Donetsk, Dnipro and Odesa – we are Ukrainians. And we have to be one.”
Priority for Zelensky is to bring about “ceasefire” in the Donbas. “I have been often asked: What price are you ready to pay for the ceasefire? It’s a strange question. What price are you ready to pay for the lives of your loved ones? I can assure you that I’m ready to pay any price to stop the deaths of our heroes. I’m definitely not afraid to make difficult decisions and I’m ready to lose my fame, my ratings and if need be- without hesitation- my position to bring peace, as long as we do not give up our territories.” He strongly emphasized that it’s the task of the Ukrainians to “finish” the war. “We are ready for dialogue. I believe that the first step in this is “dialogue.” He made clear that what most important is to build unity in the country and to win the ‘hearts’ of the people- no matter how many passports they get; and that the next challenge is to return the lost territories.
Winning back the hearts
Most important was his emphasis to “return the minds we have lost…” He added that the army is only strong when the authorities “respect” the people who every day sacrifice their life for the country. “I will do everything I can to make you feel respect. This means decent, and most important, secure salaries, living conditions, vocation leave after the combat missions and your and your families’ holidays.” On the background of the abysmal state of the Ukrainian economy and the problems which the country is facing, Zelensky pointed to the “the shocking utility tariffs, humiliating wages and pensions, painful prices and non- existent- jobs. There is also the health care….. and there is also the mythical Ukrainian roads that are being built and repaired only in someone’s prolific imagination.” He blamed the problems of Ukraine on the Government (i.e. the previous government of Poroshenko et al, who may face very soon trials for corruption and treason E.H.) and criticized those people in the government “who shrug shoulders” saying that “there is nothing that we can do.” People “who only think about the next elections.”
In short Zelensky declared war against the rotten and corrupt government structures, which could make people tremble within the Ukraine (around former President Poroshenko) but also in the Western world and in the US- that throughout the last years has supported the Ukraine and driven a wedge between Western Europe and Russia . “My election proves that our citizens are tired of the experienced, pompous (!) system politicians who over 28 years, have created a country of opportunities- the opportunity to bribe, steal and pluck the resources,” Zelensky stated. The new president promised to “build the country of other opportunities- the one where all are equal before the law and where all the rules are honest and transparent, the same for everyone. And for that we need people in power who will serve the people. This is why I really do not want my pictures in your offices, for the President is not an icon or portrait. Hang your kid’s photos instead and look at them each time you are making a decision.”
At the end he announced that he is going to clean up the corrupt government demanding from the parliament to approve:
- The law on removing parliamentary immunity. 2. The law establishing criminal liability for illegal enrichment. 3. The long awaited Electoral Code and open- lists. At the same time he announced his intention to dismiss the Head of the Security Service of Ukraine, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine Jurij Luzenko and the Ukrainian Minister of Defense. And that within two months he wants the Ukrainian people to vote in a new parliament and that the Ukraine People should in a referendum decide on the future of the Donbass.
This is a quite remarkable speech which opens many new strategic options in order to bring about peace in the Ukraine and reconciliation among its people. If Zelensky really means what he says and acts accordingly- we could see a new Renaissance in the Ukraine. Fact is that the American networks – around now deceased Mc Cain and hyperactive Nuland who just was prohibited entry into Russia by Russian authorities, need to be checked. The West in turn must reshape its own strategy on Ukraine and enter into better relations both with the Ukraine government and Russia. But also from the Russian side – certain things must change and more flexibility shown. They should not look down to Ukraine as the smaller brother but orient along the well- being of the Ukrainian people as a whole. Ukraine can’t afford to lose time with internal fights and rivalries between oligarchs, but it must begin rebuilding its own country.
Reactions from Russia
There was an interesting reaction from Russian foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov who qualified Zelenskys speech as positive underlining that “ today in his inaugural speech the President stood against the attempts to divide Ukraine Society on the basis of language. There are no doubts that this stance should be fully applicable to the religious sphere including the broader context.” The most appropriate start for the new Ukrainian President would be a “dialogue on the exchange of prisoners” in accordance with the Minsk accords on the principle of “all for all.”
Also the chairman of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill expressed his hope that the newly elected President will not repeat the mistake of his predecessor. “We sincerely wish him success in uniting and reconciling the Ukrainian people.” Similar statements came from chairman of the foreign policy commission of the Duma Konstantin Kosachev who called for a renewed dialogue between Russia and Ukraine.
On May 22nd President Putin had a telephone discussion with Merkel and Macron discussing with them aside Syria the situation in Ukraine underlining that given the internal domestic crisis in light of Poroshenko’s failed policy and the change in Presidency there was “no alternative to the Minsk measures that were agreed upon in 2015 (between Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France) as a basis for peaceful settlement.” As the Kremlin press office reported, the Minsk principles include the Law concerning a special status of the regions Donetsk and Lugansk , the need for giving amnesty , withdrawal of armed forces and war material in an agreed upon area on the contact line between the parties as well as direct dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk. In return Merkel and Macron demanded from President Putin to make a step forward concerning the conflict of Ukraine:“Russia should make the necessary gesture to create favorable condition for a dialogue.”