Zelensky and Putin: Why Europe hasn’t changed since the Second Reionization of Crime in April 2001? An opinion piece by Michael Bociurkiw
A global affairs analyst named Michael Bociurkiw is based in Odesa. He is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and a former spokesperson for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He is a regular contributor to CNN Opinion. His views are not reflected in this commentary. View more opinion at CNN.
It is difficult to calculate how much the carefully managed stagecraft of the president’s inner circle has contributed to Zelensky’s popular image both inside and outside Ukraine – but it certainly can’t hurt.
In Paris at that time, I watched as Zelensky pulled up to the lysée Palace in a small car while Putin rode in an armored limo. (The host, French President Emmanuel Macron, hugged Putin but chose only to shake hands with Zelensky).
Zelensky is the instantly recognizable wartime president in trademark olive green and he stirs the imaginations of people around the world as he names and shames allies who are dragging their feet in helping his military.
If more progress is not demonstrated on the battlefield, it could cause concern among Western backers. Political death sentence is what capitulation to Russia would be.
Zelensky: a scrappy kid who learned to survive in the middle of war, and how to support Vladimir Putin in the midst of air raids
Zelensky’s upbringing in the rough and tumble neighborhoods of Kryvyi Rih in central Ukraine shaped him into a scrappy kid who learned how to respond to bullies.
“After the full-scale invasion, once he got into a position of being bullied by someone like Vladimir Putin he knew exactly what he needed to do because it was just his gut feeling,” Yevhen Hlibovytsky, former political journalist and founder of the Kyiv-based think tank and consultancy, pro.mova, told me.
This, after all, is the leader who when offered evacuation by the US as Russia launched its full-scale invasion, quipped: “I need ammunition, not a ride.”
It seems like a long, long time since Zelensky thanked his supporters for his landslide victory at a campaign rally in a trendy nightclub in the middle of war. Standing on stage among the fluttering confetti, he looked in a state of disbelief at having defeated incumbent veteran politician Petro Poroshenko.
Around this time last year — with Russia on the brink of launching its full-scale invasion — Ukrainians’ confidence in their president to handle the military threat massing on their doorstep was low.
Many people from his previous career as a TV comedian in the group Kvartal 95 are in his bubble. The press conference held at the metro station in the Ukrainian city of Kyiv in April had perfect lighting and carefully selected camera angles to emphasize a wartime setting.
As for his skills as comforter in chief, I remember well the solace his nightly televised addresses brought in the midst of air raid sirens and explosions in Lviv.
“By wearing T-shirts and hoodies, the youthful, egalitarian uniform of Silicon Valley, rather than suits, Zelensky is projecting confidence and competence in a modern way, to a younger, global audience that recognizes it as such,” Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, a fashion historian and author of “Red, White, and Blue on the Runway: The 1968 White House Fashion Show and the Politics of American Style,” told NPR.
Journeying to where her husband can’t, Zelenska has shown herself to be an effective communicator in international fora – projecting empathy, style and smarts. Most recently, she met with King Charles during a visit to a refugee assistance center at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family in London. Zelenska didn’t make the cover of Time magazine, but she did make a reference in the supporting text.
Zelensky has strong support at his back, but this could be signalling that his international influence may be waning. For example, last week, in what analysts called a pivotal moment in geopolitics, the G7 imposed a $60 a barrel price cap on Russian crude – despite pleas from Zelensky that it should have been set at $30 in order to inflict more pain on the Kremlin.
Within Ukraine, the economy continues to stumble from the impact of war and persistent missile and drone attacks on critical power infrastructure – including at least 76 strikes on Friday. As winter bites, millions of Ukrainians are enduring long periods without heat, electricity and water. (However, indicative of the resiliency that Ukrainians have displayed since the start of the war, many say they are prepared to endure such hardship for another two to five years if it means defeating Russia).
Victory will surely depend on the West maintaining a united front against Russia. Zelensky and his envoys abroad have done an enviable job of warning Western leaders that if they don’t support Ukraine in pushing Putin back completely, their own nations’ security could be caught in the crosshairs of Russian aggression.
“Paradoxically, Zelensky achieved the thing that Putin most wanted to achieve but failed … to rally support domestically with a patriotic war in order to deflect and distract from his abject failures at home. Michael Popow, an analyst from New York, told me that Putin thought it was painful for him to be shown up by a comedian.
Zelensky said in a recent video address that when the world is truly united it is the world, not the aggressor, which determines how events develop.
World War Wired: Jay Parini, Oscar Borges, Thomas L. Friedman, and the First War in a Totally Interconnected World
Editor’s Note: Jay Parini, a poet and novelist, teaches at Middlebury College. His most recent book is “Borges and Me,” a memoir of his travels in the Highlands of Scotland in 1971 with Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine fabulist. The views expressed in this commentary belong to the author. CNN has more opinion.
In the New York Times, Thomas L. Friedman commented on the conflict in modern times. Citing TikTok and other social media platforms, along with satellites and live traffic data on Google Maps, Friedman writes, “Welcome to World War Wired – the first war in a totally interconnected world.”
It’s a large-scale invasion that’s being “livestreamed, minute by minute, battle by battle, death by death, to the world,” as Daniel Johnson, an Iraq War veteran and journalist wrote in Slate. Those who are fortunate enough to be miles away from the events are watching them unfold on smart phones and other screens.
Since my first visit toUkraine in 1969 as a college student, I have become interested in its culture and people. The mistake of calling Ukraine a Russian satellite was corrected quickly by a patriotic gentleman, who told me that it had its own language, culture, history and traditions.
But Zelensky’s success was limited and his popularity went into decline after a couple of years. By October 2021, polls showed his approval ratings had gone into freefall.
Zelensky, a fluent Russian speaker, has also appealed to Russians in another video, urging them to “just stop those who lie, lie to you, lie to us, lie to everyone, to the whole world. We need to end this war. We can live in peace, in a global peace.”
His gifts for communication and his remarkable grasp of social media make him a formidable opponent for Putin, even though the army he commands, in sheer numbers and resources, pales beside Russia’s.
He has boldly challenged the logic of Putin’s unrestrained aggression, laying the groundwork for a future where the Ukrainian people once again possess the right to self-determination.
At the time, one of the major complaints against Zelensky was that he’d let pledges to reform the judicial system slide — a delay that threatened to derail Ukraine’s aspirations of joining the European Union.
It was an emotional issue for Ukrainians. The main motivator of the thousands of protesters taking to the streets in cold temperatures was to become part of the bloc.
A Year in the War against Corrupt Practice: A Case Study of a Ukrainian Deputy Attorney General and Military Officers in the Zelensky Administration
But even a war, it seems, cannot galvanize a nation to the point where the most greedy cease their dirty deeds. Since the start of February, serious allegations have surfaced of senior officials either profiting off of the war or conducting themselves with gross incompetence.
The Defense ministry allowed the military to purchase food at inflated prices, a well-known tactic to skim off money.
A deputy prosecutor general was fired after he and his family were spotted in Spain. He was driving a Mercedes belonging to a wealthy businessman.
The Zelensky administration is facing a monthly budget deficit amounting to $5 billion, and has recently been hit by a series of scandals.
It could also raise eyebrows among skeptical Republican legislators on Capitol Hill who’ve been questioning the more than $100 billion in aid pledged to Ukraine’s war effort. They are not alone, with recent polling in the US suggesting an increasing percentage of Americans think Washington is providing too much aid to Ukraine.
Little wonder then that the Ukrainian government’s sweeping crackdown on corruption was swift and harsh. Raids were ordered on a wide range of officials on the national, regional and local levels. One of Zelensky’s former backers, a Ukrainian billionaire, was accused of bilking a major Ukrainian bank of billions of dollars. (Kolomoisky, who has previously denied any wrongdoing, has not publicly commented on the recent raid.)
Many officials were allowed to resign rather than be fired or punished, as noted by some Ukrainian commentators. Anastasia Bolshedvor, who has gained a large social media following as an unofficial government watchdog, questioned whether the shakeup — coming almost a year into the war — was a show or a genuine step in the war against corruption.
Zelensky may open himself up to accusations of overreach. The Zelensky group in Parliament was kicked out of the ruling party by the government after one of them was discovered on a Thai beach while his country is in a war.
Zelensky called for more military aid and had his calls amplified after it banned lawmakers from traveling overseas at a time when they should be seen as ambassadors.
Odesa member of parliament, Oleksiy Goncharenko, went so far to call it an illegal move that violated the Ukrainian constitution. He told me that the rights of the MPs can’t be limited.
It is a bad decision for the country. He told us he recently returned from the US, where he met with Chuck Schumer of the Senate and gave talks to several universities.
Reports of corruption at the highest level of government are nothing new to most Ukrainians. At a time when millions of them have fled to safe areas abroad, the new allegations could be a deterrent for them to come back.
I talked to a lot of young Ukrainians who said that the government should not see the war as an excuse to stop the fight against corruption.
“I’m 100% against turning a blind eye against corruption and finding excuses such as the state of the economy or the war. We should continue investigating, prosecuting and fighting corruption,” Olga Kearley, a 29-year-old Kyiv-based Ukrainian entrepreneur told me.
“I haven’t stopped recycling because the war started. It is my fundamental belief and moral standard. As a country, we are fighting the outside demons, but at the same time, we should continue fighting our inner demons — and corruption is one of the big ones,” she added.
“We have a lot to rebuild. We expect a lot of transformation. The rebirth is of our nation. It’s the Ukraine that my generation wants to see. I hope that some young people will notice thatUkraine is changing. They should come back and be part of it,” Kearley said.
Zelensky needs to respond with the same determination and determination that the Ukrainians have displayed in the battlefield.
Corruption is Not Tolerant in a Nation with Oligarchic Rulers: The Last Chance to Affect the State of the Art
This is an opportunity to create a nation where corruption is not tolerated, and where oligarchs no longer have a free hand to rape and pillage the economy.