Tough job ahead for Ukraine’s new president
Published: Apr 25, 2019 06:43 PM

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Incumbent Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko came to power after the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution. The Ukrainian people had great expectations from Poroshenko at that time. He made many promises during his campaign but failed to accomplish his goals in his tenure, in particular he has failed to solve the country's massive corruption problem and contradictions with Russia.

Moreover, the fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russia forces in eastern Ukraine has killed some 13,000 people since the conflict began in 2014. Such being the case, the Ukrainian people have been very disappointed.

Ukraine's President-elect Volodymyr Zelensky plays an unwittingly elected president in a political satire comedy TV series Servant of the People. Based on his popularity on TV, the political newcomer won the election in a landslide. The dramatic result reflects the Ukrainian people's expectations for their country to bring about national stability and overcome corruption. If the country's problems were not so serious, the voters could have stuck with traditional politicians. Zelensky won more than 70 percent of the vote and this shows that the Ukrainian people couldn't wait any longer to change the current situation.

His celebrity branding helped Zelensky win, so it is hard to comment on his governing capacity right now. Ukraine's dilemma is structural, which cannot be simply resolved by some promises made during an election campaign. 

But the Ukrainian people were too desperate to trust traditional politicians anymore. They had no other choice but to vote for Zelensky. Not long after the election result came out, some Russian officials including Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev congratulated Zelensky. The move signals that Moscow's hope to relieve tensions with Kiev, although there was almost no room left to salvage relations between the two sides during Poroshenko's tenure.

Russia's stance on the Crimea issue is hard-line. The Crimea issue and conflicts in eastern Ukraine will not necessarily be solved by a new Ukrainian president taking office, because Zelensky is not likely to make many concessions and neither will the Russians. However, the leadership change of Ukraine will give Moscow a chance to bring Kiev back to the negotiating table.

These contradictions do not just originate from the two countries themselves, they are partly an outcome of some Western countries trying to contain and weaken Russia by supporting Ukraine. If Russia-Ukraine tensions can be relieved, with some disputes restrained or partly resolved, then to some extent Russia could ease strains between it and the West.

At present, it is hard to solve all the problems between Russia and Ukraine and restore their ties, as well as comprehensively ease tensions between Russia and the West. 

If Russia-Ukraine relations cannot improve, there will be no big changes in the Russia-West standoff and regional security will continue to be a thorny issue. Whether Russia can accomplish its goal by taking advantage of Zelensky's lack of political experience depends on what the new Ukrainian president does as a counter measure. The two countries need to work together to overcome their long-existing problems. After all, opportunities have surged for them to ease the tensions.

The article was compiled by Global Times reporter Xu Hailin based on an interview with Yang Mian, a professor at the Institute of International Relations of the Communication University of China. xuhailin@globaltimes.com.cn