What can Zelensky do for Ukraine?

After winning a sweeping victory with 73 percent of the vote in Ukraine's presidential election Volodymyr Zelensky has announced that as president he will fight corruption and seek a peaceful end to the conflict in Donbass. Zelensky is politically inexperienced and made a name for himself as an actor in a comedy series. Commentators have mixed feelings about his election victory.

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Krytyka Polityczna (PL) /

New president is overcoming old divisions

Krytyka Polityczna sees Zelensky's election as a sign that the Ukrainians are once again becoming one nation:

“Unlike most election results, Zelensky's victory does not reflect a division of the country into east and west. ... For years the Ukrainian elites have been active along opposing lines: on the one hand the pro-European, Ukrainian-speaking patriots, and on the other the pro-Russian, Russian-speaking 'post-Soviets'. Zelensky, who is himself a Russian-speaking Jew, rejects such dichotomies: you can speak Russian and have a fondness for post-Soviet culture while at the same time feeling Ukrainian, condemning Russia's aggressive behaviour and wanting Ukraine to move closer to Europe.”

Denník N (SK) /

Some of Ukraine's problems are unsolvable

Zelensky is too powerless to be a saviour, Dennik N observes:

“His voters are like patients who, after traditional medicine has failed, put their fate in the hands of a charlatan. They're not actually convinced that he can help them, but they think they have nothing to lose. ... Some of Ukraine's problems, however, are practically unsolvable. Reclaiming Russian-occupied Crimea and the east of Ukraine is no longer in the power of any politician in Kiev or the West. Kiev doesn't have the military power for that. And political negotiations don't lead anywhere when the other side isn't seriously interested in a solution. Putin's regime will decide whether the occupation continues and whether to release its Ukrainian prisoners - as Zelensky has promised will happen - according to its own needs.”

Zaborona (UA) /

Tears for Poroshenko are out of place

Zaborona finds the highly emotional response of Poroshenko's supporters after his defeat unusual:

“This sentimental farewell from a president, with choruses of gratitude and tears and promises on his part that he will return is new. ... The presidential administration building on Bankova street, to which normal mortals are usually denied access, was even opened especially for this purpose. ... But strong emotions for a government, be they burning hatred and total rejection or warm enthusiasm and tears shed with a lump in the throat, are out of place. They prevent a cool, objective assessment of the efficiency of the government and its ability to improve the way we live.”

taz, die tageszeitung (DE) /

The right man for peace

The daily paper taz sees the election result as a chance to end the stalemate in the conflict in Donbass:

“The new Russian-speaking president whose Ukrainian language skills leave room for improvement could break through the friend-foe format and become a conciliator and bridge-builder in his country. If this - admittedly very ambitious - enterprise succeeds it would perhaps pave the way for permanent peace to be established in Donbass. ... At least the vague possibility of peace for the east of Ukraine should be reason enough for Brussels to support Zelensky for as long as he doesn't prove the contrary.”

Echo of Moscow (RU) /

Russians can only dream of this kind of democracy

The Russian radio station Echo of Moscow voices admiration for the democratic process in Ukraine which it says is lacking in its own country:

“Here in Russia there won't be any debates in stadiums - because there are no debates. Nor any second rounds of voting. And it's questionable that we will ever have another person in the Kremlin than the one who is there now. ... This should be a cause of concern for us above all. Ukraine is doing okay. If Zelensky turns out to be a bad choice they'll elect someone else. They're used to that and clearly it doesn't work any other way over there. But for us that remains a dream, a complete fantasy.”

Evenimentul Zilei (RO) /

Another success for a newcomer to politics

The 41-year-old actor won because he has had nothing to do with politics until now, Evenimentul Zilei believes:

“This whole thing is an illusion with huge powers of attraction. But if the bubble hasn't burst yet it's because it hasn't had to prove itself in day-to-day life. ... The undiscerning voters were led astray by an anti-system campaign. The president in the Ukrainian TV series in which Zelensky had a role is the perfect embodiment of this illusion. He's a man far removed from the system who has been totally rejected by it because he doesn't belong to the clique. And now he can do what the traditional politicians couldn't. ... Other examples of this new type of post-politician are Donald Trump in America, Beppe Grillo in Italy and Zuzana Čaputová in Slovakia.”

Eesti Päevaleht (EE) /

No promises, no disappointments

Zelensky's victory will hardly change Ukraine, Eesti Päevaleht worries:

“Zelensky, who has proceeded so far according to the formula 'no promises, no disappointments', has not yet presented any ideas for how to solve problems like war, corruption or emigration. One can only guess what direction Ukraine will take under his leadership. The optimistic version is that the pressure from war veterans from Donbass and the anti-corruption movement could force Zelensky to move towards the West. But it wouldn't be a good idea to bet on that.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Putin sees his chance

Zelensky's biggest drawback is his inexperience, De Volkskrant believes:

“The key question is whether Zelensky is any match for Putin. The latter is hoping he can tempt the comedian into concluding a deal on the status of those parts of Donbass that are controlled by pro-Russian separatists in exchange for investments in the ailing Ukrainian economy. In this way Moscow wants to rid itself of the sanctions that the Western countries imposed on Russia in 2014. Unlike Putin, who has numerous treacherous military operations to answer for, Zelensky has no military or diplomatic experience. So there is the risk that he could be duped by the shrewd Kremlin boss.”

Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

Oligarchs' TV gave Zelensky his victory

Zelensky owes his victory to the lack of media freedom in Ukraine, Tages-Anzeiger believes:

“It was only possible because Ukrainian media are dominated by oligarchs who decide who their TV channels cover and who they don't. Foreign defence minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko, for example, who also ran for president and has been faithfully fighting corruption and the interests of oligarchs for years, knows that story inside out: for years he was as good as absent from the television, and in this country where 85 percent of the population get all their news from the TV he has never once been given national coverage. The same goes for the true reform parties which are always cropping up in Ukraine, but about which nothing is heard on the oligarch's channels, and which therefore never rise above the status of small parties.”