Ukraine: Zelensky under fire

Following his inauguration the new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has unleashed a wave of criticism with his choice of presidential staff. He had already dissolved the parliament and announced a snap election to take place in two months' time. The new president currently lacks the parliamentary majority he would need to push through reforms. What do commentators think of his actions so far?

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Gazeta Polska Codziennie (PL) /

Time to cast off the oligarchs

Zelensky wants his campaign adviser Andriy Bogdan to become his chief of staff. Bogdan is the personal lawyer of oligarch Igor Kolomoisky and worked for toppled president Viktor Yanukovych. Gazeta Polska Codziennie is dismayed by Zelensky's dubious choice of staff at the start of his term in office:

“It' hard to say whether Zelensky, who's surrounded by oligarchs and shadow men, will want to oppose those who brought him to power. But if he seriously wants to reform his country he'll have to break free of them. Above all he should cut his ties with [oligarch] Igor Kolomoisky and his people. Otherwise he'll be regarded by the West as a friend of the oligarchy, and won't be able to hope for anything more than a pat on the back from time to time. In that case all his promises will be treated as empty words. The time ahead will be difficult for him indeed.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

Not a good start for the new president

For the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Ukraine is relapsing into the past:

“The majority of those whom Zelensky has appointed to manage his administration are friends from his youth or long-time business partners without any political experience to speak of. And whereas the most important among them, chief of staff Andriy Bohdan, does have experience, his appointment may prove even more problematic: it may violate the 'law on the purification of government', which since the 2014 Revolution has banned bureaucrats from the former regime from occupying state posts for a period of ten years. Add to that the fact that Zelensky's dissolution of parliament is legally dubious and you get a worrying picture of his first days in power.”

Ukrajinska Prawda (UA) /

Ukrainian politics has been turned on its head

By abolishing the majority voting system and calling early elections Zelensky could secure undreamed of powers for himself, journalist Roman Romaniuk writes in Ukrayinska Pravda:

“If he really manages to push through everything he's announced in the two days of his presidency, it's possible that the Zelensky party will garner at least 50 percent of the vote, or even 73 percent. ... Then the newly-elected president will have an absolute majority in parliament, his own government - and total power. ... And all of this he will secure not by means of a putsch or a Maidan, but with the support of the old political elites. Because they don't want to spoil their chances for the future and are putting all the power at their disposal in the hands of a smiling president.”

Radio Kommersant FM (RU) /

A declaration of war against the political elite

Radio Kommersant FM is just as surprised by the dissolution of parliament as Ukraine's established political class:

“Ukraine's political class is not used to this kind of pressure, to such unconventional steps. So far the rules of the game have been different: agreements behind the scenes, arrangements, deals made according to certain rules and above all interests. According to this logic Zelensky should have begun a dialogue right after his inauguration, or rather a round of political haggling with the parliamentary groups. ... Zelensky had confronted the parliamentarians with a fait accompli and thus declared war on the political elite. But what's most astonishing is that these elites that seemed so menacing before have already capitulated to the new president.”

The Times (GB) /

New president could be weak or chaotic

What the president has done so far is not exactly encouraging, The Times comments worriedly:

“There are disturbing indications that Mr Zelensky might prove to be either a weak or chaotic leader. ... His movement has no presence in parliament, nor is it equipped to organise itself in time for a quick election. It is not even clear that he has the constitutional right to impose a snap election on parliament without prior consultation with the political parties. He remains vulnerable to accusations of being overly close to oligarchs. One, Ihor Kolomysky, has just returned to Ukraine from self-imposed exile, apparently feeling safer than under the previous president.”

Newsweek Polska (PL) /

Ukrainians have no more cause to weep

Zelensky has cut a good figure at the start of his term, Newsweek Polska writes:

“The key thing for voters is that they are rid of the oligarch Petro Poroshenko. Although he may have done much for the ailing country, he did it too slowly and incompletely. Now the people have a new leader: one who walked through the park and gave high-fives during his inauguration; one who skipped happily over the red carpet into the building of the Supreme Council. Although he's not as stiff as Poroshenko, he sang the national anthem with a serious expression and took the oath on the Ukrainian constitution. During his address his face, which is associated with the jokes of a comedian, showed concentration and self-assurance. And it was with just such an expression that he announced his first step: the dissolution of parliament. He also promised that no Ukrainian would have cause to weep in future.”

Ekho Moskvy (RU) /

Envious looks from Russia

Anti-Kremlin activist Gennadi Gudkov expresses his enthusiasm for Zelensky in a blog article for Echo of Moscow and hopes to see a similar change of course in Russia:

“Zelensky is the symbol of a new future-oriented era in Ukraine. ... The temporary problems that currently exist are of little import when we focus on what really counts: Ukraine's advance towards freedom, progress and European civilisation. The developments there will inevitably accelerate the transformation of the Russian regime: It will either (be forced to) change through political reforms (a scenario with a probability of 10 to 15 percent) or driven by fear and desperation it will turn the screws so tight that the whole mechanism breaks. This version is unfortunately far more likely. So all we can do is observe and tolerate Russia's sad political reality and be envious.”

Iswestija (RU) /

Plenty of money and good ideas needed

The pro-Kremlin daily Izvestia doesn't join in with all the euphoria over Zelensky, and instead outlines the problems he faces:

“Since the Maidan protests Ukraine has become the poorest country in Europe. ... So the new president's idea of bringing back millions of Ukrainians working outside the country is correct and timely. But who wants to return to a country with dubious prospects? This year Ukraine's repayments on its foreign debts will reach a peak, and Zelensky will have to take the money to do this out of the country's leaky 7.5 billion-dollar budget. And that's not even the toughest challenge: the new president, who has been swept into power on a tidal wave of unrealistic expectations, will also have to work out how to justify the leap of faith the Ukrainian people have taken in voting for him.”