By Paul Goble
Even though the Kremlin wanted Petro Poroshenko to suffer in the recent elections, it did not want an outsider to win – and that is exactly what happened, a development that threatens Vladimir Putin’s view of how power should be organized and thus dooms the two Vladimirs, Zelensky and Putin, to be personal enemies, Vitaly Portnikov says.
“The victory of a candidate who looks so non-systemic over a representative of the traditional political elite is a blow to the entire post-Soviet system in which some politicians replace others even after the victory of uprisings and revolutions,” the Ukrainian analyst says (ru.espreso.tv/article/2019/04/29/vytalyy_portnykov_zelenskyy_obrechen_na_protyvostoyanye_s_putynym).
Many Ukrainians were surprised when Zelensky after his victory told the residents of the post-Soviet states that they should see in his win the fact that “everything is possible.” For Ukrainians, unlike for Russians and Belarusians, power has been changing hands via elections since 1991.
“But for Putin,” Portnikov says, “there was nothing strange in this because he understands perfectly well what Zelensky wanted to say. He understands that the winner in the presidential elections in Ukraine had in mind not the change of power but the victory of a candidate not associated with the political elite of the country.”
According to the Ukrainian commentator, “as long as Zelensky was only fighting for the post of president, Putin could not take note of this: he was too concentrated on taking revenge against Poroshenko. But then Zelensky won – and he immediately became a threat” to Putin and his system.
The Kremlin leader has no reason to want to see Zelensky succeed because such a success “in the eyes of Russians would mean the victory of the extra-systemic over the systemic; and for Russia this is more frightening than any Maidan. It would mean that the Kremlin by its struggle against Poroshenko had dug its own grave.”
Consequently, Putin is going to engage in one provocation after another: the passport offer “is only the beginning. And Zelensky will respond as an extra-systemic revolutionary by a declaration of war against the Putin regime.” Unlike Poroshenko, he views Putin not as the leader of a foreign country but as the leader of an alien power.
That makes the incoming Ukrainian leader “far more dangerous for Putin than Poroshenko has been.” But at the same time, “Putin is a greater danger for Zelensky than he was for Poroshenko.” To survive, Zeensky will have to appeal to “the so-called ‘Russian speaking’ electorate.”
That electorate, Portnikov continues, consists of three parts: “those who speak Russian but accept Ukrainian values,” “those who want a rapprochement with Putin an dconsideer Ukraine part of ‘the Russian world,” and those who view Ukraine “as simply a democratic Bryansk oblast.”
The latter may support Zelensky, but it isn’t numerous enough to be his political base, Portnikov argues. The incoming Ukrainian president will need to recognize that in his battle with Putin, he will need the support of “the pro-Ukrainian electorate” who voted for his opponent in the elections.
Zelensky, the Ukrainian commentator says, “can either win together with those who were his opponents or collapse if he continues to appeal to those whom he considers his allies. That is the logic of his personal war with the Kremlin,” a war that is not just political but personal and far more dangerous as a result.