Zelenskyy The Authoritarian Autocrat? – OpEd


“Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is becoming an autocrat who is reshaping Ukraine into an authoritarian state no different than Russia”, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko has shockingly claimed. Klitschko, a former heavyweight boxing champion-turned-politician, took the unprecedented step of publicly attacking Zelensky vehemently for the first time since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The mayor sharply criticized President Zelensky for his handling of the war. They have been political foes and such a blistering public condemnation was not expected given the country’s war crisis.

Zelensky is accused of turning into an isolated autocrat and he has clashed with him since the start of the war over the poor state of Kyiv’s emergency shelters. Claimed that they never meet or speak to one another , even though their offices are located only a short distance apart.

The mayor accused Zelensky of:

  • Lying to the public about Ukraine’s progress in the Ukraine’s war. Gen Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the Ukrainian military’s commander in chief, said last month that the war had gone “into a stalemate and the war could drag on for years” after a disappointing counteroffensive that failed to deliver a decisive blow to Russia. 
  • “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth. … Of course, we can euphorically lie to our people and our partners. But you can’t do that forever.” “Nobody believes in our victory like I do. Nobody.”
  • “People see who’s effective and who’s not. Zelensky is paying for mistakes he has made.” 

“The president has an important function today, and we have to support him until the end of the war,” Klitschko said. “But at the end of this war, every politician will pay for his successes or failures.” But despite his grievances, the mayor stopped short of calling for Zelensky’s immediate ouster.

Election was due in March

A presidential election was due in March but elections are barred under the martial law introduced when Russia invaded. The Zelensky administration has argued that the vote would not be fair because so many soldiers are at the front and millions of Ukrainians have been forced to flee the country. Kira Rudik, a Ukrainian opposition leader, told The Independent that she also disagreed with elections despite Zelensky’s waning popularity.

“From a geopolitical perspective, it would be super dangerous if we held elections only in territories that we control,” she said. “It would mean that we appear to acknowledge that Ukraine does not include the occupied territories.” She added that the optics of Ukrainian politicians spending money on political campaigns during a time of war would be “crazy”.

Autocratic Behavioral Warning Signs  

Autocratic Behavioral Warning Signswrites Lina Klak of University of Chicago (Feb 5, 2022). Before becoming the President of Ukraine, Zelensky was a famous comedian and an actor who had never been in a political office before. Zelensky starred in a popular Ukrainian sitcom, Sluha Narodu, where he (ironically) played an “ordinary” school teacher who suddenly became the President of Ukraine. 

Zelensky campaigned as a “Servant for the People” (also the name of the TV show he starred in, and the name of Zelensky’s political party), and won over the votes of over 13 million Ukrainians. Before he became the President of Ukraine, Zelensky would laugh at and mock corrupt politicians He promised many things to the Ukrainian people while on the campaign trail, including ending the war between Russia and Ukraine, fighting corruption in political spheres and law enforcement agencies, and buying new equipment for hospitals and schools in Ukraine.

However, it has been almost three years into his presidency: none of these major promises have been fulfilled, and his popularity ratings have decreased to 30%. As a result, it can be argued that Zelensky has not decreased instances of corruption in the Ukrainian government— instead, he has increased corruption through autocratic behaviors such as favoring blind loyalty over competence in appointments and politicizing the executive branch. However, 30 people close to him— friends, previous co-workers have been elected to positions in the Ukrainian government. In Zelensky’s case, while he has delivered on some initial campaign promises but he has also increased corruption and distrust in government through his non-deliverance of campaign promises and shady tactics that can be seen as autocratic and selfish. A worrying sign of autocratic leadership is when a politician rejects, in words or action, the democratic rules of the game, and begins to favour blind loyalty over competence. 

All of them follow a similar familiar route: after improbable success as loudmouth entertainers, not taken seriously by the political establishment, they attract a passionate minority and then suddenly with the electoral system or the management of parliaments are in power. 

A Dictator in the making

Oleksii Arestovich, Volodymyr Zelensky’s former chief of staff, senior adviser described the Ukrainian president as a “Dictator” who has become “divorced from reality” in relation to the way he has reacted to the Russian special military operation since it began in February 2022. “Someone breeds hatred for any opinion different from their own. And then – a year and a half later – autumn comes, both in relations with the West and with our own people. And no matter how much you deny reality, it doesn’t go away.” Arestovich was forced to resign and since then, he has been in political battles with the ruling elite of Kiev, as demonstrated by his pointing out that Zelensky is a dictator.

He also stated that Kiev is firmly opposed to any ceasefire. This position has been criticized even by Ukrainian military leaders, who admit failure in the much-touted summer counteroffensive. The situation is so desperate for Ukraine that the country can no longer assemble the same well-prepared army it had assembled before launching the counteroffensive at the beginning of the European summer, let alone what it had before the start of the Russian military operation. Overlooked was the revelation that the average age of a soldier in Ukraine is around 43 years, demonstrating just how crippled the Ukrainian Armed Forced are.

Arestovich made his post in response to an article in Time magazine, written by correspondent Simon Shuster, which addresses the isolation of the Ukrainian leader and is entitled, “Nobody believes in our victory like I do. Nobody.” For him, the article reveals an “unpleasant and vaguely familiar image – a dictator abandoned by everyone, wandering through the back streets of the bunker, unwilling to face reality and hysterically exclaiming about a quick victory, which he is unable to achieve.”

“An authoritarian leader to whom those around him are afraid to tell the truth. All dictators who are divorced from reality end up the same way.” Arestovich said that the Times article “condemns Zelensky to loneliness and the judgment of history – to loneliness, for which he has no one to blame but himself.”

“With the connivance of the collective West, the regime of Ukrainian President Zelensky has turned into an Authoritarian Dictator”, Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vasily Nebenzya has said.

Patial RC

Patial RC is a retired Infantry officer of the Indian Army and possesses unique experience of serving in active CI Ops across the country and in Sri Lanka. Patial RC is a regular writer on military and travel matters in military professional journals. The veteran is a keen mountaineer and a trekker.

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