President Zelenskyy: 100 days on the way to full power?

Sergiy Gerasimchuk, Foreign Policy Council "Ukrainian Prism"

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The lack of power monopoly made Ukraine to stand out during all the years of independence. Presidents had to seek compromise with rebellious parliaments, taking into account interests of big business owners and searching for an approach to regional elites.  The attempts to seize power monopoly led to mass protests, namely: “Ukraine without Kuchma” campaign, the Orange Revolution of 2004 and the Revolution of Dignity in 2013-2014. 

Zelenskyy’s rise to power brought about dramatic changes – after “Servant of the People” party got the majority in the Parliament and pro-presidential government was formed, the concentration of power in one hands, the hands of president Zelenskyy, becomes one of an unprecedented scale. However, if hints made by the country’s leader regarding early local elections looming in the near future are to be believed, then it is clear that soon the president will be limited neither by stubborn opposition representatives nor by influential representatives of the regions. It is highly likely that even business will have to show more respect to Volodymyr Zelenskyy. 

It is clear that much depends on how exactly the new president will use his power now. The first hundred days of this presidency may give some ideas as to his plans and governing style.

Holoborodko on the country’s main stage? 

Many of those who actually voted for Zelenskyy took into account not so much his political program that included popular but quite vague wording, but rather an image created by Volodymyr Zelenskyy on set of a famous TV show “Servant of the People”. A simple  guy next door who managed to beat corruption seemed to the electorate a worthy alternative to the “old elite”. Zelenskyy’s team seized this opportunity and was able to get the most of electoral dividends both at the presidential and at the parliamentary elections based on their leader’s image. Moreover, even now the president is using the image of his character “Holoborodko”. It seems that sometimes Zelenskyy’s team voice certain ideas concerning the country being “reloaded”. Then they thoroughly examine public opinion and only after that, given that the opinion is a positive one, transform such ideas into political plans. Even now among the most likely priorities for the next year there are the following: reforming land market, holding another stage of privatization and continuing the fight against corruption. However, there is no clear plan yet. Zelenskyy’s team say that they will voice their priorities once the new government is formed.  

Given all of the above, first one hundred days of Zelenskyy’s presidency included some elements of an exciting political show. Among top issues discussed within the period and sometimes overshadowing the political process itself there was the issue of renaming Presidential Administration into a less pompous Presidential Office while actually moving it from an ostentatious building on Bankova street used in the past by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine to a more modest Ukrainian House. Moreover, there were promises of redoing remaking this building with an open space concept in order to provide for the maximal transparency of the President’s team work (and get rid of its spirit being former Lenin’s museum that occupied the building before Ukraine got its independence). Though However, the idea of moving houses had to be dropped recently for security reasons.

Other dramatic developments took place when Volodymyr Zelenskyy went on a “tour” to Ukraine’s regions. First of all, throughout his visits the president demonstrated how close he is to common people: public saw his photos eating shawarma at the gas station, going for a swim in Odessa and appearing at a humor show League of Laughter, and of course doing his workouts in gyms. 

Secondly, his visits to the regions of Ukraine were accompanied by reprimands he made to the representatives of regional authorities. For instance, in Boryspil, a town close to Kyiv, he made quite a scandal and asked the city council secretary to leave the premises while calling him “a robber”. While on a visit to Mykolaiv, he requested the head of the regional state administration to resign, with the reason behind being the city’s notorious “bandit” reputation, meaning that the head of the city state administration is underperforming. When in Zhytomyr region, the president demanded the heads of regional police offices to be dismissed, as well as the heads of the regional offices of the Security Service of Ukraine in Zhytomyr, Volyn and Rivne regions for not being able to deal with illegal amber mining, while he also called on the head of Zhytomyr forestry and hunting department to resign. 

The image of Holoborodko-Zelenskyy, a fighter for the truth, appeals to voters. They are completely reviewing their attitude to authorities and officials – therefore, his support among the people of Ukraine is as high as ever. According to the Democratic Initiatives Foundation report, Zelenskyy has 70% support among Ukrainian citizens. This is the highest score and the best results among all-time Ukrainian presidents. 

However, there are some unsuccessful decisions that do not allow the president to enjoy people’s full devotion, with one of them celebrating Ukraine’s Independence Day on August 24 without holding a military parade. It is most probable that the president had good intentions behind the decision. The money previously used for holding the parade was promised to the veterans, with celebrations deprived of the demonstration of power.  However, active part of` the population, war veterans and volunteers did not agree to such an approach. As a result, on one side the president took part in his own version of a holiday while his opponents self-organized their own Walk of Invincible, with 50-60 thousand participants.

Another controversial attitude is the one to the truce atin the east of the country that the president declared. It is quite possible that this decision was also backed by the president’s best intentions and his faith that in order to stop a war one needs to simply “stop firing”, however,  the failure of the ceasefire and over 10 Ukrainians killed challenge the efficiency of the president’s initiative. 

Among the most recent scandals affecting Zelenskyy’s image there is one concerning a preliminary decision to appoint Nestor Shufrych, a former representative of the Party of Regions and a current MP from Opposition Platform For Life, as a head of a parliamentary committee on freedom of speech. Despite the fact that formally Opposition Platform is in fact opposition and therefore it is rather logical to hand them over the power in such a committee, Shufrych’s image and his role in establishing the regime of the ex-president Victor Yanukovich make such a figure unacceptable for many activists, while the decision adopted at the Parliament where “Servant of the People” is calling the shots may backfire and affect the president. 

Will Whether Volodymyr Zelenskyy will be able to correct his political agenda – time will only tell. If he does not manage to do that, even a single party majority in the parliament will not (be not able to) help the situation, while the president will need to face both the opposition and the people of Ukraine. 

Bonjour, Paris?

Prior to the recent presidential elections experts were eminently skeptical when evaluating the country’s foreign policy, with it being an area of weakness for Volodymyr Zelenskyy. If president Petro Poroshenko was known for his diplomatic skills and a relevant degree, Zelenskyy stands in stark difference looking like an obvious neophyte. However, the new president manages to hold a high bar on in the international arena. His contacts with EU and NATO authorities have already taken place, with this stage leaving no doubts as for Ukraine’s policy regarding these institutions. The president of Ukraine also visited France, Germany, Canada and Turkey. While there have not been any breakthroughs in these directions yet, there is still the first impression that Zelenskyy seemed to make on his vis-à-vis, and it is quite decent. 

It is worth mentioning that there is a certain amount of “chemistry” when it comes to Zelenskyy and his relations with the top officials of the European Council and European Commission – Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker. During EU-Ukraine summit in July the European side even noted that  relations between the EU and Ukraine are best ever. It is a shame that soon the European Commission and in general the EU will have new top officials, and it will be necessary to build rapport and structure new relations with them.  

As for his contacts with leaders of foreign states, it is worth mentioning Zelenskyy meeting the president of France Emmanuel Macron even before Zelenskyy became president. When he did become president, even more so, he chose Paris as one of his first destinations. There is an impression that, contrary to Petro Poroshenko who placed his bet on his contacts with Angela Merkel, Zelenskyy prefers communicating with Macron. Even more soWhat is more, as both politicians seem to be somewhat alike. Both of them are young, to some extent  external to the system, and their presidency was a surprise to many experts and analysts, with both of them having quite noticeable charisma and ambitions. 

Yet it is alarming that there seem to be certain contradictions between Merkel and Macron themselves. Before Earlier both leaders had a single opinion, while now their approaches are different more frequently. Even the recent G7 summit in late August was no exception. Before the summit the French leader met the president of Russia Vladimir Putin and did not rule out the possibility that the latter may be invited to the summit. It was only after it became perfectly clear that Germany and the UK were adamantly opposed, Macron himself “changed his mind”. There are also discorded opinions when it comes to fault line issues in the European Union and against this backdrop it is not going to be easy to for Zelenskyy’s team to create a single opinion for the EU, moreover, an opinion that is pro-Ukrainian.  

Another challenge to President Zelenskyy appears as he needs to build rapport with the USA. First of all, Donald Trump administration does not rule out that already next year Putin will be invited to take part in G7 summit in the USA. Taking into account that Russia was excluded in the first place because of the Crimea’s annexation, such a turn will mean a slap to Ukraine’s foreign policy. Secondly, Donald Trump remembers that Ukraine’s ex-president Petro Poroshenko sided with the Democrats, with Zelenskyy having to show his loyalty to the current resident of the White House. The most important exam that the president of Ukraine has to take is him meeting Donald Trump personally, with this meeting being planned already for this fall. 


As for the main challenge for Zelenskyy, it is absolutely his dialogue with Vladimir Putin. It is not easy to find common language with the Russian leader. While Zelenskyy is demanding to release Ukrainian prisoners of war and prisoners of conscience on the territory of the Russian Federation, the Kremlin is ignoring the requests of Kyiv. Moreover, even though possible exchange options are being discussed, Moscow is in no hurry to make certain steps. As Kyiv is initiating truce, beginning military disengagement within Minsk agreements and suggesting including the USA and the UK in the Normandy format, there is still shellfire  at Ukrainian positions in the east of Ukraine, which resulted in over 10 people losing their lives only in August.  

Putin understands that time is an important asset that works in his favor. The EU is not as consolidated as it used to be and further sanctions regime is threatened. Transatlantic solidarity is being questioned as well, while for Kyiv it will not be easy to have a dialogue with Moscow without having a single pro-Ukrainian Western stand on the issue. Moreover, Putin dictates his own conditions in order to for such talks with Kyiv to take place. First of all, he requests a direct dialogue between Kyiv and Donbas militants, which, in its turn, will lead to their legitimization and furthermore, will be used by Moscow as an argument to support the theory of Ukraine being torn apart by civil war all these years. 

Such words by Vladimir Putin are being echoed by representatives of Ukrainian Opposition Platform – For Life, with one of its leaders, Viktor Medvedchuk, now being represented in Ukraine’s Parliament.… Taking into account all of the above-mentioned circumstances, the big picture does not turn out to be so cheerful for Zelenskyy’s team. While it is true that Volodymyr Zelenskyy and “Servant of the People” party now have full authority of power in Ukraine and they are talented enough in order to support their popularity among their voters, the international situation needs to be accounted for as well and it is subject to change: within the European Union there are some emerging controversies; Washington D.C. and Brussels struggle to find common language rather frequently; Kremlin intensifies its pressure on Europe and Kyiv. Under such conditions Zelenskyy’s team need to concentrate their efforts and already now create such domestic and foreign policies that would face contemporary challenges, while keeping in mind that full authority means full responsibility for political steps made. It is only then that the first one hundred days of Zelenskyy’s presidency will become steps leading to full power instead of one hundred steps leading to disaster.….