Political activity in Ukraine and political impact of war (01.01-19.01)
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President Zelensky gave an interview to Economist’s editor-in-chief Zanny Minton Beddoes, in which he stated once more he would not negotiate with Putin, comparing him to “an animal”. The interview took place on December 30, and an extract from it was published on Economist’s official YouTube channel on January 2. The interview was not included in printed issue of Economist, but it contains two articles with descriptions and interpretations of Zelensky’s statements.
The Economist made it clear that Zelensky is not going to abandon his pledge to defeat Russia and his ambition to restore Ukraine to its original borders by military force. But “he is no longer setting timelines and makes no promises”. Moreover, he is planning to concentrate efforts on “defending the east” and “saving important cities” in the Eastern and Southern Ukraine.
Zelensky does not have any achievable military goals and does not possess military power required to change the state of affairs on the battlefield to Ukraine’s advantage. So he is trying to give reasons for his rejection the possibility of a truce with the help of warnings of Putin’s desire to launch a war against Western countries.
In his interview with the Economist Zelensky once again stated that the US and the EU strengthen their own security, giving money or weapons to Ukraine. This message, as the Economist complains, is “not getting through”. According to the magazine, Ukraine should be supported and hostilities should be continued despite that there are no real chances of Russia’s defeat on the battlefield. It needs to be done because “defeating Putin is not about retaking territory as much as showing is a futile exercise robbing Russia of its young men and its future”. It is remarkable the the Economist does not use the reasons given by Zelensky to jystify the prolongation of the war, but points to a need to weaken Russia.
Zelensky strives to persuade that in the current circumstances a truce will become a defeat to the West. The Kremlin will get an opportunity to start preparing for an aggression against Western countries which they will not be able to withstand. Russia cannot be induced to sustain peace through reasoning or even concessions because it is a “terrorist country”. “Putin will eat” EU and NATO “for dinner” if Ukraine has not been provided with money and weapons required for the continuation of hostilities.
The Economist acknowledges that the Ukrainian government does not “have much to offer” besides restraining Russia.. “Ukraine’s resources are depleted” and Zelensky has started to encounter “detachment among some of his compatriots”. The Economist has not commented on Zelensky’ plans to suspend the elections until the end of hostilities which he is going to drag on as long as possible. But his refusal to maintain democratic procedures will inevitably undermine his legitimacy and hinder interactions with the Ukrainian government for Western countries. Zelensky explained his turndown of the required elections by the impossibility of combining them with “counter-offensive actions and de-occupation”. Such a justification appears to be unreasonable even now, and it will become more questionable when Ukraine’s incapability to achieve any accomplishments on the battlefield starts to be obvious.
In his address to the World Economic Forum in Davos Zelensky declared that Putin will never abandon his “war strategy” because he wants to destroy “the free world” and Ukraine is “the only chance” to eliminate from the peril created by Putin. According to Zelensky, all the negotiations of truce are useless because “the frozen conflict” in Ukraine will be even more dangerous to “the free world” than the current situation. https://www.weforum.org/events/world-economic-forum-annual-meeting-2024/sessions/special-address-by-volodymyr-zelenskyy-president-of-ukraine-dbc17a3984/
It can be assumed that the reasons of Zelensky for the continuation of the war will not be regarded as convincing neither by a significant part of general public nor by those EU politicians who object to further support of Ukraine. It poses a danger of an increase of public tension caused around the EU strategy towards the war. Meanwhile, the relations between Ukraine and neighbouring EU countries has been deteriorating.
In Romania protesting transporters and farmers have disrupted road transportation from Ukraine. The Romanian government has adopted measures aimed to satisfy some demands of protesters, but it is still unclear if it would allow to unblock border crossings with Ukraine. Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu declared that “the protests have been justified”. It indicates the Romanian government is not going to use force even if the protesters refuse to cease their blockade. Volodymyr Balin, the head of a Ukrainian hauliers’ organization acknowledged that protests in Romania are having a significant effect on Ukraine’s exports. The negative impact on Ukrainian economy might be aggravated in the near future if the threat of new blockades forming in Poland, Slovakia and Hungary is carried out. https://www.euractiv.com/section/politics/news/protests-in-romania-rage-on-despite-the-government-adopting-brokered-measures/
The Ukrainian government has withdrawn a draft bill on tightening Ukraine’s mobilization rules because of an obvious public discontent. The draft bill on registration of prospective recruits and management of their data was postponed on January 11, but passed several days later.
The new law allows to control all the citizens due to conscription and use the collected data to disrupt social and economic activity of those who are trying to to avoid the draft. The strict measures will also be implemented to control reservists. https://itd.rada.gov.ua/billInfo/Bills/pubFile/1986824
The precedent with the law in registration implies that the same scheme can be used with the law on mobilizations rules. As soon as public attention has been distracted away from the law on mobilization, the government might try to pass it without any significant changes.
The National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP) accused Serhiy Holovaty, the Acting Chairman of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, in violation of requirements for preventing conflicts of interest. These accusations can be used by the president to demand his dismissal. Besides, Holovatoy can be registered as a corruptionist. Zelensky tried earlier to dismiss two judges of the Constitutional Court, but his attempts were halted by the Supreme Court which declared the relevant decrees illegal. https://incident.obozrevatel.com/ukr/crime/na-golovu-konstitutsijnogo-sudu-sklali-adminprotokol-e-zagroza-zvilnennya.htm?utm_source=wpush&utm_medium=push&utm_campaign=webpush
Zelensky and the parliament ruled by pro-president majority are going to suffer the loss of legitimacy if the respective elections are not conducted. It makes the government anxious to prevent reprimands from high-ranking members of judicial branch and Zelensky’s political rivals, especially Klitschko. There is a danger that some actions of Zelensky and his associates aimed to compensate the decrease of legitimacy of the president and the parliament can lead to destabilization of political system.
The forecast for potential development of current trends:
- Zelensky and his supporters in Eastern European countries, especially Baltic states, can try to provoke Russia to increase a militarist activity on the EU borders in order to prove Zelensky’s warnings of Putin’s aggressive intentions. It should be taken into consideration that a part of Russian political elite wants to aggravate the conflict with the EU and will willingly escalate the tension. As a result of this actions, a conflict spiral can emerge which might have unpredictable consequences.
- Zelensky may try to justify suspension of elections by launching a new offensive in the late spring, despite the lack of military power required for success. Such a decision can have a severe repercussions. It can be prevented only if the hostilities are terminated and the elections are called.
Recommendations for European institutions and organizations::
- Russia and the EU can be locked in a mutual threat perception spiral if the supporters of Zelensky make an effort to prove his warnings against negotiations with Putin. In such circumstances, it is important not to allow the threat of Russian expansion to be used as ground for rejection of the idea of truce in Ukraine.
- The Ukrainian government should be advised to find an opportunity to conduct president and parliament elections in spite of continuation of hostilities. Otherwise, the political destabilization of Ukraine would become highly probable and the actions of Ukrainian government would be hindered by a loss of legitimacy.