In his book “Eighteenth Brumaire”, Marx reminds an important point on history repeating itself: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice[1]. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.[2]

This remark by Marx precisely explains the situation in Ukraine after announcing the results of the second round of presidential elections on Sunday, April 21. This is because the previous presidential elections in 2014 shaped a major tragedy in Ukraine, and this time it’s a bitter comedy for the people of the vastest European country after France. Because Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian with no significant political background, took over the state of affairs in Ukraine at the age of 41![3]  

The then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign a trade and economic agreement with the European Union on November 21, 2013, defending the Customs Union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. Of course, he was heavily pressured by Russia to do this. Yanukovych’s opponents initiated a move by scolding him; but, after their demands were ignored, it quickly turned into a public protest.

The protests became more intense and widespread, and the protesters clashed with the police forces by using clubs, stones Molotov Cocktails, and even in the final days with air rifles and Kalashnikovs. They put up resistance under the massive propaganda support of the Western media against the pressures of the police and snipers. They did not empty the Independence Square during the freezing winter days of Kiev and did not give in until their demands were met. Eventually, they celebrated the overthrow of pro-Russian president-elect Yanukovych in March 2013.

Since then, the course of the crisis changed. This time, it was the supporters of Yanukovych and close ties with Russia who held demonstrations in eastern Ukraine, voicing their opposition to the intervention of the United States and the European Union in their country and called for the return to power of Yanukovych. But the protests did not reach anywhere. The Kremlin, which saw everything was prepared for the advent of a pro-Western government in Kiev, took the upper hand and attacked Crimea on February 26, 2014, and then by holding an orchestrated referendum on March 16, 2014), annexed the strategic peninsula of Ukraine in the north of the Black Sea. Along with that, the two eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, whose populations are mostly Russian-born, began Russia-backed separatist wars against the central government in Kiev, and Ukraine has been caught in separatist crisis for five years now.

Even holding the presidential elections on May 25, 2014, and the parliamentary elections on November 4, 2014, could not resolve the problems of separatists in eastern Ukraine. That’s why Ukraine has been the scene of disputes between foreign powers since 2014, namely Russia, the European Union and the United States.

The result of the election of Petro Poroshenko five years ago as the victor with the support of the United States and the main members of the European Union turned into a great tragedy for the people of Ukraine. Because, on the one hand, the promises of the millionaire, known as the King of Chocolate, were not realized and the Ukrainian economy remains in crisis. On the other hand, the Crimean peninsula was brought out of the Ukrainian territory; worse still, the crisis of separatism continues in the two eastern provinces of the country.

The second round of elections was held on Sunday, April 21. The announcement of the victory of Volodymyr Zelensky in the presidential election in Ukraine after the country’s independence in 1991 from the Soviet Union raised the fundamental question in the public opinion that: “How can the popular comedian the most important reason for whose popularity was acting in the political satire comedy TV series “The Servant of the People” solve the problems facing Ukraine, including the return of Ukraine’s sovereignty over the Crimea, the crisis of Russian-origin separatists in eastern Ukraine, recovery of the crisis-hit economy, and finally the issue of joining the EU and NATO?

In response to this important question, it must be noted that the people of Ukraine voted for a popular comedian who played the role of president; but in the real world of politics, critical comedians have no place. Mr Zelensky should be able with the help of his team of advisers, including the former Finance Minister Olexsandr Danylyuk; former Minister of Economic Development and Trade Evraz Abramovich; Sergey Lyashenko, a prominent figure in the fight against corruption; and Kolomoyski, a billionaire and financial and media sponsor to settle  Ukraine’s economic turmoil. This will not be achieved unless he can manage to regain the lost relations with Russia without moving away from the European Union.

Most of those who voted at 33,500 polling stations, hoped he can fulfil his promise of fighting corruption in domestic politics and negotiate with Putin in foreign policy: What his predecessor, Poroshenko, strongly avoided simply because he knew that negotiating with Putin would have no result but stabilization of Russia’s sovereignty over the Crimea.

Three days before the election in Ukraine, Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s prime minister said at the end of a cabinet meeting that due to Ukraine’s continued hostility and its restrictions on economic relations, Moscow will halt the export of all types of fuels, oil and its derivatives. Accordingly, from June 1, 2019, the export of certain goods to Ukraine will require a special license, which includes fuel and energy, including coal, kerosene and petroleum products. He said Moscow must defend its own interests and take reciprocal action.”[4]

The Russian prime minister’s action is entirely aimed to put pressure on the elected president of Ukraine, who will officially begin work in June. Russia would prefer to use the energy export control tool (oil, gas, coal) for Ukraine to make the future president more lenient towards Moscow. However, Russia, which itself is under the pressure of Western sanctions is not economically capable of exercising much manoeuvring against Ukraine’s future government. According to the Russian Ministry of Economy, in 2018, despite all the disagreements with Kiev, the country imported $5 billion worth of goods from Ukraine, and the total imports of goods banned by Russia during 2018 were worth only $510 million. In the same vein, Russian officials have always emphasized that, if Kiev lifts the ban on import of Russian goods, Moscow would reciprocate.[5]

Meanwhile, investors are seeking to receive assurances from the victorious candidate and future president of Ukraine to accelerate reforms and maintain foreign aid and increase foreign investment in the country. Zelensky has promised to fight corruption in the country with a population of 43 million and is among low-income countries in Europe.

Although Poroshenko improved to some extent the 2014 economic and security situation and succeeded in modifying the economic system of Ukraine, he failed to fulfil many of his ambitious promises and failed to fight corruption in the state apparatus. Perhaps one of the main reasons for his failure to win the vote in the recent election was the current corruption in the economy and politicians close to the Ukrainian government. It seems that for the same reason Zelensky tried to promise less and, in principle, used less conventional methods in the election campaign. He participated in fewer gatherings to talk less and instead attempted to explain his plans for the future of Ukraine through a number of exclusive interviews and to use social media to properly publicize these ideas.

Zelensky as the seventh president of Ukraine since its 1991 separation from the Soviet Union is taking over the state affairs that he must take on an independent path from Russia, the United States and the EU, using the failed experiences of the former chief executives.

The record of the former presidents like Viktor Yushchenko and Petro Poroshenko is in front of him. Each of them, during their tenures, tried to rid Ukraine of its economic problems in order to attract the support of the European Union and the United States, but in practice, they saw that they were not willing to clash with Russia over Ukraine. In practice, Crimea’s separation from Ukraine took place and separatist tendencies in eastern Ukraine were turned to an armed conflict under the Russian provocation.

In contrast, the experiences of Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yanukovych, two pro-Russian presidents are in front of Zelensky. During their tenures, the two presidents tried to save Ukraine from the crisis by relying on Russian support. But the US and EU rivalries with Russia did not let the two presidents accomplish their plans. Their one-way behaviour with Russia not only failed to reduce the conflict between East and West over Ukraine but also led to an increase in divergent tendencies towards the European Union and NATO in this country.

Instead of providing economic assistance to Ukraine, Trump urged the US Congress to allocate $250 million in military aid to Kiev. Canada and the United Kingdom, in addition to arms exports, were in charge of training and supporting the Ukrainian Army. [6] They imposed military spending on Kiev on the pretext of strengthening the Ukrainian army for electoral activists in the eastern part of the country. But Ukraine’s disadvantaged economy was more in need of investment in infrastructures so that it could overcome the existing crisis.

It seems that if Mr Zelensky wants to overcome the existing problems, he has to abandon the issue of NATO membership, at least in the short term, in order to achieve some sort of balance in his relations with Russia and the West. Russia knows that without Ukraine, it cannot keep its western borders safe, and Ukraine knows that without Russia, in practice, it must accept the division of eastern Ukraine to become a member of NATO. This is something unacceptable by Russia and the majority of the Ukrainian people.

Nonetheless, one has to be realistic; in the world of politics, power has the final say. Zelensky’s experience is too poor to be able to establish such a balance between Russia and the West, but perhaps his youth and adventurous motivations can help Zelensky so that after three decades, Ukraine’s policy will stop its pendulum movement between Russia and the West and rely on the people of the country to build a new Ukraine.

  


[1] Hegel: “Lectures on the Philosophy of History.” Vol. 3, Engels reminded Hegel in part of a letter written by Marx on December 3, 1851.

[2] According to the book by Karl Marx, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”, published in 1852, translated by Mohammad Pourhormozan, Berlin, Fourth Edition, 2007, p. 28

[3] Zelensky was born 25 January 1978 in Kryvyi Rih, Ukrainian SSR, to Jewish parents. His father, Oleksandr Zelensky, is a professor who heads an academic department of cybernetics and computing hardware at the Kryvyi Rih Institute of Economics; his mother, Rimma Zelenska, used to work as an engineer. Prior to starting elementary school, he lived for four years in Mongolia in the city of Erdenet where his father worked.

Prior to his political career, he obtained a degree in law and created a production company, Kvartal 95, which produces films, cartoons and TV comedy shows. Kvartal 95 created a television series called Servant of the People, in which Zelensky played the role of President of Ukraine. The series aired from 2015 to 2019. A political party of the same name was created in March 2018 by employees of Kvartal 95.

Zelensky studied law at the Kyiv National Economic University department in his native Kryvyi Rih but has not worked professionally in the legal field.

In September 2003 Zelensky married Olena Zelenska (née Kiyashko). They both attended the same school. The couple’s first daughter Oleksandra was born in July 2004. In Zelinsky’s 2014 movie 8 New Dates, she played Sasha, the daughter of the protagonist.[8] in 2016 she participated in the show The Comedy Comedy’s Kids and won 50,000 hryvnias. their son Cyril Zelinsky was born in January 2013.

Zelensky’s sponsor is a group of financial oligarchs the most famous of whom is Kolomoyski, a Ukrainian national of Israeli origin; he is the head of the Ukrainian Jewish Association, a billionaire, and founder of the Financial-Industrial Group “Privat”. As the sixth most affluent figure in Ukraine, he became governor of the state of Dnipropetrovsk until 2015, and then he resigned for unknown reasons after differences developed between him and Poroshenko. Despite the controversy between him and Poroshenko, he is currently living in Israel. Since most of the Ukrainian media are in the hands of billionaires, namely the same oligarchs, Zelensky established contacts with Kolomoyski.

[4] IRIB News Agency quoting TASS news agency

[5] Ibid

[6] https://www.chathamhouse.org/expert/comment/security-policy-not-debate-ukraine-elects-new-president