As Russia's crisis brews, Ukraine president's ratings plummet

Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a political novice running for Ukraine's presidency, vowed that he would reach out to Russia-backed rebels from the east fighting Ukrainian forces in order to resolve the conflict.

As Russia's crisis brews, Ukraine president's ratings plummet

These assurances were key to his win in 2019 with a landslide.

Zelenskyy has been in power for 2 1/2 years and is now seeing his once-enormous support disappear as Ukraine is on the brink of what many fear is a Russian invasion. This would include the rebel areas, but also the rest of Ukraine.

The situation is made worse by the fact that the incumbent Zelenskyy lost in 2019 has returned to Ukraine to face charges for treason and to stir up opposition. According to analysts, Moscow may be trying to boost support for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, and that the building up of Russian forces close to Ukraine's borders is partly aimed at destabilizing its politics.

Last month, Britain's intelligence services claimed that Russia wanted to overthrow Zelenskyy’s government and replace it with the leader of a small opposition party.

Zelenskyy attempted to calm political turmoil Sunday by downplaying U.S. warnings about an imminent Russian invasion.

"We are fully aware of the risks," Zelenskyy stated, adding that anyone with any information regarding a "100% certain invasion, starting on the 16th," should come forward.

In a country that has had a dysfunctional democracy for many decades, the maneuverings and dismay of ordinary Ukrainians pose a serious challenge. Ukraine has experienced two major uprisings in the last 20 years. One that saw a fraudulent presidential election rerun and another that saw the protests turn violent, forcing the Kremlin-friendly president from leaving the country. In parliament, there have been a number of fistfights. Sometimes political alliances shift and new parties emerge.

Last month Zelenskyy stated that the greatest risk to Ukraine and the greatest risk to the sovereignty of our country is the destabilization within our own state.

However, Ukrainians are not confident that Zelenskyy will be able to maintain stability. A January poll by Kyiv International Institute for Sociology found that only 30% of Ukrainians want Zelenskyy's second term to be run, and that 23% would vote for him.

His declining support is not due to the ongoing conflict in the rebel east or the possibility of a full-scale civil war.

"Zelenskyy said he would end the war and eliminate corruption. But this didn't happen," Anatoly Rudenko (48-year-old driver from Kyiv) stated. "Prices are rising and corruption is not going away, so we have become even poorer."

"The miracle didn't happen. "The situation is only getting worse," stated Tatyana Shmeleva (54-year-old economist).

Zelenskyy made his debut in Ukraine in the role of a comedian actor playing a teacher who accidentally becomes president after railing against corruption. One analyst believes that he made a mistake by following a similar path to become president.

"Zelenskyy made an error by initiating a confrontation with all of the oligarchs in Ukraine at once, which control the main political forces and parties as well as the TV channels. Vladimir Fesenko (head of Penta's analytical center) said that this is a dangerous and risky game.

Fesenko mentions Petro Poroshenko as a confectionary tycoon, who was president before Zelenskyy. He now faces treason accusations for allegedly financing the eastern rebels through coal sales. Rinat Akhmetov from Ukraine's east controls an opposition group. Viktor Medvedchuk is the country's most prominent proRussian politician and has been blocked by three TV stations for spreading misinformation.

These oligarchs do not have a common ancestor -- Medvedchuk, Akhmetov and Akhmetov are associated with rival opposition groups while Poroshenko's presidency was markedly anti-Russian. Many observers believe Moscow seeks to exploit any opposition against Zelenskyy.

Fesenko stated that there are no pro-Russian forces that can legally take power in elections. This means that the Kremlin needs to look for hidden allies, and secretly negotiate with many Ukrainian players. Russia is pulling all the strings in order to get 'flexible' political and economic forces.

What does Putin want? His task is simple: it's the destabilization our state. He can do it militarily. He cannot. He needs to be destabilized internally," Oleksiy Danilov, head of the Ukrainian Security Council, said.

Analyst Volodymyr Sidenko from the Razumkov Center stated that "the scenario of collusion among one of Ukraine's oligarchs with the Kremlin seems unlikely" because there aren't any conditions for the formation stable Russian-Ukrainian businesses chains.

The next Ukrainian parliamentary election will take place in 2023. All opinion polls indicate that the pro-presidential Servant of the People party could lose control of parliament. This could complicate Zelenskyy’s ambitions to win another term in 2024. The political landscape could also change dramatically.

However, the tensions at the moment may work in his favor over the long-term.

"Threats from Russia could paradoxically help Zelenskyy -- He is just trying to unify everyone who stands up for an independent and European Ukraine," stated Grigory Khoronenko (a programmer in Kyiv). "There may not have been a war, but Zelenskyy has received financial and military assistance from the West. This will help to boost morale."

According to the British intelligence, Russia may be trying to install Yevheniy Muraev as Ukraine’s president. However, this report did not give any details about how that might work. Murayev was once part of Medvedchuk’s opposition party. However, he split and created a party that doesn't have any seats in parliament.

Although the U.K. report raised a lot of speculation about Russia's possible evil intentions, many Ukrainians dismissed it as too far-fetched.

Fesenko stated that he was skeptical of the British version of Murayev. Russia may have deliberately added this to mask the true players it is oriented towards.

The Ukraine's National Security Council imposed a five year sanction on Friday against Murayev's television channel.


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