Zelenskyy may yet become a defender of Ukrainian independence, Piontkovsky says

Andrey Piontkovsky, prominent Russian scientist, political writer and analyst (Photo: krymr.org/RFE/RL)

Andrey Piontkovsky, prominent Russian scientist, political writer and analyst (Photo: krymr.org/RFE/RL) 

Op-ed, Russian Aggression

Unlike many of those on his team, Volodymyr Zelenskyy is not a convinced opponent of an independent Ukrainian state, Andrey Piontkovsky says; and consequently, his apparent indifference to many of the things that will allow that country to remain so may be open to change.

In an interview with Kseniya Kirillova, a US-based Russian journalist, the Russian analyst says that Zelenskyy’s visit to Ankara highlighted that possibility given that he insisted occupied Crimea must be returned to Ukrainian control and that the repression of the Crimean Tatars must stop.

Especially indicative of the chance for positive change, Piontkovsky says, is that Zelenskyy included Mustafa Dzhemilyev, the longtime leader of the Crimean Tatars, in his delegation, proof that the Ukrainian president is prepared to have around him people “capable of exerting a positive influence on him.”

Securing the return of Crimea is “a long process,” the Russian commentator says, “which will be crowned with success only after the fall of the Putin regime,” something that will happen more quickly if the international community continues to stand with Ukraine on the issue of its sovereignty over Crimea.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a meeting with the president of Turkey Recep Erdogan in Ankara on 7 August 2019 (Photo: president.gov.ua)

Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a meeting with the president of Turkey Recep Erdogan in Ankara on 7 August 2019 (Photo: president.gov.ua)

Turkey, despite all of Erdogan’s “’playing’ with Moscow,” has been good in this regard, and it seems clear that Zelenskyy understands that. But the Ukrainian president has not taken steps to correct “’the horrific errors’” he made during his campaign for office and in the first weeks of his presidency.

First among these mistakes, Piontkovsky says, is that Zelenskyy described the more than five years of “heroic resistance of the Ukrainian state to Russian aggression” as “a war unleashed by Ukraine. Second, Zelenskyy called his opponent the leader of “’the war party’” and said the fighting in the Donbas was “’a civil conflict’” Ukrainians must solve.

And third, Piontkovsky continues, Zelenskyy during his debates said that the war could end if Ukraine “simply stopped shooting.” The absurdity of that given Russian aggression has been demonstrated not only by the actions of Russian forces since that time but by Putin’s reaction to Zelenskyy’s telephone calls.

The Ukrainian president in approaching Putin asked the Kremlin leader to use his influence on the Donbas fighters, thus fitting himself into the Russian narrative that Putin is a third party rather than the individual responsible for the continuing aggression against Ukraine and Ukrainians.

By adopting that stance, Zelenskyy has given Putin the advantage, Piontkovsky says; but the telephone call clearly left the Ukrainian leader confused because of Putin’s tough line. And there is evidence that Zelenskyy is “already beginning to understand” that what the Russian leader says and what he is doing are very much at variance.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel on his official visit to Germany. Berlin, 17 June 2019 (Photo: president.gov.ua)

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel on his official visit to Germany. Berlin, 17 June 2019 (Photo: president.gov.ua)

Unfortunately as of yet, there is no indication that Zelenskyy “understands that his rhetoric about ‘the party of war’ blackens not only Poroshenko and all Ukraine but also the country’s allies, including Macron and Merkel” who, if the Ukrainian leader is correct, haven’t been defending Ukraine but participating in a crime by working for “’the party of war.’”

According to Piontkovsky, “Putin hopes in the end to force Kyiv to agree to his conditions and include the Donbas within the political body of Ukraine with the preservation and legalization of all Russian militants and their established orders,” thus inserting “a cancerous tumor” inside Ukraine to destroy the entire country.

Zelenskyy needs to understand that, and he has displayed a certain learning curve since becoming president increasingly turning away from pro-Putin advisors to those who recognize reality. The Ukrainian leader has only “two ways out,” allying himself with those who would capitulate to Putin or “becoming the real leader of Ukrainian resistance.”

Piontkovsky concludes that there is “a chance” that Zelenskyy will become the latter. His very human confusion after his conversation with Putin shows that clearly. “For the first time,” the commentator says, “I saw on the screen not the mask of a successful showman but the face of a living human being.” As a result, there is some reason for hope.

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Edited by: A. N.

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