Sunday

19th May 2019

Ukraine comic-president invited to EU capitals

  • Volodymyr Zelensky (c) on stage in Kiev last August (Photo: Vadim Chuprina)

EU leaders have invited Ukrainian TV comic Volodymyr Zelensky to Berlin and Brussels after he became the country's new president in a landslide victory on Sunday (21 April).

They pledged further "support" to Ukraine against Russian aggression and urged the political newcomer to pursue pro-Western reform.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Petro Poroshenko (r) was a frequent visitor in EU capitals (Photo: consilium.europa.eudering)

But for some Ukrainian commentators his victory marked Ukraine's "exit from reality" in dangerous times.

"I would be glad to welcome you soon in Berlin and I wish you good luck," German chancellor Angela Merkel said in a statement on Monday.

"We ... look forward to meeting you at the earliest mutually agreed date," EU Council president Donald Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker added in a letter the same day.

They spoke after Zelensky won by 73 percent in the second round of presidential elections one day earlier.

The 41-year old comedian burst onto the political scene in the New Year on the back of a TV series in which he played a schoolteacher who was elected president by accident and invited by Merkel to Berlin by mistake because she thought he was someone else.

His predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, a 53-year old pro-Western oligarch, was a frequent visitor in the German, French, EU, and US capitals over the past five years.

But Ukrainian voters turned against him due to fatigue with corruption and Russian warfare in east Ukraine and beyond.

Zelensky's win, after a campaign which mocked the Ukrainian elite but said little on policy, poses questions for Ukraine's future EU and Russia relations.

Merkel, for her part, urged him to continue Poroshenko's "stabilisation of Ukraine and peaceful conflict resolution" as well as "implementation of centralised judicial reforms, decentralisation, and the fight against corruption".

Tusk and Juncker likewise urged more of the same.

They said they "strongly believed" Ukraine should continue to align itself with the West in economic terms and pledged "the EU's continued and steadfast support of Ukraine's sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity".

They also pledged "support to Ukraine's reform path" on "the rule of law, fighting corruption, and economic stability".

Zelensky had promised to continue EU and Nato integration in his campaign.

He appeared to thumb his nose at Moscow and the kind of authoritarian regime in Russia that would never have allowed a free and fair vote as in Ukraine on Sunday.

"I can say as a citizen of Ukraine to all countries of the post-Soviet Union: Look at us - everything is possible," he said after his win became clear.

His democratic victory and his Jewish origin also struck a blow against Russian propaganda that Ukraine's 2014 pro-Western revolution was a "Nazi-fascist coup d'etat," according to Anne Applebaum, a commentator on European affairs for US newspaper The Washington Times.

For his part, Russian president Vladimir Putin had refused to meet or talk with Poroshenko in recent months.

He also ordered more intense fire by his forces in east Ukraine in the run-up to Sunday's vote, Ukrainian deputy foreign minister Yehor Bozhok told EUobserver.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on Sunday: "It's too early to talk about president Putin congratulating Mr Zelensky, or about the possibility of working together. It will only be possible to judge based on real actions".

Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev was equally wary, saying he had "no illusions" that Zelensky would repeat Poroshenko's "ideological tenets".

Those "real actions" will begin with Zelensky's appointment of the country's new interior minister, prosecutor general, and foreign, and defence policy chiefs.

His decision on how to conduct peace talks with the Russia-occupied territories in east Ukraine will be a further test.

Poroshenko, in a post-election statement, warned that "with a new, inexperienced Ukrainian president, Ukraine could be quickly returned to Russia's orbit of influence".

Zelensky's election would mean he was "no longer a comic" but a "commander-in-chief of a major European country in war time", Bozhok, the deputy foreign minister, told this website in the run-up to the second round.

But for some experts, the nature of Zelensky's campaign, did not bode well.

His win relied on viral jokes, video clips, and social media posts instead of serious face-to-face debate, Ariana Gic, a Canadian expert on Ukraine, and Roman Sohn, a Ukrainian columnist, said in their blog.

It also relied on populist claims and targeted older, less-well educated people the same way the Brexit campaign did in the UK in 2016, they added.

The campaign was designed to "hide the real person behind the virtual candidate from the people", they said.

"The result of the first round of the Ukrainian presidential elections is probably best compared to Brexit," they added.

But "in Ukraine's case, it is a vote for exit from reality", they said.

TV comic wins first round of election in jaded Ukraine

A Ukrainian comic won the first round of presidential elections in a country jaded by never-ending corruption allegations and five years of Russian warfare. He is now set to face incumbent Petro Poroshenko in a run-off in three weeks' time.

Interview

Russia divides Europe's eurosceptic parties

Divisions on how to handle Russia's "neo-imperial appetite", among other factors, are set to block Italian Matteo Salvini's dreams of a new EU league, Jan Zahradil, a leading Czech MEP and a candidate for EU commission president has said.

EU urges US not to start war with Iran

Europe's top diplomats have said US actions risked triggering a conflict with Iran, as America makes plans to pour troops into Middle East in echoes of Iraq war.

News in Brief

  1. EU flies rainbow flag on anti-homophobia day
  2. EU to freeze money and visas of foreign cyber-attackers
  3. EU reassures US on arms sales
  4. Use euros over dollars in energy contracts, France says
  5. UK cross-party Brexit talks collapse
  6. Climate activists occupy German-Russian gas pipeline
  7. Farage got €515,000 of private perks
  8. French EU commissioner urges Italy not to overspend

Opinion

Closer EU-Caribbean ties mean greater prosperity for all

The foreign affairs minister of Haiti calls for the replacement EU-Africa, Caribbean, Pacific 'Cotonou' agreement of 2000 to be updated to take account climate change, infrastructure and tourism to help the country transition away from aid-dependence.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us