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WEBCAST: Zelensky’s First Year in Office: Successes, Failures, and Outlook for the Future

Date & Time

May. 28, 2020
10:00am – 11:00am ET


It has been a year since Ukrainian voters handed a landslide victory to Volodymyr Zelensky. Politically inexperienced, Zelensky inspired unprecedented levels of optimism among the Ukrainian public, riding into office on promises of ending the war in Donbas, reducing corruption, and improving the economy. Has the upstart politician lived up to his promises? On the first anniversary of Zelensky’s swearing into office, Gwendolyn Sasse, Victor Andrusiv, and Mykhailo Minakov assessed the successes and failures of the Zelensky administration.

Selected Quotes

Gwendolyn Sasse

"Zelensky, unlike Poroshenko, realized and verbalized what had been going on in Ukrainian society for a while but that had actually been strengthened by the war in eastern Ukraine, and that is a feeling of civic identity focused on the Ukrainian state and the Ukrainian citizenship."

"Although [Zelensky's] popularity had been declining, and it was bound to do so after such a landslide victory once the reality of policy-making hit home, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have bought him time [...] We also see high trust in local government officials dealing with the crisis, so perhaps as we move forward, we will see more of a divergence between the national and local level in terms of the state capacity people observe."

"The real challenge going forward is [...] that the state will not be able to really offer the kind of economic assistance that some Western European governments, for example, or even the EU, are putting in place. His popularity is bound to decline."

Victor Andrusiv

"A summary of the first year of Zelensky [can be] the failure of big myths about Ukrainian politics [...] The first one was that for many years, we lacked the political will to change. Zelensky has shown a great will to change throughout this year, but as we see at the end of the year, political will was not enough. His results were not dependent on political will. The second huge myth about Ukrainian politics and change is that we need young, modern people in government [...] Zelensky made this huge experiment when he put people who never served in the state machine, who never worked inside bureaucracy [...] who were really honest and really young and new, but the result of this was awful because the government of Aleksei Honchurak has really failed on economic issues and economic development."

"The biggest problem is the incompetence of the politicians Zelensky brought to politics. This is the biggest problem even in comparison to corruption. The more incompetent people are a bigger threat than well-experienced corrupt politicians. In this regard, I do expect a huge political crisis in autumn."

Mykhailo Minakov

"A year ago, Zelensky won by offering Ukrainian voters a number of promises: peace, anti-corruption, and economic betterment [...] Instead, we have this problematic economic development recently increased by the quarantine, economic crisis, energy crisis [...] Here, Zelensky is definitely not delivering."

"On one side, voters expected the change of generations would bring a change also in the quality of these politics; however, so far, there's no reason to believe this was the case [...] We need not only politicians with new faces but also with brains and hearts."

"Zelensky still doesn't have any major rival. There's probably a change in the mood of the voters, but there's no political figure who could actually start competing with him [...] So if in the next year we will see another presidential election, then it is still questionable if the election would change the president."

Hosted By

Kennan Institute

The Kennan Institute is the premier U.S. center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, and the region through research and exchange.  Read more

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