A New President in Ukraine



  • Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky won the second round of the 2019 Ukrainian Presidential Elections on April 21. Zelensky may yet pleasantly surprise his critics and serve as an effective reform-oriented president. Until he does the U.S. should recognize the risks his presidency poses for Ukraine and the West.
  • The Kremlin likely sees Zelensky as an opportunity to gradually regain economic and political influence in Ukraine. The West and Ukraine could risk mistaking the Kremlin’s likely shift in approach for a shift in the underlying goals held by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  • Other actors including oligarchs and allies of the former pro-Russian Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych also perceive an opportunity for a comeback under Zelensky. Their regressive agenda has the potential to disrupt critical reforms in Ukraine.
  • Ukraine has much to lose, including its course towards a free and open society and its integration with the West. The ability of Ukrainian reformists to consolidate ahead of the October 2019 Ukrainian Parliamentary Elections will be key to Ukraine’s ability to preserve its gains since the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution.
  • The West can also play a major role in helping preserve these gains. The West must nonetheless strike a nuanced balance between supporting reforms and not inadvertently enabling Russia’s interests in Ukraine.

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