President-elect of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, is due to be inaugurated into office today after easily defeating outgoing President Petro Poroshenko with
President-elect of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, is due to be inaugurated into office today after easily defeating outgoing President Petro Poroshenko with 73% of the vote on April 21.
Mr Zelensky assumes office with a foreign policy that maintains the pro-Western stance of the previous Kiev administration, but on Russia, Zelensky proposes winning back the Donbass and Crimean region with a “hearts and mind” strategy.
Nationalists view Zelensky’s policies as a real risk when dealing with savvy Russian President Vladimir Putin. At worst, they fear Zelensky could grant some autonomy to the eastern regions of Ukraine, potentially playing into Russia’s goal of annexation.
Expect Russia to test Mr Zelensky’s inexperience by pushing and probing for weaknesses. Indeed, watch Kiev’s response to Moscow’s recent move to fast-track Russian citizenship for Ukrainians of Russian heritage in the Donbass region.
However, unlike the combative Poroshenko, Zelensky’s policies are likely to ease tensions by addressing traditional ethnic-Russian concerns. Zelensky favours protection of minority-languages such as Russian; opposes enforcing the commemoration of divisive Ukrainian nationalist figures rejected in Donbass and Crimea; supports reinstating pension payments for Donbass residents in rebel-held areas; and backs a phased-introduction of UN peacekeepers. Ultimately, any breakthrough will likely take time and depend on Putin’s cooperation but he has massive electoral support and can afford to play the long game.
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