New «father of the nation»? Zaluzhny's political prospects

Conversations about Zaluzhny seeing himself in the country's political life after his resignation began long ago. Since the summer of 2022, some media outlets and Telegram channels have been writing about the conflict between the general and the national political leadership. The latter was allegedly afraid of Zaluzhny's political ambitions - especially when he registered his own charitable foundation.

These conversations have only intensified in recent months. Then, one of the main political events in Ukraine in the last two years happened: the commander-in-chief was fired. Almost all experts now unanimously say that Zaluzhny has a brilliant political career ahead of him.

But is the political future of the «iron general» so rosy? Everyone knows his strengths - but what about his weaknesses? And will the ex-commander-in-chief still go into politics? Let's try to figure it out.

Politician Valery Zaluzhny: who is he?

Zaluzhny's ratings are now perhaps the highest in the country. Different opinion polls demonstrate that he is noticeably on par with President Zelensky or higher. According to the research, Zaluzhny has 85-87% to 94% support. The so-called «Zaluzhny Party» immediately has more than 30% and is guaranteed to win the parliamentary elections.

It is not even a «golden share.» It is a kind of «joker» in the sleeve that easily beats any card in the political deck. Interestingly, all this is somewhat reminiscent of the current head of state, Volodymyr Zelensky, and his «The Servant of the People» party in 2019.

However, Zaluzhny's main problem is that Ukrainians still need to learn who he is. A simple example: let's try to answer basic questions about this person for ourselves. It is not about an official biography but about purely political things.

What are Zaluzhny's political views? What does he think about the economic situation? What reforms would he implement? How does he see Ukraine's place in the geopolitical context? Does he support European integration and NATO membership? Does he share democratic European values? What is he like as a political manager? Does he have experience in government and basic political literacy?

There are many more similar questions that can be asked. But finding answers to them will be very difficult. And this is one of the main problems of the ex-commander-in-chief on his potential political path: today, he is like a «pig in a poke» and a «dark horse.»

In political science, there is such a method as SWOT analysis. Its essence is quite simple: in a particular project, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats are identified, and a specific general conclusion is drawn from the results. Let's apply this practice to Valery Zaluzhny.

Zaluzhny: strength and weakness, opportunities and threats

So, Zaluzhny’s strengths:

  • Exorbitant trust ratings, enormous recognition and respect among Ukrainians;

  • the image of a "living legend," a hero of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the savior of the state at the most critical moment;

  • the political archetype of the "father warlord," a simple military man from the working class, a general with an iron core, a defender and "father of the nation";

  • significant knowledge in military affairs, unique experience of a two-year war with one of the strongest armies in the world;

  • support of a substantial part of the army;

  • «Teflon» - so far no negativity «sticks» to Zaluzhny.

Zaluzhny's weaknesses:

  • complete inexperience in public administration;

  • lack of a team, political program, or clear articulation of political views;

  • potentially authoritarian tendencies due to the army's way of thinking.

Opportunities for Zaluzhny:

  • falling ratings of the current government = rising ratings of Zaluzhny;

  • the ability to quickly gain political weight in the country with competent technological work;

  • the opportunity to accumulate around oneself the entire opposition (political, financial, media, electoral).

Threats to Zaluzhny:

  • hypothetical compromising evidence and attempts to destroy ratings by the authorities («mines» that have already been laid in the media – «surrender of the South,» «alcoholism,» «cheating on wife»);

  • the absence of an election means the impossibility of realizing one's electoral potential.

As we see, the general has much more strengths and opportunities than weaknesses and threats. At the first opportunity and if desired, the ex-commander-in-chief can relatively easily defeat the current political elite, as President Zelensky once did. Any more or less experienced political strategist would probably give his hand to be cut off to work with Zaluzhny in the elections because his victory is practically guaranteed.

But this strength also contains the general's main weakness: there are no elections in the country, and they are not yet expected. There is an option, having strengthened politically, administratively, and in the media behind the scenes, to offer Zelensky some decentralization of power and the formation of a broad coalition. However, this is, apparently, still a long way off - and it is not a fact that Zaluzhny will even agree to this.

After all, the dismissed commander-in-chief still does not make any political statements and generally still behaves relatively quietly, peacefully, and calmly. At the same time, a public image is clearly and systematically created for him. There is information that several fairly eminent political strategists have been working with Zaluzhny since the fall of 2023.

But the general himself, according to some rumors, admitted in conversations with those around him that after his resignation he would like... to take care of his health and start teaching. It is possible, however, that this is deliberately launched disinformation for his opponents and that shortly, we will see the media activity of the dismissed commander-in-chief.

To summarize, we can draw the following conclusion. Whether Zaluzhny wanted it or not, his dismissal finally turned him into an influential political figure, into the new «joker» of Ukrainian politics. Today's ex-commander-in-chief's ratings make it challenging for any potential competitor to compete with him. But how the general will use this potential and whether he will use it is still a huge question.

Mykyta Trachuk, a political scientist at UIP for the Ukrainian Institute of Politics

Editor of English version — expert at the Ukrainian Institute of Politics Andrew Timchenko





Аналитические материалы УИП