Power struggle in Ukraine: The West wants to help Luzhny ascend to power

On December 19, local time, at the year-end press conference held in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, Ukrainian President Zelensky summed up the upcoming year of 2023 and said, "Serving as president is an honor, a great honor."

Four years ago, as a comedian, he played a president who vigorously punished Ukrainian oligarchs and corrupt officials in the popular Ukrainian drama "Servant of the People". As a result, he won the unanimous support of the domestic people and was elected president with an overwhelming advantage. " Dreams come true." Four years have passed, and now, the plot has "boomeranged" back, and Zelensky is in the same situation as in "Servant of the People" - the political opposition has stepped up attacks on him in all aspects. But reality is reality after all, and there is no planned perfect ending. The intensified political struggle puts him at risk of being replaced by Zaluzhny, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian army.

Power struggle in Ukraine: The West wants to help Luzhny ascend to power

Zelensky appears to be reaching a decisive point in a period of political turmoil.

Attack by political opposition coalition

This is not the first time Zelensky has faced large-scale political attacks in Ukraine.

In the autumn of 2021, on the eve of the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, Zelensky tried to completely conquer the Ukrainian political sphere through the sanctions mechanism of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (a kind of extrajudicial killing that can be used against any Ukrainian), which led to the deterioration of the political situation. .

The Ukrainian opposition parties, oligarchs represented by Ukraine's richest man Renato Akmetov, and local elites and other "anti-Zelensky" forces have formed a broad political alliance and are in the process of "anti-Zelensky" achieved considerable success. The popularity of Zelensky and his party, the Servant of the People Party, has been greatly reduced among the people. By February 2022, Zelensky's chances of being re-elected have become very small.

But after the Russia-Ukraine conflict broke out, the situation was completely changed. Ukrainian society has chosen to unite around Zelensky, the leader who faces foreign enemies. The success of the Ukrainian army on the battlefield in 2022 has further consolidated his status as the head of state.

Power struggle in Ukraine: The West wants to help Luzhny ascend to power

As a result, Zelensky is able to maintain the power system around him as stable as possible. The rapidly rising influence of Ukraine's law enforcement agencies and finance authorities has increased pressure on oligarchic companies and weakened the political opposition coalition to a large extent, to which the opposition has been unable to take any countermeasures.

In recent months, however, the situation has changed dramatically.

First of all, the battlefield frontline is in a tense situation. The "counteroffensive" launched by the Ukrainian armed forces in May this year ended in failure, which was in sharp contrast to the exaggerated victory expectations that Zelensky had historically shaped for the Ukrainian public. People are becoming increasingly frustrated with the government's actions.

Secondly, Ukraine's presidential election was suspended. Zelenskiy originally tried to prepare for the presidential election in March 2024, and his team hoped that he could be successfully re-elected with the current high support rate. If he is re-elected as president, he will be free to choose various options, including ending the war with Russia.

Power struggle in Ukraine: The West wants to help Luzhny ascend to power

For the opposition, the election will be a good opportunity to oust Zelensky. If potential candidate Valery Zaluzhny, commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, runs, Zelensky is likely to lose the election. In this situation, Zelensky suddenly backed down, saying "now is not the time for elections." At the end of November, Ukraine canceled its wartime presidential election. Sergei Soboliev, deputy chairman of the Ukrainian Motherland Party, said this was "to avoid the division of the country and the nation."

But in fact, the prelude to the political struggle in Ukraine has begun again. As criticism of the government in Ukrainian domestic and foreign media continues to increase, Zelensky is once again under attack from a political opposition alliance formed by many different forces :

- Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his party, as well as some parliamentarians loyal to him from other factions and groups.

——Vitaly Klitschko, Mayor of Ukraine's capital, Kiev, and other local mayors who disagree with Zelensky.

— Imprisoned Ukrainian oligarch and Zelensky's "former financier" Igor Kolomoisky. According to the Ukrainian National Network, Kolomoisky was very angry and full of thoughts of revenge after a series of release negotiations failed. Through members of the Ukrainian parliament and a large number of self-media, he occasionally published some topics that made the authorities unhappy.

- Groups and individuals with ties to Western institutions and funding organizations. Among them, Tomas Fiala, CEO of Ukrainian investment company Dragon Capital, and the activists he leads are particularly prominent. Vitaly Shabnin, head of the Ukrainian Anti-Corruption Action Center, is also among them.

- There are other dissatisfied groups. The individuals are former Ukrainian officials and businessmen who have been subject to criminal proceedings or forced to leave Ukraine. They tend to stay out of current political struggles, try not to anger the authorities, and show loyalty to the authorities. For example, Ukraine's richest man, Renato Akhmetov, maintains communication with Zelensky through his assistants, and Ukraine's second-richest man, Viktor Pinchuk, helps Zelensky's wife with her projects. At the same time, they will maintain contact with other groups, including the opposition.

Power struggle in Ukraine: The West wants to help Luzhny ascend to power

All the above forces are not closely coordinated with each other, and the relationship between them is often extremely tense, but they all have a common goal - to weaken Zelensky's position as much as possible and force him to "share power". The longer-term goal is It is to oust Zelensky from power .

Two major dilemmas: potential competitors and unfamiliar Western allies

Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Zaluzhny is a key figure in the entire political struggle, but he is different. He has not publicly criticized Zelensky and has never publicly stated that he will enter politics. Since his level of trust among Ukrainian people is as high as that of Zelensky, he has become the target of all those who are dissatisfied with Zelensky.

A research report published by Ukrainian media pointed out that if Ukraine holds a presidential election, Zaluzhny will win with a support rate of 36%, and Zelensky will only be in second place with a support rate of 26.7% . In addition, Ukrainian people have more trust in Zaluzhny than Zelensky. The surveyed people's trust in the former was 82%, while only 72% in the latter.

Poroshenko, the former president of Ukraine and Zelenskiy's political rival, said he maintained good relations with Zaluzhny, and Poroshenko tried to take the initiative to present himself as "Zaluzhny's defender." A person in the leadership of Poroshenko's party said, "We have a taboo: we do not criticize the army - Zaluzhne." At the same time, he said, "If Russia launches a large-scale offensive, Zelensky's team will put the blame on Zaluzhne." Luzhny, and blamed him for the failure of the southern counterattack and everything else."

Power struggle in Ukraine: The West wants to help Luzhny ascend to power

In addition to Zaluzhny, a potential rival, another key issue facing Zelensky is relations with Western allies.

A large number of negative reports against Zelensky have appeared in Western media, which seems to indicate that the United States and the European Union are losing confidence in Zelensky. He needs to avoid the idea among Western allies that it is time for Zelensky to step down because he is becoming part of the problem rather than part of the solution .

In addition, Ukraine's "National" reported that former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Kiev Mayor Klitschko are regarded by the West as a counterweight to Zelenskiy. Klitschko once gave an interview to Germany's Der Spiegel. When talking about the relationship between the central government and local self-government, he said that Ukraine is "moving toward autocracy . "

Power struggle in Ukraine: The West wants to help Luzhny ascend to power

Therefore, Zelensky is currently dealing with two main tasks.

First, eliminate Zaluzhny's political ambitions. Recently, representatives of Zelensky's team, Ukrainian Defense Minister Umerov and National Bank of Ukraine Governor Pisny, stated that Zelensky had no intention to fire Zaluzhny and had no conflict with him. This may be a strategic statement issued by the Ukrainian government to obtain US military aid, but it may also be part of Zelensky's plan to persuade Zaluzhny to give up his political career.

For Zelensky, the ideal situation is for Zaluzhny to remain as commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian army but not participate in the election. In this way, Zelensky can revive the idea of ​​holding presidential elections and avoid the scandal caused by Zaluzhine's resignation. But so far, there is no evidence that Zaluzhny and Zelensky have reached an agreement to end their conflict.

Second, continue to gain support from the West. The United States and the European Union are currently going through their own complex political processes, which has made the relationship between the Ukrainian government and its Western allies delicate. For example, Zelensky visited the United States for the third time on December 12 to seek military aid. The expected US$61 billion eventually turned into US$200 million approved by the Biden administration, and Biden is also facing domestic impeachment investigations.

If these two tasks can be successfully completed, then all domestic opposition will not pose much threat to Zelensky, and Zelensky can continue to control the country's situation. But if these issues cannot be resolved, political instability in Ukraine will intensify.

Ahead is a crossroads that determines destiny

Due to developments and the pressure of doubt, Zelensky's charm is dissipating. He remains popular in Ukraine and abroad, but that support is no longer enough to enable him to control the country's direction. This is felt both by Ukraine's domestic opposition and its Western allies. The latter has begun open dialogue with Zelensky's political opponents and has begun to pay attention to Zaluzhny.

 

"Even the president's supporters find the future that Zelensky paints for them unclear and vague," commented Ukrainian political scientist Ruslan Bortnik. "Attitudes towards the president's line are changing. Change occurs."

In his view, the current situation of Zelensky's team is like standing at a "crossroads", and this "crossroads" "will determine its fate to a large extent and will be of historic significance to Ukraine."

"Perhaps there will be a turn to elections, perhaps there will be a change of course. Overall, Zelensky's team remains attentive and sensitive to public sentiment and changes in the world. Zelensky knows how to surprise and he will likely start peacemaking model to discuss "freezing" the Russia-Ukraine conflict or stopping the conflict in other forms."

However, if Zelensky's team responds inappropriately, Bortnik believes that "the current still quite mild criticism of the president will change its nature" and Zelensky may face "all-round attacks."

Another political scientist Andrei Zolotarev said that there is some synchronicity between the attacks on Zelensky's team by different power groups and a series of critical articles published by Western media. This may not be accidental. "This kind of Political trends are very clear in the news space. What does that mean? Criticism of the president is becoming a trend, and that's dangerous."

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