Zelensky’s party just defeated Ukraine’s pro-war elite. Have they the guts to make peace in Donbass?
Zelensky's Servant of the People party won more than 42 percent of the vote in last weekend's parliamentary elections, scoring a decisive victory over its rivals, and forming a comfortable 240-member majority in the Verkhovna Rada. Until now, the 41-year-old Zelensky had limited ability to govern as his predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, controlled many of the lawmakers and resisted attempts to sack loyal government officials.
Now, the new Ukrainian president seems to have cemented his power, while his party's victory is raising high hopes for change.
"In a broader sense, all Ukrainian politicians linked to Euromaidan [2014 coup] suffered a defeat, and many of them are now out of Ukraine's politics," journalist and political analyst Fedor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine, told RT.
The results of the vote spell a total defeat for the 'party of war.'
Ex-president Poroshenko has been widely exploiting nationalist sentiment, supporting the waging of war on the breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine, while labeling Russia an "aggressor" and "occupier."
That sentiment began to shrink as the death toll rose and the Ukrainian economy collapsed, resulting in galloping inflation and unemployment.
Zelensky, who borrowed an image of an honest, anti-establishment leader from a teacher-turned-president character he played in TV sitcom 'Servant of the People,' has built his campaign promises on the popular demand for improving living standards, combatting corruption and ending the lingering conflict in the east.
The crucial question is whether the new technocratic pro-Western elite who Zelensky has invited onto his team will be able to fulfill these promises.
"It is hard to foresee what comes next, the party which secured such a big win is still a dark horse," Lukyanov said. While the Servant of the People party has fresh-faced politicians in its rank and file, including activists and entrepreneurs, it also brings many "random people, or people with no experience" into politics.
From Lukyanov's perspective, the big picture looks promising as Zelensky's team "understand reality much better and are less exposed to ideology than the previous government."
Now it is up to Zelensky and his closest aides to convert it into real policies.
There is, however, scope for a less optimistic scenario, as background checks on Zelensky's party members somewhat limit the room for hope of change in Ukraine. Lukyanov says that possibly close to half of his party "are more or less connected to certain business empires," including that of the notorious oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, and will likely be advancing their interests.
Another stumbling block is Ukraine's growing dependence on the US and Western donors. While US President Donald Trump – unlike the Barack Obama administration – seems "less concerned" about Ukraine, backing Kiev is still important to some "second-tier members of his administration," the expert suggested.
While the US may not really care for what is happening inside Ukraine, geopolitics and big-power competition hasn't gone anywhere. "I don't think the issue of Donbass is somehow important to the US. It's important for them that Ukraine, as they put it, remains independent without leaning back towards Russia," he stated. Also on rt.com From joker to peacemaker? Zelensky needs to follow his words with actions to end Ukraine’s conflict
That said, Zelensky and the people around him do understand that Ukraine is extremely dependent on the US, which has "powerful leverage" over Kiev, be it IMF funding or other incentives. "They won't be taking any significant steps [in Donbass], even if they want to," Lukyanov believes.
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