These are tough and confusing days for embattled Ukraine. Uncertainty about when the desperately needed Western military support will arrive persists. So does the vagueness about when the Ukrainian leadership and parliament will get their act together to ensure that a proper mobilization law befitting the country’s “to be, or no to be” struggle against barbaric Russian imperialism is passed and implemented.

Now, on top of this, a series of abrupt and unexplained personnel changes within President Volodymyr Zelensky’s inner circle has blurred matters even more just as Russia has stepped up its daily missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure and its efforts to break through on the front.

So where are we at? What are the latest signals telling us?

Certainly, the unforeseen long delay in securing the continuation of essential American support for Ukraine's war effort is grounds for major concern, balanced out, fortunately, by the energizing effect this procrastination and its implications has had on European states.

Advertisement

The political infighting in Washington and its impact on sustaining the flow of military aid to Ukraine in the required quantities has, fortunately, resulted in galvanizing much of Europe. More and more of its leaders realize that the EU itself has to get its act together, stand on its own two feet, and, in order to withstand the threat from Russia, be able to defend itself with or without US backup. 

At this stage, two-plus years into the war against Russia’s full-scale war against it, Ukraine’s fate depends on two principal factors: a domestic one, that is, the quality of Ukraine’s leadership in these dire times, and the strength of society’s commitment to fight off the enemy; and, an external one – the extent and timeliness of the democratic world’s support for Ukraine.

Let’s focus on the domestic aspect which does not always get the proper scrutiny that it warrants.

Zelensky has proved himself to be an exemplary wartime leader and communicator of Ukraine's predicament and needs to the outside world.

Advertisement

But, in the third year of this horrific war, the president has shown signs of slipping up as regards transparency with his own people about what he and his handpicked inner team are up to.

This occurred, for example in the abrupt firing of his highly respected Ukrainian ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, in July 2023; the replacement of the former Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov; and most notably the messy way in which the highly popular Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Valerii Zaluzhny was moved aside.

Furthermore, the Ukrainian leader’s inner circle of advisors within his presidential office, none of them being elected officials, have been allowed to assume the role of a shadow government, superseding ministers and ministries, and this has increasingly raised questions and eyebrows.

And now again, suddenly last week and without explanation, Zelensky has reshuffled the leadership of the country’s security apparatus and dismissed a host of aides and advisors from within his inner circle.

These included the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (RNBO) Oleksiy Danilov, Serhiy Shefir, Zelensky's First Aide and a long-time business partner; and several more deputy heads of the President’s Office and presidential advisors.

Advertisement

Are we seeing Zelensky himself opting for a questionable way of ruling in what is after all still constitutionally a presidential-parliamentary democracy, or the inordinate influence of some of his closest advisors, read, gatekeepers?

Why the apparent hypersensitivity to ratings in political opinion polls during wartime when there is difficult work to do and tough decisions to be made?

Perhaps it’s because of the lesson from the case of the great British wartime leader, Winston Churchill, with whom Zelensky has frequently been compared. If the Ukrainian president were to leave the heights of the political scene (remember what happened to Churchill, who in 1945, despite all his accomplishments was voted out of power shortly after the end of World War II), where would it leave all his self-important aides and spokespersons?

So, it’s logical that some of Zelensky’s inner circle, and in particular his grey cardinal, Andriy Yermak, appear so concerned about the president’s popularity ratings – because their continued empowerment depends on his remaining in power. Potential political contenders such as Zaluzhny therefore need to be “neutralized” and, presumably, control within the inner circle consolidated.

Observers noted that the more controversial figures in the President’s Office, namely its head, Yermak, and his deputy, Oleh Tatarov, as well as the press secretary Serhii Nykyforov, have remained in place and appear more confident than ever. 

Advertisement

Or could it be perhaps that Zelensky is himself doubtful about the nature and efficacy of the Ukrainian political and economic system that he inherited on winning the presidential election back in 2019.

His own hastily cobbled-together Servant of the People party is showing increasing signs of internal disarray and is forced to rely on makeshift unholy alliances with political opponents in the parliament. Some of his ministers are viewed as not being up to the task and as executors of his office’s will rather than creative initiators and shapers of policy.

“We continue to reboot our state institutions,” Zelensky said tellingly in his evening address to the nation on March 30. “Several changes have been made this week and there are still more decisions in preparation.”

But here transparency as to what is going on is needed so as to reassure the population and external allies.  And the role of the free media is vital here. There can be no excuses, the constraints imposed by the exigencies of war being understood, for questioning its role.

And openness of the proper sort applies not only to what is happening at the apex of the country’s political system but what the realistic picture of losses and destruction inflicted by the enemy are.

Which leads to other issues of increasing concern, both domestically and for Ukraine’s numerous external supporters. Let’s just take the key ones at this stage.

Corruption. Yes, progress has been made, and continues to be made, in this swamp of a malaise. But as old forms of it are being addressed, is enough being done to tackle the newer manifestations of this curse? Both at the highest and lowest levels?

Advertisement

If the former clout of the country’s main oligarchs has been markedly diminished, is the hydra of corruption sprouting new heads some of which are easier to conceal because of the new challenges and temptations created by the war?

For instance, representatives of big business and financial organizations have been complaining more and more in recent months about what they see as undue pressure on them from forces supposedly acting in the interest of the state. And why are the penalties for corruption during wartime not made far more severe?

And there’s the very hot issue of mobilization.

Why, a third year into the war, with Zelensky incessantly appealing for the West to speed up its supply of military weapons and equipment, has the issue of mobilizing the full and necessary potential of Ukraine’s military capacity been so delayed?

The current approach, when Ukraine is fighting for its very right to exist, of relying on men over 27 to around 60, to man the front lines is both inexplicable and reprehensible.

And last but not least is the worrying question about the political future of Ukraine when the war ends. Where are the new faces in politics, the leaders of tomorrow? Is the country any closer to seeing modern political parties emerge that are built around clear programs rather than affluent individuals, power brokers and populists?

Yes, the war has accelerated the crystallization of a political nation, but how prepared will Ukraine be to govern itself democratically and transparently when it will have to face the immense challenges of recovery, rebuilding and managing foreign investment, aid and debt repayment?

Advertisement

Winning the war remains the number one priority. But thought also needs to be given to what is happening right now in the body politic and society more broadly, and where the country is headed. 

To suggest a correction or clarification, write to us here
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter

Comments (3)

https://www.kyivpost.com/assets/images/author.png
Wifred
This comment contains spoilers. Click here if you want to read.

What a bunch of nonsense. The US is ruled by a shadow government made up of unelected godlets, as are many democratic nations. Zelensky has to find individuals who give 110% to replace those complacent Narcissi individuals who are burned out or comfortable giving 80% effort. This is war and survival for Ukraine requires hero's at all levels. Ukraine needs to set the example for NATO’s conscription laws. All 18 to 30 men and women need to be called up, trained up and ready to replace their fathers who have bled and died for two years.

https://www.kyivpost.com/assets/images/author.png
John
This comment contains spoilers. Click here if you want to read.

The Verkhovna Rada has elected 450 members. As in other democracies they vote to pass or decline proposed legislation. Many further sit on special committees.

I don't understand the authors' concern about a risk of a 'shadow government" evolving. Democratic leadership offices are almost entirely run by non-elected presidential appointees. I hardly think reassigning some during a war is unusual especially when allies are tying better stewardship to aid.

The author also ruminates about Zaluzhny's reassignment possibly being because Zelensky felt politically threatened. However parliament decided there would be no elections while Ukraine remains under attack? That seems right given a good chunk of the citizenry are refugees or have much more important things to deal with. If anything Zaluzhny's UK ambassadorship would better prep him for a future leadership run, if so desired. The reassignment seemed mutually agreeable, the replacement seems capable and brings new perspectives to a war front even Zaluzhny has said was stalled.

I've not heard any of the former appointees diminish Zelensky. National unity remains high both domestically despite growing hardships...also high amongst allies. Zelensky has achieved the near impossible.

Now contrast this to 24 of putinrumps former top WH appointees saying he was either an egotistical idiot or an actual threat to US laws and democracy. A man who had half the country hating the other half...so much for 'United'.

https://www.kyivpost.com/assets/images/author.png
Depau
This comment contains spoilers. Click here if you want to read.

John please provide your comments (the only right comments on the internet - anyone disagree with John will be named an Orc or Russian troll)

Bye orcs
This comment contains spoilers. Click here if you want to read.

@Depau, any anti west, anti Ukraine comments is 100 percent orc trolls. Any comments that shower roses for biden , trump is propoganda. Easy. Here its only for Ukraine support. Ignore the rest.

DB
This comment contains spoilers. Click here if you want to read.

@Bye orcs, TRUE !!!!!

https://www.kyivpost.com/assets/images/author.png
https://www.kyivpost.com/assets/images/author.png
John
This comment contains spoilers. Click here if you want to read.

@Depau, It is nice to know I occupy so much of a MRGA troll's mind. In just one sentence you mention my name twice. What's your partner going to think when you start murmuring my name in bed? If it puts you in the doghouse for a week at least it slows the pace of orc propagation. It doesn't bother me as I won't be there.

Your focus on me actually amuses me knowing I've distracted a MRGA troll from doing anything of further nefarious intent to Ukraine.

ON a more serious matter, do you have any thoughts of your own on how russia got to its current state of corruption and oppression? Tell us what is it you like so much about putin?

Remember to be honest...its for posterities sake.

https://www.kyivpost.com/assets/images/author.png
Wilfred
This comment contains spoilers. Click here if you want to read.

@Depau, I read your comments with an open mind. I don’t healthy discussion is black and white orc or no orc. I am certain that Ukraine MUST win this war, I’m less certain that most of NATO countries have made up their minds and be all in.

https://www.kyivpost.com/assets/images/author.png
Load More Replies
https://www.kyivpost.com/assets/images/author.png