American publication Politico has recognized Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as the most influential figure in Europe in its “dreamers” category.
The rating aims to identify individuals with significant influence on unfolding events as 2024 approaches. The announcement for the most powerful people in Europe: Doer No. 1, Disrupter No. 1, and Dreamer No. 1, was made at 9 pm on Tuesday, Nov. 28.
Zelensky, "The marathon runner"
“Every once in a while, a leader comes along and single-handedly changes the course of history, not through the might of their army or the strength of their economy, but through the power of their words. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is such a leader,” according to the publication.
Politico claimed that from his videos outside the presidential office during the early days of the war to his bold stance in rejecting evacuation offers, Zelensky rallied Ukrainians against Russia's invasion.
His compelling speeches in parliaments worldwide garnered Western aid and advanced weaponry, strengthening Ukraine's resilient forces. Zelensky's leadership achieved the once-unthinkable, propelling Ukraine toward EU membership and closer ties with NATO.
At the same time, the coming year is predicted to be difficult for Ukraine’s leader, because “the world is distracted by the new old war in the Middle East; Ukrainians are exhausted by two years of battles and struggling to reclaim territory in the face of Russia's brutal meat-grinder.
“With the West prevaricating, and Ukraine continuing to face an existential threat from its much larger neighbor, Zelenskyy has moved from pleading with Western countries for help to lecturing them — and that hasn’t landed quite as successfully as his more uplifting orations,” the publication contends.
Tensions rose at the NATO summit in Vilnius, with both the British defense secretary and the US national security adviser urging Ukraine to demonstrate more “gratitude” despite Kyiv's disappointment with the alliance's framing of its future membership, Politico points out.
The publication suggests that facing potential mid-war elections, the Ukrainian president, despite earlier pledges, hints at seeking another term beyond his initial commitment.
However, holding elections during the ongoing conflict would require constitutional changes, sparking concerns about democratic legitimacy.
Politico insists that government-controlled media, widespread censorship, displaced citizens, and soldiers in conflict zones further raises questions about the complicated logistical challenges and costs associated with organizing a wartime vote.
“Those are huge, if not intractable, problems - the question is whether Zelensky can pull it off, and at what cost,” the journal concludes.
Kyiv's “Green Cardinal” - Yermak
Andriy Yermak, the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, has been recognized in Politico's ranking of the most influential people in Europe, securing fourth position in the “doers” category. Yermak sits behind French President Emmanuel Macron, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, but ahead of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The Politico report says Yermak is known as Kyiv's “Green Cardinal” in certain circles.
“That's because Yermak is the head of office to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whose last name relates to an East Slavic word for "green" — and also because he has a habit of attending photo-ops in the military-inspired khaki outfits his boss popularized,” Politico says.
Highlighting the significance of Yermak's role, the publication emphasizes that in 2024, with Zelensky potentially facing reelection amid an ongoing war and the erosion of public morale, he becomes crucial as both the president's dealmaker and shock-absorber.
With Zelensky's limited foreign travel, Yermak has undertaken global business trips on his behalf, conducting negotiations and striking deals - tasks typically within the president's purview according to Ukraine's constitution, Politico notes.
The report also acknowledges Yermak's success in bringing China to the negotiating table during the Saudi-hosted peace talks and his role as co-chair, alongside Michael McFaul, in the International Working Group on Russian Sanctions, known as the Yermak-McFaul Expert Group.
“While he has been doing Zelensky’s dirty work, the green cardinal’s wheeling and dealing has seen him mired in controversy, amid corruption allegations involving his brother and his deputy,” the message says.
As Ukraine navigates its path to join the EU and NATO while reclaiming its territory, Yermak's influence is described as immense, some even considering it excessive, positioning him as a key player in Zelensky's government and parliament.
Who’s currently the most powerful person in Europe?
The leader of the winning Polish coalition in the parliamentary elections, Donald Tusk, has secured the top spot in Politico's list of the most powerful people in Europe.
After eight years of Law and Justice party rule led by Tusk's longstanding rival, Jarosław Kaczyński, Politico notes that “the wind of change is blowing once more.”
According to Politico his victory brings a sliver of hope to centrists across the Continent who have witnessed “populist forces moved from the fringes and into government.”
Tusk's anticipated role as the new prime minister is expected to mend Warsaw's relations with the European Union, Germany, and France which the previous Polish executive, led by Mateusz Morawiecki, had been active in confronting.
“The prospect of a Tusk-led Poland would see Kyiv breathing a sigh of relief. While Warsaw has strongly backed Ukraine over the past two years of war, in recent months tensions have boiled over [in response to] Ukraine’s agricultural exports. Tusk, a longtime Russia hawk, has called for unwavering support for Kyiv,” Politico claims.
Journalists, however, point out that Tusk may face challenges in bringing immediate change to Poland, given the Law and Justice party's significant strengthening during its eight years in power. Additionally, the current president, Andrzej Duda, is seen as an ally of Kaczyński.
The “doers” list was topped by Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. Her rise to the Italian premiership last year raised concerns among centrists across Europe and beyond. However, Meloni's political stance has undergone a notable transformation during her year in power. Previously critical of the euro and Brussels bureaucrats, she has worked closely with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and [outgoing] Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, even engaging in collaborative efforts to secure a migration deal with Tunisia.
According to Politico's report, the most surprising shifts have occurred in Meloni's foreign policy. Once seen as an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, she now takes a hardline stance against Russia; condemning Putin's invasion of Ukraine and showing solidarity by visiting Kyiv.
Elvira Nabiullina, head of the Central Bank of Russia, won in the category of “disrupters”, as “Putin's banker.”
“Putin’s banker, once considered a moderating influence and now his silent enabler, has managed to stave off the effects of unprecedented Western sanctions designed to drain the Kremlin’s coffers, prolonging the war on Ukraine,” the publication suggests.
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