April 15, 2021

April 21, 2020


Last year, on April 21, 2020, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine marked his one-year anniversary of being elected president of Ukraine in a landslide victory that was seen by observers as an expression of the people’s voice for change from the old order and its ways.

An analysis by Bohdan Nahaylo noted that the one-year anniversary for Mr. Zelenskyy was muted and reflected the difficulties facing the new administration, some of which were created by the administration itself. Maintaining the image of a reformer, Mr. Zelenskyy announced on April 22, 2020, that he would add Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president, to his team as a vice prime minister responsible for reform.

Mr. Nahaylo noted that the move “proved to be a miscalculation,” after he failed to secure parliamentary support from within his own Servant of the People party. By April 30 David Arakhamia, head of the political faction, announced that Mr. Zelenskyy would be offering Mr. Saakashvili an alternate post.

The failed move by Mr. Zelenskyy included other worrying developments that were seen to weaken Western confidence in Ukraine’s reform process and could lead to further delays in adopting a critical law about ending a standoff between oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, who was suspected of embezzlement through manipulation of his ownership of PrivatBank.

In a televised address marking his one-year anniversary as president, Mr. Zelenskyy aimed to highlight the achievements of his administration, but those expectations did not meet reality. Amid Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine and the COVID-19 pandemic, the Zelenskyy administration was credited with the passage of laws on lifting prosecutorial immunity for national deputies and on the impeachment of the president; a law lifting the ban on the sale of farmland; the approval of a new electoral code aimed at reducing corrupt elections and a reduced number of seats in the Verkhovna Rada; and the restoration of criminal responsibility for illegal enrichment.

Observers also noted that Mr. Zelenskyy remained unable to find the right people to fill key posts and relied too heavily on inexperienced enthusiasts. Others pointed to the impact of Andriy Yermak as head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, whose relationship with Mr. Saakashvili goes back to their student days. Mr. Saakashvili was tasked with meeting expectations for domestic reforms, while Mr. Yermak would concentrate on foreign relations and foreign creditor issues, specifically on negotiations with Russia.

This year, Iuliia Mendel, presidential spokesperson, said on March 9 that Mr. Zelenskyy plans to hold his next press conference in May 2021, ahead of the second anniversary of his election.

Source: “After one year, is Zelenskyy running out of steam?,” by Bohdan Nahaylo, The Ukrainian Weekly, May 3, 2020.