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Square of presidency. What is the price of Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s legitimacy

Square of presidency. What is the price of Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s legitimacy © Офіс президента України

With a trained hand, war writes the modern history of Ukraine, in the center of which today is the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy. His inauguration took place exactly five years ago – on May 20, 2019: the constitutional term of peaceful powers has expired. But the point is not about Zelenskyy’s supposedly “illegitimate” status (Russia is actively trying to impose this narrative on Ukraine and the international community), but about the new degree of his responsibility. The responsibility of a person who will remain president of Ukraine until the end of the war, but whom Ukrainians did not elect for a second term.

At the same time, the military cadence of the president is outlined not only by the Constitution (guarantees the continuity of power) and the law on martial law (indicates the impossibility of holding elections), but also by the framework established by Zelenskyy himself, within which we will have to live and fight.

We are talking about the four sides of the figure, which determines the role and place of Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the leadership of a warring country. Now this black square seems closed and has no way out. But let’s still look at all its equal sides and understand: there is a chance to get out.

Side one: if possible, then President Zelenskyy should be changed

Change as a person who did not understand that with five or six managers you cannot run the state, but you can only deal with minor issues. As a person who did not understand that the PR system cannot replace the system of setting tasks and monitoring their implementation. As a person who did not understand that the enemy’s state machine needs to be opposed to his own state machine, and not to the sporadic belated actions of officials who lack initiative.

Ukraine today needs not just a concentration of power by a president who, under martial law, has deprived the parliament, government, local government and security forces of their subjectivity. Our country needs the full use of this weapon for the sake of victory, since Zelenskyy has taken on such responsibility, often in contradiction to the Constitution of Ukraine. However, having centralized Ukraine like Putin did in the Russian Federation, Zelenskyy absolutely does not understand how to properly handle this weapon.

That is why the government only began to seriously address the issue of drones at the state level in 2023; only in 2024 did officials think about transferring military–industrial complex (MIC) production underground; only in April 2024 was an interdepartmental meeting held to identify critical areas in the energy sector and ways to protect them; At the same time, the state government adopted a law on mobilization, etc. That is, the government did everything it should have done in 2022. And there is a lot that statesmen have not yet done. And they won’t do it, since Zelenskyy will no longer learn other approaches. The current president will not attract qualified people to the government. He can only involve his own people in governing the country. He will not understand how the state machine works. He will not change the government standards to what are called wartime standards. The counter-question posed to journalists by the president: “But tell me yourself, what does it mean to transfer the country to a military regime?” remained without an internal answer for the Supreme Commander-in-Chief.

When Yanukovych’s team transferred the country to a sports regime, failing Euro 2012, a new responsible Deputy Prime Minister Borys Kolesnikov was appointed. He passed a decision through the government: all documents bearing the stamp “Euro 2012” are reviewed within 24 hours. And now, during the war, government regulations are prepared and adopted over months. At the same time, the President of Ukraine continues to believe that if he gave an order, then it is carried out unquestioningly. No, it doesn't work like that. And the point is not only that there is a “security guard” Andriy Yermak on the door to the Office of the President of Ukraine. The whole point is that everyone wants to protect themselves, knowing that: as soon as an operation with public money is carried out, hungry auditors, the Bureau of Economic Security (BES), the Main Directorate of Economic Security and Anti-Corruption (MDESAC), the Rapid Response Team (RRT) and the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine (OPGU) will come to you.

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Therefore, the government of Zelenskyy (not Shmyhal) is lacking initiative. People's deputies in their effective majority lack subjectivity and are also lacking initiative. The middle management is scared and hides from any tasks. The public administration system practically does not work. But the worst thing is that this system does not work primarily in the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, which, according to the Constitution, is presidential. Decisions there take six months to make. With new, old and any other minister. Even at their level and within their competencies.

State tasks in general are set chaotically, their implementation is not controlled. As a result, due to incompetence and passivity, we lose more than they steal.

Yes, Zelenskyy continues to conduct international politics quite successfully. Which could have been even more effective if a reliable internal foundation had been laid under his correct words expressed to the public during two years (!) of a full-scale war; if he had a different personnel policy; if he were really interested in eliminating corruption schemes that were growing exponentially; if only he had worked with ambassadors differently, without turning the institute into a settling tank for “downed pilots”; if he had truly involved foreign intelligence services. An endless number of “if only...” After all, the guarantor of the Constitution of Ukraine a priori has a wider range of tools than Andriy Yermak and Andrew Mack’s PR company in the United States of America.

Side two: elections are impossible in war conditions

The authors of ZN.UA have repeatedly analyzed the legal component of holding presidential elections during the war. Let us remember the main thing: the answer to the question about the terms of the president’s powers is scattered in Articles 103 and 108 of the Constitution of Ukraine. And unlike parliamentary elections, where the Constitution directly prohibits their holding during war, there is no direct prohibition provision regarding presidential elections.

Thus, Article 103 determines that “the President of Ukraine is elected by citizens of Ukraine on the basis of general, equal and direct suffrage by secret ballot for a period of five years.” While Article 108 states that “the President of Ukraine shall exercise his powers until the newly elected President of Ukraine takes office.” However, the grounds for early termination are resignation, inability to perform duties due to health reasons, impeachment and death.

“Unfortunately, the constitutional gap has been translated into political discourse,” writes Candidate of Political Sciences, senior researcher at Kuras Institute of Political and Ethnic Studies of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine Yryna Ovchar. “Despite the fact that the logic of reading the norms and their connection indicate: in order to ensure the continuity of power and its transfer, the president must exercise his powers for the entire period, even after a five-year term, until the next one is elected.” And the next president, according to the martial law law, can be elected only after it is lifted.

There are also a number of objective factors that make it impossible to hold any elections during the war. Key: the lack of a voter register against the backdrop of millions of both internally displaced people and those Ukrainians who went abroad because of the war. And, as a result, it is impossible to reach votes offline, despite the fact that not only potential voters, but also international partners lack confidence in online elections.

It is also important to understand that Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected president of Ukraine in democratic elections in 2019 with a result that is beyond doubt – 74%. Elected throughout Ukraine except for the occupied parts of Donetsk and Lugansk regions. If elections are held now, then he can be interpreted as the president of the free part of Ukraine, and not of the newly occupied territories by Russia. It is impossible to involve an already collapsing country in the electoral process, where politicians will immediately forget about the war. We still see how Yulia Tymoshenko and Dmitro Razumkov parasitize on the topic of mobilization. It's only the beginning. And if we start elections, they will simply destroy everything in the struggle for the ruins of the all-Ukrainian Bakhmut.

Side three: even if elections are held now, Zelenskyy will win them

If we want the country to have a conscious future, then this cannot be allowed. And Zelenskyy has no alternative today. Even the myth about Zaluzhnyi’s possible potential competition was eliminated and hidden in Foggy Albion. Maybe Valerii Fedorovych will change his mind someday (we do not exclude this), but his desire to enter politics at this stage is zero. Zelenskyy has completely cleared the field. He removed from power everyone who could become a potential future candidate.

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Even the low level of trust in Zelenskyy will not change the situation: a survey by the Razumkov Center shows that trust in the president fell from 71% in 2023 to 26% in 2024. But in Ukraine now there is no person for whom our country could love and vote. Our citizens now do not even have the strength to look for such a person with their eyes. Syrskyi was not created for love, although trust in the army remains consistently at 90%. Therefore, Ukraine will again marry someone who is hateful, but understandable. And if this happens, this decision will finally kill our country after the end of the war.

Side four: the Russians will continue to rock the boat

Russia is calculating all scenarios and situations. This country is satisfied with Zelenskyy’s shortcomings, while Putin also understands that there is no replacement for Zelenskyy now. Therefore, the task was set: just to rock the boat. And not so much inside Ukraine, but outside its borders. Putin’s recent statement in China that “the legitimacy of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy matters for the Russian Federation, fateful documents need to be signed with legitimate authorities” is from this series.

The Russians have learned to very seriously and systematically use intelligence services and colossal budgets to successfully work with opposition forces, influential journalists and public opinion leaders in Ukraine’s partner countries. They will definitely not limit themselves to videos of Zelenskyy in a royal robe that are released into the Ukrainian information space. They will try to show Zelenskyy as an illegitimate president to the West.

And here it is very important: whether the volume of the wave that they are raising and will raise even stronger tomorrow will translate into a qualitative change in public sentiment within Ukraine and abroad. Will the attitude of the leaders of partner countries to the status of Volodymyr Zelenskyy change? This is also a significant point that must be taken into account.

There are only two ways to respond to this challenge within the country. Firstly, by the decision of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine. Since the deputies have not yet done this, the president himself must appeal to the Constitutional Court of Ukraine so that it can issue a verdict and shut the mouth of Russian propagandists with a clear and only legal answer. Secondly, no matter how much this contradicts what we have already said, this challenge can also be met with full support for the president as the legitimate head of state. Namely, the support of society, the army, and political forces.

The price of Volodymyr Zelenskyy's legitimacy

But! Supporting the status does not mean supporting the course. Because Ukraine’s task is not just to fight, but to win. If not in the classical sense of a military victory over Russia within the borders of 1991, then certainly themselves. Otherwise, another Russian narrative, “Zelenskyy retains power only thanks to war,” will take strong roots in Ukrainian society. Going beyond the existing framework of the black square of Zelenskyy’s presidency that has shackled us is the main challenge. First of all, for the president himself, who must understand and accept this challenge.

How does society realize and accept that while remaining in power, Zelenskyy starts his new term from a zugzwang situation: elections are impossible – concentration of power by the president – crisis of government – deterioration of the situation at the front – elections are impossible – concentration of power by the president... 

The tired Ukrainian army, repelling the Russian offensive, understands how quickly this funnel is sucking us in. Soldiers whose health no one values, whose rights no one takes into account, and the president personally plays up the norm on demobilization only for the sake of populism, later removing it from the bill. They are angry, their dignity is humiliated, but they still put our sovereignty first and continue to fight for it.

The steps of the authorities are always in the field of view of those who will soon join the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. What do they see and feel if 30% of Ukrainians understand and accept the motives of those citizens who do not want to fight and then drown in the Tisa River? Is there a way out of this obvious movement of Ukraine towards defeat in the war? How can we maintain sovereignty in such a difficult situation? What should the authorities do to improve the efficiency of public administration, help the army and motivate those being mobilized?

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We have already put forward the idea of ​​creating a government of National Trust from technocrats. To which we received a rather sharp response from the president at a well-known press conference. Unfortunately, Zelenskyy does not understand the degree of responsibility entrusted to him and the consequences that may result from such a misunderstanding. We also read a huge number of remarks in networks and media about how rotten our political elites are and how easily they will bury the country. But, gentlemen, Zelenskyy is already burying our country!

In such a situation, the only way out is in the mutual responsibility of the political elites, in whose ranks there are people capable of competently managing ministries. Zelenskyy, if you want, must tie everyone in blood, create a government, wean him off from Yermak’s influence, turn on the parliament and lead Ukraine to victory. As Churchill did during World War II, when elections were not held in Britain either, but representatives of different parties were attracted to the government. Otherwise, we will continue to go in circles, exchanging Kamyshin for Vereshchuk, Vereshchuk for Chernyshov and back, and along the way, throwing away possible future political competitors. As this has already happened with Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Kubrakov, and can happen with Fedorov and Budanov.

While there is always a threshold for management mistakes. Ukraine hasn't died yet, but it might. Our country is as finite as everything on this earth. Although political leaders do not talk about this on the national telethon. Over the course of a thousand-year history, our ancestors have lost it more than once. Let's try to feel it with our soul and skin. Without forgetting for a moment how technologically Russia rocks our boat, and Blinken hits the back of the head with an oar, reminding us that we are mired in corruption.

This is the historical account of Zelenskyy’s second military tenure. And if it turns out that he is not able to pay for it, then Ukraine will pay, but with its lives, territories and civil confrontation. Our country is already paying with its sovereignty.

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