Lesser-known Zelensky facts explored: ‘In his own echo chamber’


Volodymyr Zelensky was elected President of Ukraine three years ago today, winning 73 percent of the vote and smashing the incumbent Petro Poroshenko in a landslide upset. Despite being a political novice, the former actor and comedian won over the electorate with his bold, anti-corruption campaign. Mr Zelensky’s party ‘Servant of the People’ was named after the sitcom he starred in, in which he played the part of none other than the President of Ukraine.

The former comic’s showbiz background was evident in his carefully cultivated public image and speeches.

But although he was initially popular, cracks soon began to appear in the Ukrainian leader’s veneer and his public popularity nosedived.

The electorate appeared to grow weary with Mr Zelensky, as the inexperienced leader was accused of not delivering on his promised anti-corruption reforms and ambitious infrastructure projects such as his plan for new roads.

At the beginning of 2022, a poll carried out by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology revealed a staggering 60 percent of Ukrainians did not support the idea of Zelensky running for a second term.

However, just weeks later, support for Mr Zelensky in Ukraine underwent a dramatic turnaround as Russia invaded its former Soviet neighbour on February 24.

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After one week of the conflict, more than 90 percent of Ukrainians said they supported their leader, according to a national poll by the Ratings Sociological Group.

Mr Zelensky emerged as a heroic wartime leader as he vowed to fight Russian President Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion.

In response to a reported US offer to evacuate him from Kyiv, Mr Zelensky uttered the now-immortal phrase: “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”

Since the start of the war, the President has stayed in touch with his people by posting numerous updates about the conflict on social media.

He has also virtually addressed parliaments around the world in a bid to seek military aid from the NATO alliance and other countries.

However, Mr Zelensky’s political inexperience has also been noted during this period, with some of his decisions torn apart by experts.

Last month, Mr Zelensky banned 11 opposition parties with links to Russia, most of which were insignificant.

However, one of the parties, the Russian ‘Opposition Platform For Life’, which has spoken out against the Russian invasion, holds 44 seats in Ukraine’s 450-member parliament.

Historian Nigel Jones wrote in the Spectator in March: “This may be the embattled leader’s first major mistake in the month since Putin launched his brutal invasion.”

Earlier this month, the Opposition Platform leader, Viktor Medvedchuk, a key Putin ally, was arrested in Ukraine.

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As Mr Zelensky clamped down on pro-Russian parties, he also merged all national TV channels into one platform under martial law, saying it was a necessary step for Ukrainian unity.

Mr Jones said: “That could be his second big error.

“For Ukraine’s strongest card – the unique selling point that has drawn such sympathy and support from almost the entire democratic world – has been the fact that, in stark contrast to Putin’s repressive Russian state, it is – or was – a free country.”

The Ukrainian President’s decision-making was also recently picked apart by Olga Rudenko, the chief editor of The Kyiv Independent.

In a guest essay for The New York Times just days before Russia invaded, she claimed that after several reshuffles, Mr Zelensky’s inner circle is now made up of his friends who lack the experience to lead Ukraine even in normal times.

She wrote: “The circle around the president has become an echo chamber.

“In the process, Mr Zelensky has turned into a version of the politician he campaigned against: insular, closed off, surrounded by ‘yes men’.

“In normal circumstances, that would be bad enough. But now, when Ukraine is menaced by Russia, it may be affecting Mr Zelensky’s judgment.”

However, praise for the Ukrainian president has not been in short supply since Putin’s invasion began, coming in from all corners of the globe.

The boss of British spy agency GCHQ Sir Jeremy Fleming claimed in a speech in Australia in March that Mr Zelensky’s “extremely effective” information operation had outclassed Putin.

He said: “It’s agile, multi-platform, multi-media and extremely well-tailored to different audiences.

“One only has to look at the way Ukraine’s flag – a field of sunflowers under a sky of blue – is flying everywhere, including outside GCHQ, to see how well the message has landed.”


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