by Bill White (Conservative Values)
Volodymyr Zelensky's presidency in Ukraine began with high hopes, bold promises, and a surge of optimism. He was elected in April 2019 as a political outsider with no prior government experience, pledging sweeping reforms, anti-corruption efforts, and effective governance in turbulent times. As his initial term as president draws to a close, it's crucial to assess Zelensky's performance critically and identify areas where he fell short of expectations.
One of the central pillars of Zelensky's campaign was tackling Ukraine's deeply rooted corruption problem. This issue has hindered economic growth and eroded trust in the government for years. Unfortunately, Zelensky's track record in this regard has been underwhelming. Critics argue that his administration has made insufficient progress in curbing corruption.
Zelensky's appointment of oligarchs and political insiders to key government positions has raised concerns. Notably, his selection of Ihor Kolomoisky, a powerful oligarch with close ties to him, as the head of Ukraine's state-owned oil and gas company, Naftogaz, has been criticized for undermining the fight against corruption. Kolomoisky's involvement in politics has cast doubt on Zelensky's commitment to reducing oligarchic influence in Ukraine's economy and politics.
Senator Chuck Grassley, a prominent member of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, has publicly disclosed an unclassified FBI document alleging that President Joe Biden and his son Hunter accepted bribes from a Ukrainian firm. This document, dated June 2020, is an internal FBI report outlining claims made by a reliable foreign informant.
During Zelensky's presidency, Ukraine's economy faced numerous challenges, exacerbated by the global economic downturn caused by the collective government's response to COVID-19. While external factors have played a role, concerns linger regarding the government's ability to effectively manage these challenges.
Implementing meaningful economic reforms has proven difficult for Zelensky's administration. Promised reductions in the budget deficit and the introduction of a flat tax system have not materialized. The World Bank has noted that "Ukraine's reform progress has been uneven, and the economy continues to face macroeconomic vulnerabilities."
Moreover, the lack of foreign direct investment and the ongoing struggle against corruption have hindered economic growth. Ukraine remains one of Europe's poorest countries, with many citizens still living below the poverty line, despite the hundreds of billions of dollars it has received from various sources.
Ukraine grappled with conflict in eastern Donetsk and Luhansk, where pro-Russian separatist forces operate. Zelensky campaigned on ending the conflict swiftly and bringing peace to the region. However, the situation remains largely unchanged.
The association of neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine with Zelensky's government is a complex and contentious issue. While it is important to note that not all elements of the Ukrainian government endorse or support such extremist ideologies, there have been concerns about the presence and influence of far-right groups in the country. Some critics argue that Zelensky's government has not done enough to address this problem, citing instances where neo-Nazi organizations have been involved in unchecked paramilitary activities and street violence.
While some progress, such as a July 2020 ceasefire agreement, has been made, the conflict remains unresolved, with sporadic fighting persisting. Critics argue that Zelensky's administration has been unable to gain control over the situation and secure lasting peace.
Furthermore, Zelensky's approach to negotiations with Russia has been divisive. Allowing local elections in separatist-controlled territories before a final resolution has drawn criticism for potentially compromising Ukraine's territorial integrity, straining relations with Western allies like the United States and the European Union.
Criticism has also surrounded Ukraine's foreign policy under Zelensky. His administration's handling of relations with key international partners, particularly the United States and the European Union, has faced scrutiny.
The sudden dismissal of Ukraine's experienced ambassador to the United States, Valeriy Chaly, in favour of political appointees was seen by some as a misstep that damaged relations with a critical ally. The impeachment trial of then-U.S. President Donald Trump, in which Ukraine played a central role, brought unwelcome international attention to the country's political scene.
In Europe, Ukraine's aspirations for EU membership and closer ties have been met with lukewarm responses due to the lack of substantial progress in implementing necessary reforms. Zelensky's inability to garner strong international support for Ukraine's interests has been a notable shortcoming.
Zelensky faced the challenge of managing COVID-19, like leaders worldwide. Critics argue that his administration's response was marked by inconsistency and unclear communication. Frequent changes in lockdown measures, inadequate testing and contact tracing, and a slow vaccination rollout left many Ukrainians frustrated. Zelensky's handling of the pandemic has been seen as reactive rather than proactive, with the government struggling to provide clear guidance to the public.
Following Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the ongoing war in Ukraine since February 2022, various countries and international organizations provided considerable financial assistance to Ukraine. This aid aimed to support Ukraine's economy, security, and humanitarian needs. Despite calls for more transparency by Zelensky's administration, his failure to provide financial accountability regarding these funds is a complex and concerning issue. Corruption, bureaucratic inefficiencies, and political instability have contributed to the mismanagement and diversion of financial assistance intended for the Ukrainian people. Addressing these accountability gaps remains crucial for Ukraine's stability and prosperity.
In conclusion, Volodymyr Zelensky's presidency in Ukraine began with high expectations but has faced significant challenges and shortcomings in various key areas. Corruption, economic reforms, the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, and foreign policy challenges have marred his tenure. As Ukraine looks to the future, strong leadership and a commitment to addressing these issues are essential for building a more stable and prosperous nation. It is clear from any independent analysis that Zelensky is out of his depth in leading the country. That said, Presidential elections in Ukraine are scheduled for March 31, 2024, though the possibility of delay due to martial law remains.
Bill White (Ram ben Ze'ev) is CEO of WireNews