Zelenskyy’s office explains everything with the “special situation” in which the country finds itself


Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Photo – Efrem Lukatsky (AP)

The law on oligarchs is being prepared for the second reading. This project, although it is intended to do a “good deed”, at the same time raises a number of questions and concerns. After all, everyone knows where the road paved with good intentions leads. And if we take into account the context of what is happening in the Ukrainian political arena, we can know it for sure.

 Zelenskyy’s authorities have usurpatory tendencies – this is a fact.

First, usurpation is characteristic of presidential republics (which we have de facto).

Second, the desire for rapid change; lack of motivation to negotiate with other players; as well as the reluctance to look for legal ways to advance, previously resulted in the strengthening of the NSDC (read: creating your own rules of the game), which performs the function of the presidential machine.

Obviously, the president first asserts something, and only then it is given a form (albeit dubious) legitimacy.

How did this become possible? With Zelenskyy, everything is explained with the “special situation” in which the country finds itself. Unprecedentedness has become the main instrument of power. It explains a variety of, even not very legitimate ideas. How appropriate and where the line of what is permissible is secondary to them.

 By the way, something similar happened in Russia in the 90s. “Special situation” – economic problems, Chechen wars, the threat of loss of statehood. All this was one of the reasons why democracy in the Russian Federation, where at that time there was also a demand for liberalization, was sacrificed. Citizens believed it was temporary. They were wrong.

The question may arise, what, in fact, is the problem?

After all, the NSDC, although it solves some issues for its own, at the same time does a good deed – it imposes sanctions against pro-Russian politicians and the media. The internal political actions of the sanctioned subjects are mainly coordinated with the curators from the Russian Federation, so there is no problem here. And the restrictions are nothing more than the elimination of Russian influence on Ukrainian politics.

Most of Zelenskyy’s sanctions have met with approval even among his harshest critics. The consolidation of opponents around a number of their initiatives can be considered a success.

Although Zelenskyy’s ratings have dropped in two years, he still remains the leader of sympathies. And moves like sanctions against Medvedchuk obviously help (they are supported by about half of the society).

However, it is clear that in this way the president solves not only the problem of support, but also political rivalry. Although Medvedchuk is a figure working for Russia, he still plays on the domestic stage. Therefore, two birds with one stone were killed here.

One of the “birds with one stone” (temporary removal of a political opponent) was killed in a somewhat dubious way, but under the approval of the majority of observers, which means the problem of the legitimacy of methods fades into the background (legitimacy is a story not only about legality).

Let’s take another example. Why did Zelenskyy (at least temporarily) refuse to prosecute Poroshenko? For lack of evidence? Most likely no. Unlike Medvedchuk, Poroshenko managed to put together a passionate electorate ready to intercede for him. This, in my opinion, is the main reason why the fifth president is still at large. More radical attempts to imprison him would undoubtedly lead to political turbulence with unpredictable consequences.

But the anti-oligarchic law, as in the case of Medvedchuk and Co., is another initiative that is dubious, but safely kills two birds with one stone.

On the one hand, oligarchs are an obstacle to the integral development of an unstable state, so you will have to deal with them one way or another; on the other hand, for Zelenskyy, these are primarily opponents. Their influence on political life is obvious, just look at the pro-government faction.

And now Zelenskyy takes on the oligarchs. As in the case with pro-Russian politicians, it is taken according to its own rules. Anti-oligarchic law is Ukrainian know-how. Strengthening the AMC and, in general, playing by the law is a more difficult task. But, since the “special position” and “pre-losing rules created by the oligarchs,” the authorities believe it is not necessary to adhere to them.

Realizing the attitude of ordinary citizens to the oligarchs, Zelenskyy also created an ideal trap for public discussion: if you stutter about the need to redo the project / submit it for consideration and assessment to an independent party, you automatically become an accomplice of the oligarchs. There are few such suicides.

The problem arises when you look at the whole picture. What prevents Zelenskyy’s government from gaining a political monopoly today? Formally, the entire vertical is in his hands, in fact, the oligarchs, among other things, are an obstacle to the fullness of power.

They, even if we take the definitions from the law, are able to influence the political life of the country through controlled politicians and the media. Let me remind you that there are politicians under their control even in the Zelenskyy faction.

Leveling their influence is, as mentioned above, a necessary step in any case. But the ultimate goal of Zelenskyy’s path is unclear. What will follow this? Cleansing the system? Or cleansing only of the uncontrolled? And to what extent does society believe in the idealism of the current government, and is it ready to hand over all of it into their hands, taking into account the general context of what is happening?

Purely theoretically, one of the barriers to the emergence of authoritarianism is political competition. In Ukraine today, it is practically leveled by the presence of a mono-majority and the National Security and Defense Council. We still have to live until the next elections.

Therefore, the oligarchs remain the real rivals of the authorities. Anti-oligarchic law is not about getting rid of oligarchs completely. It’s about weakening those who disagree to play by the new rules. Those who are negotiable have nothing to fear, because only one “whip” will not go far.

And those who refused to play in a new way will have a hard time. At least, because you have to fight, and this is what no, but a way out of the comfort zone with incomprehensible consequences.

And any event in the political arena easily becomes an instrument against the oligarchs. Shooting Shefir is a good example. An hour after the event, Zelenskyy already suggested that, among other things, deoligrahization was to blame. Whether it is so or not is no longer important.

Despite the tendencies, Ukraine remains an almost completely democratic state with elections, political pluralism, freedom of speech / media, and so on. And the only thing that, in my opinion, really remains a barrier to the establishment of authoritarianism in today’s conditions is a society that has not only the legal, but also the actual opportunity to express dissatisfaction in a variety of ways.

Other factors are weakened: political competition (leveled by a mono-majority, NSDC, personnel changes); foreign policy pressure (on Bankova street, the West is increasingly criticized); idealism (Ukrainian politicians are not much different from foreign colleagues and also strive to maximize power and benefits from it).

But, despite the existence of a society capable of bringing anyone down to earth, there are also fears. Today, there seems to be an unspoken agreement between the authorities and citizens. Society allows the authorities to solve a number of their problems in exchange for very conditional, but progress. And the questions of whether the authorities will cross the line of what is permissible, and to what extent by that time the political situation will play in its favor, remain unanswered.

Building authoritarianism, despite the misconceptions of many people, is no less difficult task than setting up democratic institutions. If nothing is done in either direction, then Ukraine will be approximately in the same place where it is today – between the two regimes, periodically leaning in one direction or the other.

Bankova clearly took into account the mistakes of its predecessors. Usurpation occurs in parallel, and sometimes simultaneously with rating initiatives, which gives them a very wide field of maneuver and obscures observers. And where the authorities feel insecure, they just do not tread. To feel the soil – yes, but no more. In all this, the main thing is that society wakes up not too late.