UA in EU Watch – April 2019

The surrealistic presidential elections in Ukraine provoked a real surge in Europe’s information space. The story of a comedian, without any prior political experience, who suddenly turned into a president, became central on TV news, in leading newspapers and even appeared in the Dutch showcase. So, for the time being, this story is definitely known by most Europeans.

The European press mainly analyzed the figure of Zelensky in terms of his ability to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine and restore peaceful relations with Russia.

“For Putin, Zelensky is a UFO, a model that he never met in the former USSR,” wrote the French Du Monde’s columnist Silvia Coffman.

Zelensky appeals to Ukrainians who speak Russian more fluently than Ukrainian, however, this makes him an even more dangerous opponent for the Kremlin than his predecessor, who intended to lead a nationalist campaign around the idea of religion, an army and the Ukrainian language inside the country, which he managed to change. Volodymyr Zelensky also pretends to unite Ukrainians, both eastern and western, by weakening tensions and staking on the fight against corruption. And as everyone knows: a united country is stronger than divided country.

Ukraine is a healthy democracy, and Putin hates that, writes the The Guardian in an article devoted to presidential elections.

“But, of course, nothing will have struck Putin more than the words Ukraine’s president-elect Volodymyr Zelensky uttered on the night of his victory: “All the post-Soviet countries. Look at us. Everything is possible “.

Voting in Ukraine has proven how much this state has grown compared to its northern neighbor, the newspaper writes. It notes that Russia chose the path of glorification of the Soviet Union, while Ukraine favored the pro-Western narrative, shedding light on the crimes of Soviet authorities. So the author concludes: Ukrainian democratic choice is an anathema for Putin.

Some say that the victory of Volodimir Zelensky in the presidential elections in Ukraine – is also a great victory for Vladimir Putin – writes the Brussels media outlet Politico.

The comedian is a Russian speaker who lived and worked in Moscow for six years. He’s also not experienced as a statesman — his only experience in politics is playing a fictional president in the Netflix comedy series “Servant of the People.”

The reality, however, is much more complicated. Zelenskiy might be green when it comes to governing, but he’s a veteran when it comes to communication, as evidenced by his drubbing of outgoing Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.

Unlike Poroshenko, who embraced Ukrainian nationalism and spoke only in Ukrainian, Zelenskiy is capable of speaking to Russians in their own language, and reaching out to them through Instagram and other social media channels.

Zelensky’s overwhelming victory was a clear sign that Ukrainians, despite their anger over the war, would rather live in peace with Russia than in endless confrontation. But the Russian president has an elephant’s memory. It’s unlikely he’s forgotten that the oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky — Zelenskiy’s most prominent backer — used to refer to him as a “schizophrenic dwarf” during the heat of the war in the east.

What does Zelensky want? – Wonders the Belgian De Standaart in the article “The President without a plan”. This is a question that millions ask themselves. Zelensky led a campaign without a program, but nevertheless limited to several common lines – joining the European Union and holding a referendum on NATO.

The publication notes that the Zelensky’s People’s Servant party is unlikely to get the majority in the new parliament, even if the newly elected president will dissolve it. Thus, Zelensky will probably be limited in fulfilling his election promises.

The author stresses on the close relationship between Zelensky and Igor Kolomoisky, however, he says that EU policy on Ukraine is unlikely to change – because the newly elected president, like his predecessor, is a supporter of the European course of Ukraine.

Despite the hopes for the newly elected Ukrainian president, tensions in the relations between Ukraine and Russia only intensify.

Ukraine adopts language laws which are opposed by Kremlin – writes The Guardian.

Ukraine’s parliament has adopted a law that will require the use of the Ukrainian language in most aspects of public life, a decision supporters say will strengthen national identity but that critics contend could disenfranchise the country’s native Russian speakers.

The reporter writes that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia called this law scandalous and unconstitutional. The document also raised an international critics. In particular, concerns about compliance of the draft law with international standards were expressed at the UN Office on Human Rights. The publication ends with the fact that the newly elected President Zelensky refrained from criticizing this law but promised to analyze it in detail.

The answer to the language law did not force itself to wait long.

Vladimir Putin stirs Russia-Ukraine tensions with a Russian passport offer, writes the German edition Deutsche Welle about the decision of the Kremlin to provide with a simplified passport obtaining procedure to Ukrainians living in the occupied territories.

Experts say Moscow wants to cement power over occupied areas and stop population decline — but the move is a powder keg.

The largest group affected by this decision are Ukrainians from the occupied territories, about 4 million people. The second largest group – Ukrainian refugees and workers in Russia – notes the author.

But he concludes with the words of experts who believe that Russian passports will traditionally provide Russia with an incentive to protect its citizens from Kyiv.

However, the long hands of the Kremlin are getting at Brussels. Vladimir Putin and his supporters actively support loyal political movements on the eve of the elections in order to have more pleasant relations with the new European authorities.

Thus, at a time when Moscow finds itself subject to international ostracism for its role in last year’s Novichok attack in Salisbury, Mr Putin views the EU elections as an opportune moment to restore Russia’s standing in Europe

Concerns over Russian meddling have been raised in France, Italy, Austria, Greece, the Netherlands and Germany, while questions still remain as to whether Moscow tried to interfere in Britain’s 2016 referendum on leaving the EU or not.

Moscow already enjoys good relations with Hungary and Bulgaria, two former Soviet satellites that appear to prefer maintaining good connections with Russia over their support for the EU.

An alliance of populist parties, including Italy’s League and Austria’s Freedom party, all of which are said to have ties with Moscow, are hoping to win enough seats in next month’s EU elections to enable them to form the largest bloc in the 751-member parliament.

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