Famous comedian Volodimir Zelensky has won the first round of the presidential election in Ukraine with more than 30% of votes. In the second round on 21 April, he will face off against an incumbent, Petro Poroshenko, who came second with less than 16%. As things stand, the comedian can well become the next Ukrainian president.
Will it influence Belarus?
A short answer is “not much”. But you came here for something more, right?
Not A King
People often forget or overlook the fact that the president is not an all-powerful figure in Ukraine. Parliament (Rada) forms and controls the government and it can block nearly any important presidential initiative or decision.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for October this year, and Zelensky is gearing up for that campaign. Till then, if the comedian becomes president of Ukraine, he will face the Rada controlled by Petro Poroshenko’s party (BPP).
Even if the party of Zelensky, “People’s servant”, wins in October, it is very unlikely to grasp the majority in Rada like Emmanuel Macron’s movement did in France in 2017. It means Zelensky will need to build a coalition and depends on other parties to pursue his agenda.
No Clear Manifesto But Very Basic Interests
Zelensky is in some way a paragon of populism – he crowdsourced his manifesto from his followers on social media. No wonder it came out rather vague.
Zelensky seems to be clearly standing for a number of policies: an active fight against corruption, more instruments of direct democracy, tax amnesty and further liberalization for business.
There is nothing in Zelensky’s statements or his manifesto to suggest he supports any new approach towards Belarus
On the other hand, the mutual interests in Minsk-Kyiv relations are fundamental and well-known.
Two countries trade a lot – more than $5 bn a year, with Belarus being the key petrol supplier to Ukraine. Besides that, Kyiv does not want to worry about Russian invasion from the north, so it would like to keep Minsk as neutral as possible.
Both these factors predetermine good and pragmatic relations between Kyiv and Minsk regardless of who is in charge in both capitals.
However, what differs Zelensky from current president Poroshenko is the slightly softer stance towards Russia.
The election frontrunner pleads to enter in direct negotiations with Moscow and pro-Russian separatists, to end the war, to join EU and NATO only if Ukrainians vote for it on a referendum. He also reaches out to Russian-speakers, often using the Russian language himself.
If elected, president Zelensky will likely make some new steps to defuse tensions with Moscow. If Russia then meets these efforts with some enthusiasm, talks between them will intensify.
Minsk is the permanent venue for such talks. A new breath into the peace process potentially means that Belarus will again become more relevant and important as peace and stability donor in the region.
Besides that, the less hostile are the relations between Russia and the West, the less pressure Minsk will face from Moscow to follow its line.
However, let’s not run ahead of ourselves –there are neither guarantees that Zelensky’s approach will succeed within the Ukrainian ruling elite, nor that Russia will compromise.
Featured image: Servant of the People/1+1