Political expert: "Perhaps Zelensky will disappoint, perhaps he will be fantastically successful"

  • 14:07 14 May 2019

Political expert: "Perhaps Zelensky will disappoint, perhaps he will be fantastically successful"

ONA’s interview with Amanda Paul, a foreign and security policy analyst of the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think tank of the EU.

-In this month, between 23 and 26 of May, the European Parliament election will be held and there is general anxiety within European political institutions that in this election, right-wing parties can take more seats comparing with previous elections. Because in local elections in some of EU member states, these group parties have shown good performance...

-I think that there is a huge risk that many members of the new European Parliament will come from nationalist/far-right parties. Some people say that it could be as much as one-third of the Parliament. This would be something very new and very negative.  It could impact on decision-making in the Parliament. For example when it comes to agreeing on appointments of European commissioners, ratifying international trade agreements, agreeing the European Union's next budget. So, one-third of the seats is enough for a serious upset.

- What are the reasons behind the rise of these parties?

-I think we can put it down to a number of different issues. I will mention only two. First, is directly linked to consecutive EU enlargements. The EU kept enlarging but without deepening and failing to really communicate to the populations. Hence there was a missing link between political elites and people. So, they got left behind. This is one element of it. Another reason is linked to different crises that the EU has been through, for example, the eurozone crisis, or more recently migration crisis which had a significant impact on the EU. For example, some countries, such as Greece, were forced to accept very strict austerity packages which resulted in a backlash from their citizens. Another example is how the migration crisis was used by the far-right to demonize the ruling elites of those countries that accepted refugees.   

-About the Brexit what is one of the most discussed topics in international politics, so, what can we expect, will they, the EU and UK finally agree?

-First of all, the European Union and the United Kingdom did reach an agreement. The UK negotiated the draft Withdrawal Agreement with the EU. This was done by Prime Minister May and the UK's Chief Negotiator. 

The problem does not lie with the EU, it lies with the Brits. Because the British government and the parliament cannot decide how to go forward. Within the Conservative party, within the Labour Party, there are polarizing divisions and fragmentation which is tearing British politics apart.  Parliamentarians apparently know what they don’t want but they cannot agree on what they want unanimously. The EU has made it very clear that the agreement, which was agreed both sides cannot be reopened. That there is no better deal. The problem with many Brexiteers is that they want to leave but at the same time they want to have many of benefits that they received while being a member of the EU – such as access to the single market but without free movement of people.  That is not going to happen.

It is up to the UK to sort themselves out because the EU is getting very fed up with this ongoing drama. The original departure date of the UK was the 29th of March.  There is now an extension until the end of October. The EU hopes that the UK will manage to sort itself out by then as this lack of clarity is also very undesirable for the EU.

However, at this point in time, I do not think anybody really knows exactly what that is going to happen and it may well be that no agreement will be reached by the end of October.

 I am British. I strongly oppose Brexit. I think it is a disaster for the UK but unfortunately, many people in the country still do not believe this. They live in a fantasy world created by people such as Nigel Farage. Decades of disinformation and propaganda about the EU are in large part also to blame.  Despite the many benefits that the EU has brought to the UK, politicians – and others – failed to celebrate this over the decades.

As of today, it is very unclear how all the different positions - from both inside and outside the Conservative Party - are going to be bridged and a consensus found. Some individuals have particularly populist positions. Many at the front of the debate have their own political goals and agendas for their role in the UK’s future governance.  The UK is suffering because of this lack of clarity about the future.

-All this process can affect the unity of UK, I mean, First Minister of Scotland said she would support the second referendum on independence, there is still unclarity on Northern Ireland?

-Yes, Nicola Sturgeon has talked about a second referendum. We all know that the first referendum failed. But it took place a different time as the Brexit issue was not at the table. The Scottish people nearly all voted remain.  I think that if the agreement that the UK finally agrees on with the EU does not satisfy Scottish aspirations, it is possible that there could have the second referendum and that it is possible it could result in independence. Still, this is very risky, not least for economic reasons.  Scotland is rather dependent on Westminster. Scotland would need to be sure that the EU would accept them as a member. The country would need to apply like all other potential members. If I was Nicola Sturgeon I would want clarity from the side of the EU that they would take an independent Scotland in. Of course, a further risk is that if Scotland breaks away, the same could happen with Northern Ireland, etc, etc.

-Ukraine elected a new president, Mr. Zelensky who is a completely new face in politics of this country. It is really interesting what kind of policy new president-elect will pursue, any prediction on this you have?

-Mr. Zelensky has had no experience in politics, he has no track record on any policies. So, he comes to office as a blank check. The reason why we got this point is not so much because everybody loves Zelensky but rather because Ukrainian’s feel let down and cheated by the established political elite in Ukraine, which the population believes has stolen from the country for years and years via corrupt and criminal activities.  Mr. Poroshenko, despite doing a lot of important and positive things still left many Ukrainians disappointed.  He did not deliver fully on the goals that he laid out after the Revolution of Dignity. This includes defeating of corruption, creating an independent judiciary and cracking down on the oligarchs. Oligarchs in Ukraine are still alive and kicking. The population has huge expectations from Zelenskiy. Everybody is waiting to see what he will do when he eventually gets into office. What is important is that he has a very strong team of advisers surrounding him and that he will choose the right people for key positions such as Head of the security council, Prosecutor General, Foreign Minister, Defense Minister.  He should also disassociate himself from people linked, for example, to political elites of the past, not least, Viktor Yanukovich. It is also crucially important that Mr Zelensky demonstrates that he is not a puppet of Oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky. He should not be linked to him in any way. If he is, this will ruin his credibility before he even starts his job. He needs to continue with what Poroshenko started in terms of foreign and security policy because this is main competence; continuing to give priority to Euroatlantic integration and the reforms that are necessary for that, and to continue to have a strong position visa-vi Russia.  Dealing with the conflict in Donbas will be a huge challenge too.

So, we have to wait and see how Zelenskiy handles his new job. Perhaps he will disappoint.  Perhaps he will be fantastically successful. I do not think he is a stupid man. He is self-made and successful and as far as we know, not a corrupt man.  So we need to give him time to see what he can do.

-Is Kremlin's last move on simplification of passport issuing for Donbas residents a signal for Ukraine's new president?

-Look, I am not surprised that Russians did this. Because they are obviously testing Mr. Zelensky. I am guessing that some weeks ago Kremlin might feel that Mr. Zelensky is going to be easy prey for them.  That they could manipulate him and exploit his inexperience. So, he has arrived as a new president and they are trying to test him. The Russians like to give their passports away. They more or less give passports to anybody who wants one and then they use those Russian nationals for own political reasons. So, I do not think that it is that surprising. They have done this in the occupied territories of Georgia and elsewhere (Occupied Crimea). I think that Zelensky's response was very good, very sharp. Probably, Russians did not expect it and I think that this was a positive thing. But I expect Russians to keep pushing and pushing on Zelensky during the next few weeks and months.

-About membership of Ukraine and Georgia in NATO...

-I think we have to differentiate between Ukraine and Georgia.  Because Georgia has already is as prepared as Montenegro was before it joined NATO, last year. Georgia is already quite fit to join NATO. The problem is that NATO is not ready to take Georgia. Whether they will ever take Georgia is an open question, despite the fact that NATO promised Georgia and Ukraine a seat at the table. But, for me, it is important that NATO accepts Georgia because otherwise, it gives the impression that Russia has a veto on NATO enlargement.  Ukraine is a long long way behind Georgia. It is not comparable. Everything that NATO has asked Georgia to do, Georgia has done it, and even more. Georgia has sent soldiers to Syria. They have a big mission in Afghanistan. Georgian soldiers have lots of their lives protecting Euro-Atlantic security.

-As you know, because of the S-400 system that Turkey plans to purchase from Russia, there is tension between the US and Turkey, so what is the future of relations between this long-term NATO allies?

-Turkey and the US are going through a difficult period. The US is annoyed by Turkey buying the S-400 system from Russia.  However, at the same time Turkey, along with time staunch ally of Washington, feels betrayed by the US as a result of Washington cooperating with the YPG in Syria

I think both sides are trying to look for an exit to this current difficulty. It does not look very easy to achieve but let's wait and see. Sometimes things can be resolved in the last moments. Still, there has been an erosion of trust on both sides which will not be easy to rebuild. And clearly, Turkey is not going to leave NATO anytime soon. Why would they?!

Zumrud Pashkin