Tuesday July 19, 2022

Zelensky’s challenges at home

Zelensky’s challenges at home

Volodymyr Zelensky.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has suspended two key officials in his government, chief of the domestic security agency SBU, Ivan Bakanov, and prosecutor general Irina Venediktova. It has been found that many officials in their departments were collaborating with the Russians. Andriy Smyrnov, head of the presidential office, told Ukrainian television that Venediktova has been suspended while Bakanov has been temporarily stopped from fulfilling his official duties as checks and investigations are on. When asked whether they will be reinstated if the investigations exonerate them, Smyrnov said, “We live in a law-abiding country and of course I can conceive (the possibility) of this.” Bakanov is considered Zelensky’s close friend.

It is much too early to say whether there is trouble brewing in the Zelensky government at home. But he seems to have handled it transparently. First, they were not removed quietly, and the news about it was not under wraps. Secondly, they have not been dismissed and there is an inquiry. But the more serious aspect is the presence of Russian sympathisers inside Ukraine, who might be working as collaborators with Moscow and undermining Ukraine’s war effort.

It becomes imperative for the Zelensky government to nab them and strengthen security measures. And it is not inconceivable that Russia, with its elaborate spy network at home and abroad, an inheritance from the days of the old Soviet Union in the communist era, should be trying to weaken Ukraine with its missile bombardment and through internal spies. But everything remains unproven, and no conclusions can be drawn.

What is, however, very clear is that Zelensky has a battle on his hands, on many fronts, internal and external, political, and economic. And in the nearly five months since the war broke out on February 24, he seems to have managed creditably. Ukraine is not an equal to Russia in the size of the economy or its military. But Ukraine has held out.

The situation remains complicated because there are parts of Ukraine, especially to the east, where the Russians are inching forward successfully, and sections of the political class as well as the people, most of them Russian-speaking Ukrainians, who show willingness to be part of the Russian sphere of influence. Zelensky has held on to the principled stand that Ukraine will fight every inch of its territory and there is no question of conceding parts of Ukraine. It is this position that has long-term impact on the conduct of war and its duration.

If Zelensky believes that the war should end only when the whole territory of Ukraine should be free of Russian occupation, and this includes Crimea, which has been occupied by Russia in 2014, then it appears that this Russia-Ukraine war will last long.

Ukraine will have to muster enough military strength to drive out Russia, and he would need Western military aid to do so. Ukraine-watchers are sure to argue that Zelensky’s maximalist position is a tactic to improve the bargaining strength of Kyiv against Moscow, and that realistically speaking Zelensky too knows that Ukraine will not be able to reclaim Crimea. Even as the hostilities continue, Moscow and Kyiv must find ways of keeping their economies going, especially on the agriculture front. Both Russia and Ukraine cannot afford to lose their share in the global food grains market.

Zelensky and Putin must think of their next move on the war front, but they have to think beyond the war front as well. Nato countries, including the US, must back off a bit on their position in connection with Russia. The West cannot use Ukraine as the frontline state to fight Russia.





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