Hard Times for Volodymyr Zelensky

Hard Times for Volodymyr Zelensky

Not so long ago, you were Volodymyr Zelensky, beloved comedian and star of "Servant of the People," one of Ukraine's most popular TV shows. Then you decided you wanted a new project, a big challenge. Why play Ukraine's president when you could be Ukraine's president?


All you had to do was win an election, your first ever, by knocking off incumbent president Petro Poroshenko and former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. People knew and loved you. How hard could it be?

You won! Well done. And the political party you created, "Servant of the People," then won a solid majority of seats in parliamentary elections, giving you plenty of friendly lawmakers to help write your vision into law and to fight the endemic corruption that has long blocked your country's path forward.

So… 21 weeks later, how's it going?

For one thing, you now find yourself in the middle of what may become the biggest American political scandal in decades. Members of each major US political party want you to talk about one thing and shut up about another.

Democrats say Trump tried to strong-arm you into giving him dirt on one of his political rivals by withholding money that your country needs to face down challenges from Russia. Republicans, meanwhile, want to know what the son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was doing to earn $50,000 per month from a Ukrainian natural gas company while his dad was Vice President.

Thanks to your new lead role in an American impeachment battle, some are now calling you Monica Zelensky.

Then there's that war with Russia you inherited, the one triggered by Russian-backed separatists that has killed 13,000 people in the disputed provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk and forced 1.5 million people from their homes. Your new big idea to end this awful conflict is to consider a plan, first proposed by a former German foreign minister, that would allow elections in those two provinces, reincorporate them back into Ukraine with a "special status" that gives them some policy independence, disarm the separatists who've been shooting at your army, and give you back control of the border with Russia.

And for your trouble, Mr. President, protesters in the center of Kyiv have called you a traitor. They say these elections will formally recognize the theft of political power by separatists and prevent Ukrainian patriots from returning to their homes there. They say you have "surrendered" to Vladimir Putin.

Soon talks will begin with the French, Germans, and Russians to see if this deal can be made real. The devil is no doubt hiding in the details.

In the meantime, it's been a tough four and half months, Mr. President. You deserve a bit of comic relief at this point, and we're glad you got to meet Tom Cruise. For now, you're still pretty popular at home. You're known for your sense of humor and ample political talents, and you'll surely need both in months to come.

Demography is destiny. That ominous-sounding pronouncement, credited to French philosopher Auguste Comte, is today taken to mean that a nation's fate depends on the youthfulness of its population. For a poor country to become rich, it needs lots of young people ready to work, to support those too old or too young to work, and to pay taxes. This is called the "demographic dividend."

That's an important part of China's success story. Over the past 40 years, more than one billion people have emerged from poverty in China. Waves of young people surged from the countryside into cities to work in factories. The state invested in education, and wages helped young workers, and then their children, go to school. The state also began a drive to develop the technologies of the future, by any means necessary. In China, once dirt-poor, hundreds of millions have created a middle class.

More Show less

Get insights on the latest news about emerging trends in cyberspace from Marietje Schaake, International Policy Director at Stanford University's Cyber Policy Center and former European Parliamentarian:

This week we talk about one of my favorite topics, regulation. Laws are often framed as a barrier to innovation and not always recognized as a key enabler of freedoms and the protection of rights. But what's more is that regulation is a process, and one that can have tons of different outcomes. So, being in favor or against regulation doesn't mean anything. Except that those who oppose any changes are apparently benefiting from the status quo.

Is the world at a tipping point when it comes to regulating big tech?

And I would say absolutely. The outsized power of big tech is recognized more broadly because the harms are so blatantly clear. Harms to democracy, public health, but also to fairness in the economy are all related to the outsized power of unaccountable and under-regulated big tech. Now, what's significant is that this debate has finally hit home in the United States after it was already recognized as a problem in many other parts of the world.

More Show less

Do we spend too much time thinking about our own carbon footprints and not enough time thinking about bigger factors? Climate journalist Elizabeth Kolbert acknowledges it's necessary for individuals to make changes in the way they live, but that isn't the number one priority.

"What would you do to try to move this battleship in a new direction? It requires public policy levers. And it requires … some pretty serious legislation." Ian Bremmer spoke with Kolbert, an award-winning journalist and author and staff writer at The New Yorker, on a new episode of GZERO World, airing on US public television.

Watch the episode: Can We Fix the Planet the Same Way We Broke It?

Not everyone thinks that President Biden's decision to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by 9/11/21 is a good idea. Conservative Congressman Mike Waltz (R-FL), a combat-decorated Green Beret with multiple tours in Afghanistan, thinks that the US still needs to maintain a small presence in the country to avoid incurring "massive risks." In a spirited discussion with Ian Bremmer on GZERO World, Waltz, who served as counterterrorism advisor in the George W. Bush administration, argues, "The next 9/11, the next Pulse Night Club, which is right on the edge of my congressional district, the next San Bernardino, that's now on Biden's watch. He owns it with this decision." Their conversation is featured in the upcoming episode of GZERO World, which airs on US public television starting Friday, April 23. Check local listings.

Vaccines are the best hope to end the COVID-19 pandemic. But rich countries are hogging most of the doses, with more than 83 percent of shots administered to date having gone to residents in high- and upper-middle-income countries. Most poor countries will have to wait years to achieve widespread vaccination, according to one study.

To address this inequity some stakeholders are pushing hard for waivers to intellectual-property (IP) rights through World Trade Organization trade rules so that manufacturers in poorer countries can make their own vaccines locally. India and South Africa have been leading the charge, which would essentially mean that deep-pocketed pharma companies like New York-based Pfizer, for instance, would have to hand over the keys to the kingdom, allowing local companies in New Delhi and Johannesberg to make generic versions of their vaccines.

Unsurprisingly, the debate has gotten fiery, with passionate arguments emerging both for and against.

More Show less

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What are the Russians up to against Ukraine?

We simply don't know, except the fact that they're concentrating a huge amount of military forces. And you don't do that for nothing or for fun. They are there for a purpose, to have pressure or to undertake limited to larger operations. We simply don't know. And when Putin delivered his State of the Union speech the other day, he didn't say a thing about this. They are now talking about withdrawing the forces. But let's wait and see. They have talked about withdrawing forces from Syria for a long time, but we haven't seen that as of yet.

More Show less

Australia rips up Belt & Road deal: Australia cancelled two 2018 deals signed between Victoria, Australia's wealthiest state, and the Chinese government, that committed the two sides to working together on initiatives under China's Belt and Road infrastructure development program. Foreign Minister Marise Payne said that the agreements "were adverse to our foreign relations." Similar deals between Victoria and institutions in Iran and Syria were also abandoned by the Australian government this week, under a 2020 law that allows Canberra to nullify international agreements struck at local and state level. (Australian universities say the "foreign veto bill" amounts to "significant overreach.") Meanwhile, Beijing hit back, calling the move "unreasonable and provocative," and accusing Canberra of further stoking divisions after a series of escalatory moves by both sides that have seen China-Australia relations deteriorate to their worst point in decades. Chinese investment in Australia dropped by 62 percent last year, a massive blow for Australia's export-reliant economy.

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal