Who Is Volodymyr Zelenskiy?

Who Is Volodymyr Zelenskiy?

Over the past three years, voters in every region of the world have turned to political candidates and parties that offer transformative change. The list includes Brazil's Bolsonaro, Mexico's Lopez Obrador, Italy's Five Star Movement and Lega, Pakistan's Imran Khan and, of course, Donald Trump.

As Ukraine moves toward presidential elections this spring, a similar wildcard figure has emerged. Meet Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comic actor known to millions as the guy who plays Ukraine's president on television. Zelenskiy is now preparing a run for the real job, and outsiders better take him as seriously as his establishment rivals do.


Here's what you need to know:

The TV star: Zelenskiy became a TV star in Ukraine about 15 years ago. He has used his show "Evening Block" to mock politicians for many years. On a show called "Servant of the People," Zelenskiy played a school teacher who becomes Ukraine's president after his online tirade against corruption goes viral.

The man of the people: To separate himself from politicians he derides as pompous elites, Zelenskiy makes a point of never wearing a jacket. After announcing his candidacy, he pledged to hire a full team of campaign workers who have no political experience. He posts artfully amateurish videos of himself on his Facebook page talking about his hopes for Ukraine's future.

The nationalist?: Zelenskiy's supported the 2014 Maidan protests against Russian-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. After Russia invaded Crimea, Zelenskiy shut down his largest business in Russia and refused to perform there in the future.

The peacemaker?: He has pledged to solve problems based on public polling rather than his own convictions–and to sit down with Vladimir Putin to end the war in Ukraine's eastern provinces if voters told him to. This makes some in Ukraine, particularly the more anti-Russian western regions, nervous because Zelenskiy's first language is Russian and he still has business ties there. This leads some to suspect that Zelenskiy might sell out Ukrainian interests, especially because he has also expressed disdain for attempts to move Ukraine closer toward Europe.

The puppet?: Rivals have accused Zelenskiy of being the frontman for an exiled Ukrainian oligarch, Ihor Kolomoisky, who wants to avoid criminal charges of plundering the assets of a privatized bank. It remains unclear who'll pay for Zelenskiy's campaign.

The media man: Supporters and critics alike credit the on-camera experience and media savvy of Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump for much of their political success. Zelenskiy is likewise a master of media, and therefore a formidable opponent for establishment politicians. He's also using social media much more effectively and aggressively than his rivals.

The bottom line: Ukraine's conflict with Russia has essentially been frozen for the past several years, and its March election offers voters a chance to decide how they want their country to move forward. Zelenskiy has a legitimate outside shot at winning the presidential election, and his appeal for voters in pro-Russian regions means he's a candidate that outsiders—in Europe, Russia, and elsewhere—should be watching closely.

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Ian Bremmer shares his insights on global politics this week with a look at the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, Delta variant woes, and Lebanon one year after the Beirut blast.

An Olympian refuses to return home to Belarus and an anti-Lukashenko activist has been found dead in Ukraine. What's going on?

Yeah. That anti-Lukashenko activist was found hanged in a park in Kiev. Once again, not exactly likely a suicide. These anti-Lukashenko activists have a way of turning up injured or dead. It's a horrible regime. Their friends are limited largely to the Russians. That's about it. The economic pressure is growing from Europe, from the United States, very coordinated. But the problem is a very hard to do much to Lukashenko when he has not only support of his military, but also the support of most of the workers in the country who aren't prepared to strike because they want to ensure they still have jobs. I expect this is going to continue, but human rights abuses are stacking up. It is nice to see that the Americans and the Europeans are coordinating policy as well as they have been.

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Since then, Lebanon's already-dire economic and financial crises have only intensified. The Lebanese pound, the national currency, has plummeted, losing 90 percent of its value since 2019, when the country's economic crisis erupted. And more than 50 percent of the population is now living below the poverty line.

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The flurry of activity comes after earlier concerns that President Joe Biden was neglecting Southeast Asia, the region where US-China rivalry is the most intense. To understand better what Austin's visit meant, and what comes next, Eurasia Group's lead Southeast Asia analyst Peter Mumford spoke to us from Singapore.

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