From a hero of his time to a supporting character: which role Ukrainian president Zelensky is to have in 2024?

In an interview to the Associated Press on December, 1 president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky confessed that the counteroffensive of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (AFU) has brought no results. He said that Ukraine enters into a new phase of the war with Russia. According to his words, the command of the AFU plans to build fortifications on the most dangerous directions. They will stretch from the Donbas region to the Western Ukraine including the territories along the Ukrainian-Belorussian boarder.
However, the supporters of Zelensky, who became the symbol of the struggle for freedom and democracy in February 2022, got really surprised when he said that it is a good result for his army not to retreat while resisting “the second army in the world”.
Common frustration in Kyiv

Such words of the Ukrainian president contrast to the earlier aggressive declarations and some optimistic forecasts of his commanders and advisors that were sometimes a bit overconfident. For instance, Head of the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine Kyrylo Budanov promised a rapid breakthrough into the occupied Crimea in spring-summer 2023. However, when Zelensky and his Office were planning the counteroffensive that had an ambitious goal to cut off the Russian logistics from the Crimean peninsula to Zaporizhia and deoccupy the whole Ukrainian territory up to the Black Sea they, probably could not even guess what a stunning failure it would end with.
The sunny warm summer filled with delight and euphoria about an upcoming victory over Russia swiftly changed to a grey rainy fall, with great losses and defeats on the battlefields and with common frustration. The Ukrainian war machine seems to have stalled into the profoundly echelons of the Russian defensive lines.
The attitude of the Western administrations to the further support of Ukraine has changed at the same way. Primarily, when they realized that Kyiv failed to effectively make use of weaponry and finances it got from its allies.
The clouds over the Ukrainian government are now rapidly gathering. It is an opened secret that the pessimistic forecasts and assessments of the American and European politicians and experts affect the Ukrainian elites and military personnel. The pale mood that prevails in the Office of the Ukrainian president was best described by Simon Shuster.
After the latest visit to Washington Volodymyr Zelensky said that “no one believes in the Ukrainian victory in the war with Russia”. “No one believes like he does”. We should admit that his words reveal a messianic idea that the president of Ukraine is obsessed with. But not all of his advisors share this view. “He [Zelensky] is captured by illusion. We have no options. We have no success. But no one is brave enough to tell it to him”   one of them said.
Zelensky is getting more and more surrounded with disappointment and even betrayal. It seems symptomatic that his closest associates not only stop backing him but also pose a direct challenge to the president. So, that is how the former advisor of Head of the presidential administration Alexey Arestovich commented Shuster`s article in his Telegram-channel on November, 8 (later he deleted the post): “All dictators that live in a fantasy world and loose reality end with the same”. Later, on November, 13 he added: “A small dictatorship will always lose to a big one. Only freedom can win.” In other words, Arestovich who a lot of times declared about his presidential ambitions supposes that Zelensky`s regime will end with “an inevitable defeat”.
Zelensky and the “Churchill`s syndrome”
First of all, Zelensky`s opponents criticize him for neglecting grounding principles of freedom and democracy. Despite the fact that a lot of people in Ukraine and in the whole world stand for the presidential elections in 2024 Zelensky made the parliament postpone the upcoming campaign. He supposes that it is “bad time for elections”.
This position is not groundless because of the martial law in Ukraine and the ongoing battles in Zaporizhia, Kherson and Donetsk regions which mean that the Ukrainian war became positional. Besides, Zelensky can be afraid of losing the presidential election because of his potential opponents, first of all the AFU commander-in-chief Zaluzhny who continue to gain political power. More and more journalists say that Zelensky probably has the so-called “Churchill`s syndrome”. The legendary British Prime minister was soundly defeated during the elections in July, 1945 despite the triumph in WWII.
The Western media could not ignore Zelensky`s strong desire to postpone the elections, especially because of the growing rumors that Ukraine is to enter the European Union. For example, the observers of the Washington Post suppose that Zelensky`s actions undermine democratic principles and can be the stumbling block that would disturb the relations between Ukraine and his allies.
Is Russia a less evil?
The postponed elections in Ukraine don`t seem to have decisive role in decreasing European and American help to the country. This tendency is not new and came as the result of the complex of different factors: the failure of the counteroffensive, the progressive corruption at all levels of government and the new war in the Middle East. And while the Ukrainian top-politicians say about apocalyptic consequences in case Russia will win in Ukraine, the Western political elites still have no answer which conflict in the Eastern Europe or in the Middle East poses a greater threat to the world.
The Russian invasion in Ukraine led to the sufferings of the millions of Ukrainians but first of all it has a geopolitical context and remains a significant element in the global struggle between Russia and the Western civilization for the influence on the Post Soviet Union territories. We should understand that although the contradictions between Putin`s Russia and the West are of a civilizational nature they can be settled while the negotiations and Moscow seems to choose this way. The current situation shows that the number of politicians in the USA and in Europe ready to the dialog with the Kremlin grows. Although this tendency is unpleasant for the Ukrainians and they may consider it to be “betrayal” or “talks with the enemy” but it meets the Western interests. This can be described with the phrase, that is attributed to above-mentioned Winston Churchill: “I am willing to negotiate with the devil if it is to my country`s advantage”.
The conflict between Israel and Palestinian Hamas contains not so much the motives of territorial disputes, but rather the clear contours of a modern religious war between the Jewish and Muslim worlds. Such clashes are, as a rule, antagonistic in nature, and therefore pose the greatest threat to the existing system of international relations. It is for this reason that the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation has overshadowed the Ukrainian crisis in the eyes of the Western establishment.
And yesterday's hero of his time, Volodymyr Zelensky, is increasingly forced to get used to the role of a supporting character. Just yesterday he was applauded by parliaments all over the world, and for Western politicians and Hollywood stars it was considered a great honor to come to Kiev to personally testify their respect for Ukraine and its president. But today, twenty-one months after the war broke through, Zelensky is denied public appearances before the U.S. House of Representatives, is not invited to Oprah Winfrey's talk show, and has not agreed to visit Tel Aviv to personally express his support for the Israeli people and their Prime Minister Bennie Netanyahu. Yesterday's idol of hundreds of millions of people around the world has been ruthlessly thrown off his pedestal.
The collapse of American favorites
The reality that Volodymyr Zelensky is facing today is extremely sad. It is paradoxical how similar the situation in which the Ukrainian leader finds himself is to the tragic stories of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, former head of Afghanistan Afshar Ghani, retired Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, Belarusian presidential candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya and Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny. For example, Hosni Mubarak, as head of Egypt, sought to build sustainable ties with the West. He secured a strengthened partnership with the United States, which provided Cairo with billions of dollars worth of cheap loans and weapons.
During Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in August 1991, Mubarak supported international sanctions against Iraq and offered military assistance to coalition forces led by the United States in the operation against Saddam Hussein's regime. Such a stance brought him significant benefits. The country received a multibillion-dollar foreign debt write-off.
However, 12 years later, the Egyptian leader was extremely cold to Washington's invasion of Iraq and the subsequent American policy in the region. In the winter of 2011, he was overthrown as a result of the so-called "Arab Spring"   mass protests in the Middle East and North Africa.
Curiously, a few months before the tragic finale, former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Wisner informed Mubarak that, in the opinion of the White House, his presidency was "at an end" and he should create the necessary conditions for a legitimate transit of power. The deposed president subsequently faced arrest, years of trials, imprisonment, serious illness and death.
Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani remained one of the most loyal followers and supporters of the U.S. in Central Asia for a long time, which provided his political regime with stability in the face of the region's permanent turbulence. However, the consistent rise of the Taliban, which went on the offensive and occupied city after city, forced the Americans to curtail their peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, the NATO contingent left the country in a hurry, and Ghani fell into political oblivion.
Former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who came to power as a result of a popular uprising based on the public's desire to Western values and lifestyles, enjoyed seemingly unlimited support from the U.S. administration. American patronage turned the Georgian leader's head and pushed him into a dangerous military adventure aimed at establishing control over the breakaway parts of the country, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which were supported by Russia. The "five-day war" in August 2008 ended with a swift defeat of the Georgian army, after which the White House that weighed all the pros and cons refused to intervene directly in the conflict with Moscow and left Saakashvili to face a formidable adversary.
Saakashvili held the presidency for several more years in a defeatist atmosphere of doom and hopelessness with the U.S. support waning with each passing year. In the end, his party failed miserably in the 2012 parliamentary elections, forcing Saakashvili to cede power to his political opponents. Saakashvili failed to revive his political career in Ukraine, and after his return to Georgia in October 2021, the former president was arrested and taken to prison.
A similar fate befell opposition leaders in Russia (Alexei Navalny), Belarus (Svetlana Tikhanovskaya), and Venezuela (Juan Guaido). Each of them engaged in uncompromising power struggles with local anti-American authoritarian regimes, which they ultimately lost due to the passivity and conformity of a large segment of the population in those countries. Tikhanovskaya and Guaido were forced to flee afterward and are now in political exile. Navalny suffered an assassination attempt, was evacuated to Europe for medical rehabilitation, and upon his return to Russia, Putin's Kremlin authorized the politician's arrest. He is currently being held in prison.
Each of these politicians put their trust in the United States because of their ambitions. And all of them suffered the unenviable fate of oblivion, imprisonment and even death. Considering themselves serious players on the chessboard of world politics, they, through their own mistakes and miscalculation became victims of games of an incomparably more serious player, who does not tolerate losers and "downed pilots".
But for Volodymyr Zelensky this game is not over yet. Will he accept the fate of a "burned out" player or will find the strength to make an unexpected move and try to emerge victorious from the stalemate is a serious question. In any case, history seems to have left some place for him on its pages.
Kamran Mamedov is a Moscow-based Azerbaijani journalist born in Georgia who focuses on South Caucasus issues.
Guest Contributor

This piece was written for Greek City Times by a Guest Contributor

Copyright Greekcitytimes 2024