Kremlin-friendly political forces are advancing in Ukraine, and its leader says it is time for more gains.
The advance may surprise those who saw the protesters helping to realign the country – a frequent battleground between Russia and the West since the collapse of communism – towards Europe just six years ago. The revolution led President Vladimir Putin to annex his neighbor’s Crimea and foment war on the border of the two former allies, which continues today.
But with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy increasingly mired in a fight against the obscure political system he was elected to ban, there is a window to explore the growing disillusionment. The popularity of the Opposition Platform – For Life party, which supports stronger ties with Russia, is the greatest since protesters toppled Viktor Yanukovych, supported by the Kremlin, in 2014, while consolidating support among pro-Russian voters.
“There is no trust in Zelenskiy or his party,” said Viktor Medvedchuk, president of the Opposition Platform – For Life. Putin, who is godfather to Medvedchuk’s daughter, has supported him as his top man in Ukraine for years
“I openly say that we must follow the same path with Russia, that we must do everything to restore relations,” said the 66-year-old tycoon in an interview. “People believe it more and more.”
Medvedchuk, who was sanctioned by the US for helping to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty, focused on the Donbass conflict that killed more than 13,000 people. Zelenskiy failed to deliver on the peace promises that helped the then political newcomer to an overwhelming electoral victory in 2019, he said.
Read more: Ukraine’s leader is being broken by the system he vowed to crush
The Opposition Platform – For Life supports constitutional changes that give the separatist region more autonomy that could contradict Ukraine’s goals of integration with the European Union and NATO – a move that would likely be a professional suicide for Zelenskiy.
Despite the increase in research numbers and the the drop in popularity of the president who has already exceeded Putin’s in Russia, the Medvedchuk party controls only about 10% of seats in parliament and has little chance of being included in a national government. This aspiration was hampered by the loss of Crimea, where residents were largely inclined towards Russia.
“There is potential for further increases in support, but it is limited to 25% of voters – those with nostalgia for the Soviet Union and those who would like to live in Russia,” said Andriy Bychenko, head of the sociology department at the Razumkov Center in Kiev.
The party can still be useful for the Kremlin. In fact, he joined the oligarchs in parliament to oppose the reformist legislation needed to maintain a $ 5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.
Medvedchuk, on the other hand, often airs on television stations officially owned by his friends and associates. It is often broadcast by talking to Putin, whom he met three times this year. Taking advantage of the pandemic, he was shown receiving the coronavirus vaccine from Russia, which Ukraine did not plan to buy, while on vacation in Crimea in August – before the tests established the safety and effectiveness of the injection.
Russian influence through these channels raised red flags in Ukraine. But Zelenskiy, a former TV comedian whose programs were broadcast on a controversial billionaire’s TV station, has yet to follow through on threats of repression of media ownership.
For now, Medvedchuk is reveling in his party’s growing popularity, although he recognizes its limited scope.
“There are reasons for early elections, which would better reflect people’s interest,” he said, admitting that triggering an early vote would be very difficult.
– With the help of Irina Reznik and Stepan Kravchenko