Ukraine’s choice – “dictator Ze,” a general, or a Jesuit theologian?

11:45 21.11.2023 • Denis Baturin , political scientist

With next year‘s presidential and parliamentary elections already looming high, the issue of power dominates Ukraine’s political agenda. The mono-majority system, which President Vladimir Zelensky and his associates have created in the Verkhovna Rada, and the overall architecture of his regime will have to stand the hard test of a popular vote. Zelensky has no such desire. Therefore, no matter how strange it may sound, war-related issues, such as arms supplies, mobilization, etc., fade into the background and become a means of ensuring Zelensky’s policy of hanging on to power.

Zelensky is heading into elections against the following background:

  1. Failure of the counteroffensive and reduction in arms supplies.
  2. The need to imitate democracy in Ukraine.

As far as the counter-offensive goes, everything is clear. Not so with the arms supplies though. Supplies will keep coming in, no doubt about that, but much will depend on their volume and structure (artillery shells, air defense systems, missiles, aircraft, tanks and/or other types of weapons). Kyiv needs all of these, but now the West is either running short of these weapons and intends to redirect weapons and ammunition to Israel, or is uncertain about the future, including the delivery of F-16 fighter jets. Ukraine needs airplanes as its fleet of Soviet-era military aircraft is dwindling every day. Kyiv needs carriers of long-range missiles it stakes on, but given Russia’s superiority in the air and air defense, the lifespan of these US fighters will hardly outlast that of Ukraine’s Soviet-made planes. The only tanks left in Europe are the old Leopard 1s, which can hardly change the situation on the battlefield. The US Abrams tanks (Washington has plenty of them) can help though, especially given the Pentagon’s clear desire to renew its present fleet of Abrams tanks by dumping used ones in Ukraine. What the Americans do not want, however, are pictures of burning Abrams tanks, just like it happens to their Bradley and Striker infantry fighting vehicles. Moreover, it won’t be long before statistics on the results of the “successful counter-offensive” in terms of losses in manpower and equipment, the same “17 kilometers” that the Ukrainian Armed Forces have advanced to, pop up somewhere.

As to the second point – imitation of democracy, the situation in the run-up to next year’s elections in Ukraine is developing amid a crisis with the inefficiency of the institution of elections and legitimacy. Meanwhile, with the elections in the United States also coming up, domestic and foreign policy issues are almost completely subordinated to the interests of the rival forces in the election campaign.

Against this background, a corps of “presidents of war” (rulers) has come along: President Biden in the US, President Zelensky in Ukraine and Prime Minister Netanyahu in Israel. Each of them is heading into the election cycle, Biden and Zelensky - as planned, and Netanyahu - due to the political crisis. For each of them war is a way of maintaining power; for Biden, it is choosing the right course in relation to the Israeli and Ukrainian crises; for Zelensky and Netanyahu, it is using the war as a means to avoid elections. The scenarios are different though. For Ukraine, it might be a reboot; simulating elections with an eye to removing the “president of war” Zelensky, who has become a beggar for arms that he needs for the success of his much-trumpeted counteroffensive. This would allow the West a brether in arms supplies, and Ukraine - to shift the focus to electoral confrontation and reformatting public opinion. Besides, Zelensky is incompetent; he issued a decree banning “negotiations with Putin.” Therefore, Ukraine needs another president who will revoke this decree, or “forget” about it by burying it under new rhetoric.

If Ukraine is ordered to hold elections, then for Zelensky the outcome is obvious, but there may be options with whomever they decide to elect in his place. Public sentiment and behavioral stereotypes of the Ukrainian elite make it possible to model voting options in the presidential elections. Among the candidates who can engage in a real political fight are Zelensky himself, Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Valery Zaluzhny, and ex-adviser to President Zelensky’s chief of staff Alexey Arestovich. (i) The latter already has sponsors. Small wonder, since the remaining Ukrainian oligarchs are used to betting on several candidates at once, just in case, so that they can talk with the winner. This may also be part of electoral engineering, when one candidate is nominated only for the sake of supporting or attacking another without actually intending to win. The bottom line of Arestovich’s program, published on the social network, tallies with the election program contained in Valery Zaluzhny’s essay, carried by The Economist. (ii) However, the story of Zelensky’s presidential win ensured by voter sentiments and Kolomoisky’s money is still fresh in my memory, while neither administrative pull nor money helped Poroshenko.

However, now that Ukrainian society is obviously tired of the war, people may not vote for Zelensky, who is no longer the “president of war,” much less the “president of peace,” turning instead into the “president of defeat and death,” president of the Ukrainian “end of history.” Those who want the conflict and war to go on will vote for Zaluzhny, but only so that later there will be more counter-offensives, and, in the meantime, arms deliveries will keep coming in. As for the social fatigue caused by endless mobilization and human losses, this is exactly where the collective unconscious can factor in making people vote for the sweet talking Arestovich, a consummate manipulator bent on immersing society in a psychoanalysis session and positive illusions. As a result, Ukraine may get a new clown for president, whose evolution from the “psychoanalyst of all Ukraine” and Jesuit theologian to the next “joker of war” is also predetermined. With either option, Ukraine is destined to fight with Russia - today or tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow.

Let us get back to the main person involved. Zelensky’s tragedy is that he is still not sure what they will want from him and what they will do with him. Will the “Washington regional party committee” send him to elections with an unknown result for him, or are they going to turn a blind eye to his questionable legitimacy if the elections are nixed? It looks like Washington has no clear answer to this question either and does not exclude any possible scenario. Therefore, the option of Ukrainian elections being canceled with a nod from the West looks no less realistic than the others. Quite possibly, depending on geopolitical realities that may arise in the future, Washington may decide to create a “dictator Ze” according to the well-known formula attributed to Roosevelt: “he is a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch.”


i - Alexey Arestovich is included in the list of terrorists and extremists. On October 3, 2023, Russia’s Interior Ministry put Arestovich on its wanted list.

ii -


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