For the past three months, Ukraine has been in the global spotlight amid growing fears that Vladimir Putin is preparing to unleash a dramatic escalation in his undeclared eight-year war against the country. Russia has surrounded Ukraine from the north, east and south with more than 120,000 troops while demanding guarantees that the West is blocking Kiev’s NATO bid and effectively condemning the country to geopolitical wasteland.
As Putin’s thinly veiled threats hint at Europe’s biggest conflict since World War II, the international community has responded by engaging the Kremlin in intense diplomatic dialogue while providing Ukraine with urgent supplies of defensive weapons. . Meanwhile, journalists from around the world flocked to Kyiv as Ukraine became the main international news story.
It would be reasonable to assume that Ukraine’s domestic political agenda has also recently been dominated by the imminent threat of a full-scale Russian invasion. However, this is not the case. Instead of mobilizing the country’s many different political forces to unite against the Kremlin, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has spent much of the past few months pursuing divisive policies that risk weakening the country while strengthening his own grip on power.
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One area of concern is the lack of significant progress in much-needed judicial reform. Despite multiple public pledges to advance this key reform, Zelenskyy has been unable to advance the long stalled process. The most recent setback came in early February with a third consecutive failed attempt to approve a new anti-corruption prosecutor despite all the required procedural steps being finalized months ago. Critics blame that lack of progress firmly on the president’s desk.
President Zelenskyy’s anti-oligarch law is another indication of a consolidation of power that threatens to undermine political competition by granting the president-controlled National Security and Defense Council the power to determine exactly who an oligarch is. . Some aspects of media ownership law have serious implications for freedom of expression. Once in force in May 2022, the legislation will potentially allow Zelenskyy to muzzle Ukrainian media.
There are already alarming signs of unwanted interference in the news sector. While efforts to counter Russian disinformation are widely recognized both in Ukraine and by the international community as necessary, there have also been attempts to target individual journalists following Zelenskyy’s criticism. Criminal charges against a number of TV stations have also raised eyebrows.
By far the most dangerous development in recent months has been the growing political tension between the current authorities and the country’s opposition forces. In January 2022, former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko was charged with treason in connection with the coal trade of Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine while in office.
Poroshenko is Zelensky’s main political rival and is widely tipped to run against him in 2024. Although specific details of the charges against Poroshenko have yet to be made public, the prosecution of a key contender for the presidency has been widely condemned as politically motivated.
Other politicians have also been targeted by the authorities. The State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) recently interviewed members of the parliamentary group linked to former Speaker of Parliament and critic of Zelensky, Dmytro Razumkov. Following criticism of Zelenskyy by the Holos party, I was recently summoned for questioning by the SBI on party-related activities dating back to 2020.
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The timing of these developments is of particular concern. Why would the president of a nation besieged by a military superpower turn on his domestic adversaries? Whatever the motivations behind President Zelenskyy’s policies, his recent actions compromise national security at a critical time for Ukraine.
By taking steps that call into question his commitment to Ukraine’s democratic development, Zelenskyy also risks weakening the resolve of the international community to support the country against Russian aggression. Ukraine’s international partners have consistently affirmed that their continued support reflects their support for the historic democratic transformation underway in the country. In this moment of acute danger, it is more crucial than ever to demonstrate the credibility of Ukraine’s democratic credentials.
I believe the time has come for all Ukrainian political forces to unite against the threat of a full-scale Russian invasion. We must put aside political squabbles and personal rivalries as we face the challenge presented by Putin and his ultimatums. The national interest must come before any individual agenda.
If we are not united, Ukraine will not be strong enough to defend itself. Every Ukrainian politician must ask themselves two key questions before making a decision: will this unite or divide Ukrainian society? Will it strengthen or weaken the country?
Ukraine has made historic progress in nation building in recent years, but that journey is far from over. Russia is clearly determined to reverse Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic choice and seeks to intimidate the international community with the threat of a major European war.
For Ukraine and the wider democratic world, the stakes in the current confrontation could hardly be higher. As the country’s survival as an independent state is threatened, Ukraine urgently needs national unity.
Kira Rudik is leader of the Holos party and a member of the Ukrainian parliament.
The opinions expressed in UkraineAlert are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Atlantic Council, its staff or its supporters.
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