Ukraine’s presidential election: Comic relief

Until satirist Volodymyr Zelensky burst on the scene, the March 31 presidential contest looked to be a straight fight battle between incumbent Petro Poroshenko and opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko.

Tuesday, March 26, 15:00 UK / 11:00 EDT

The March 31 presidential election in Ukraine comes five years after Russia annexed Crimea and began assisting rebels in eastern regions of the country. Little has changed on either front: a new bridge across the Kerch Straits has consolidated Russian control of the Crimean peninsula, and the conflict in the east has settled into a stalemate frequently punctuated by gunfire. 

Ukraine sits in limbo between a Europe that is favourably disposed but cannot absorb this kind of state and Russia, which would love to reassert control but has alienated its near neighbour. US and EU sanctions imposed because of Moscow’s behaviour towards Ukraine are also in stasis, too piecemeal to make Russia change its ways but showing no signs of relaxation. 

Its domestic politics further complicate the question of what to do about Ukraine. Kyiv has delivered on some reforms, but not enough, and a democratic process is in place -- marred by the influence of powerful interest groups. 

Until Volodymyr Zelensky’s recent rise as a candidate, the presidential contest looked to be a straight fight between incumbent Petro Poroshenko and opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko. 

Neither is new to the scene, and neither is without question-marks over their pasts. Voters knew what they would be getting by keeping Poroshenko or swapping him for Tymoshenko: more of the same, more or less

 Now they have a chance to vote for something completely different. At least that is what Zelensky is promising. He plays a character in a TV serial that uncannily reflects his real-life persona: an ordinary man elevated to the presidency by accident, who proceeds to take on the oligarchs and the establishment.

 Zelensky is certainly not a conventional establishment politician. As he pulls away from the other two candidates in the opinion polls, he merits closer scrutiny. Is he an innocent abroad who like his screen character is winning by accident? Or is he (as some suspect) the face of a campaign as beholden to political and business interests as any other?

 On March 26, Oxford Analytica will hold a client conference call to discuss the candidates and the likely outcomes of the election, in which a second round looks almost inevitable.

 Join us to put your questions to our experts: 

  • Andrew Wilson, Professor of Ukrainian Studies at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University College London 
  • Sergei Souglobine, an independent political risk consultant and long-term Oxford Analytica contributor based in Ukraine 
  • Andrew Savchenko, an Oxford Analytica contributor who writes frequently on Ukraine and its neighbours 

Ukraine’s presidential election: Comic relief

An Oxford Analytica Conference Call

Tuesday, March 26, 15:00 UK / 11:00 EDT