The Joke’s Over: an Assessment of Ukraine’s Comedian President

Volodymyr Zelensky provided plenty of laughs in Ukrainian comedy Servant of the People, but who knew he would then become President of the Ukraine four years after the show hit our screens? Zelensky was elected in a two-round presidential election between 31st March and 21st April.

His character in Servant of the People soared to popularity after a YouTube video of him went viral, where he ranted about Ukrainian politics to one of his teaching colleagues. Throughout the show, he always finds a way to triumph, despite the uphill opposition he faces from his rivals who expect him to fail. Zelensky, whose political party is named after the hit TV series, stunned the world after winning the presidential election on a populist manifesto this year. The joke is over, but the show must go on. It is time to assess how Ukraine’s comedian President is performing now that he has had a taste of reality.

Zelensky is particularly keen to end his country’s war with Russia. This manifesto pledge has been greeted with international enthusiasm. French President Emmanuel Macron told him that peace talks may be possible after the Ukrainian President made his first official visit to France. This could be achieved through the Normandy format, which involves Zelensky, Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Furthermore, the Russian News Agency reported the Kremlin is ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the new President, although Putin wants more clarity from Zelensky about what his policy towards the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that Kiev must fulfill the agreements reached in the Normandy format before negotiations commence between the two countries. Although the Russian leader has publicly mocked the Ukrainian President’s acting talents, it is refreshing to see that a new face in Kiev has brought Moscow back to the negotiating table. But with President Trump now inviting the comedian President to Washington, this will provide Zelensky with leverage in the upcoming discussions.

A lack of NATO protection was one contributory factor that made it easy for Putin to invade Ukraine in 2014, which is why Zelensky is correct to make joining the alliance one of his top priorities. Now that he has support from Trump, this will help make it easier for Ukraine to join. If he can succeed in persuading NATO to allow his country to enter the club before the Russian-Ukrainian negotiations begin, this will provide the comedian President with further leverage.

Rather like his fictional character in Servant of the People, Zelensky has a common touch. He recently met with families of seamen captured by the Russians and assured them that they will be released soon. As part of his efforts to clean Ukrainian politics, he has informed them that a draft law will soon be legislated that provides the captured crew with the status of combatants. This is the effort of a true statesman and the new President has not shied away from this challenge.

The greatest obstacle Zelensky faces is passing his legislation through the Verkhovna Rada, or the Ukrainian parliament. This is why calling a July snap election was one of the smartest moves the comedian President made following his inauguration. With his popularity riding high in the polls, he has an opportunity to ensure that his Servant of the People party sweeps into power to enable him to legislate his popular policies. These include lifting immunity for judges and the President, having judges elected by the people and confiscating the property of those guilty of corruption.

Considering he was a comedic actor, Zelensky has proven he is a serious politician. His actions so far have imitated those of his main character in his TV show. The July elections will vindicate if he has earned the people’s trust and if he wins, he has a mandate to become a true ‘servant of the people.’