Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky at a grim crossroads as regime change looms

Mayank Chhaya-

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky at a grim crossroads as regime change looms
Mayank Chayya

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky(Above photo) may once have been a professional comedian, but it is Russia’s President Vladimir Putin who is having the last laugh for now.

There are clear signs that one of the outcomes that Putin would like out of his ruthless invasion is regime change where Zelensky is ousted to be replaced by a pliable president favorably disposed towards Moscow.

Although it is uncertain whether Putin is bent upon occupying the whole of Ukraine or parts of it, what is perhaps a fait accompli is that Zelensky will not survive the brazen assault on his country from most directions. It is nobody’s case that the Russian strongman would commit so much militarily only to let Zelensky stay in power in Kyiv.

Zelensky took over as the sixth Ukrainian president in May 2019 after a campaign that seemed to have been for a lark given his background as a comedian and actor. Having won unexpectedly he has spent the last three years trying to restore some semblance of a working relationship with Putin’s Russia. Ironically, it is Putin and Russia which have turned on him decisively now.

Barely 44 to Putin’s 69 years, Zelensky is suddenly at a crossroads in his career staring at rather grim personal prospects. But for Putin too, it is not going to be an easy task to not just hold on to Ukraine but keep it under his thumb when a significant majority of its 44 million population is opposed to the Russian president and Moscow’s ways. There is wide expectation that once Moscow takes charge of the country if at all it does via even a puppet, there could be serious insurgency throughout it causing serious trouble for Putin.

It is a measure how drastically his demeanor appears to have changed in the last few days that in the immediate aftermath of the invasion he “made clear his target goes beyond his neighbor to America’s “empire of lies,” even as he threatened “consequences you have never faced in your history” for “anyone who tries to interfere with us.” He darkly said that Russia was a nuclear power almost explicitly dangling a nuclear threat to the West.

In response France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said, I think that Vladimir Putin must also understand that the Atlantic alliance is a nuclear alliance. That is all I will say about this.”

It is for the first time since the end of the Cold War that Russia has wielded a nuclear threat and a key Western nuclear power has responded in the same vein.

The question of whether Putin chooses to occupy the whole of Ukraine is too early to answer but if he does he will need a sizable number of troops—some experts say around 800,000—to maintain stability. As of now it does not seem as if he could commit that.

One significant worry in the near-term and long-term is about tough U.S. and European sanctions eating away at the vitals of the Russian economy. Once that happens much of Putin’s bluster is expected to vanish unlike now when he appears to be riding high. He cannot afford a serious weakening in the domestic Russian economy since it will have a direct bearing on his own political future.

For now, though, he has made the calculation that he would rough it out since collectively the U.S. and NATO cannot come to Ukraine’s rescue with direct military involvement since the latter is not a NATO member. It is his expectations that after initial outrage the West would settle down into tacit acceptance of his control over Ukraine.

On an unrelated but relevant front, India has generally remained on the sidelines even though Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Putin today. An official readout said Modi called for an immediate end to violence as well as “concerted efforts from all sides to return to the path of diplomatic negotiations and dialogue”.

The official statement also said it has been the prime minister’s “long-standing conviction that the differences between Russia and the NATO group can only be resolved through honest and sincere dialogue.” That is a curious assertion considering he has never been known to engage on the subject in any substantive manner.

Meanwhile, at a news conference in Washington President Joe Biden was asked whether India was in sync with the United States over Russia and Ukraine. “We are in consultation with India today. We haven’t resolved it completely,” Biden said.

Also read this: Indian American Congressmen slam Russian invasion of Ukraine, back severe sanctions

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