What's left to call Zelensky a dictator?

Vladimir Zelensky was elected president of Ukraine in 2019 promising an end to hostilities against the country's rebel regions and the normalisation of relations with Russia. Ukraine had been in civil war for five years, triggered by the deployment of army troops against the populations of Donetsk and Lugansk after they rebelled against the coup d'état that overthrew an elected president and imposed a dictatorship on the country.

Neo-Nazi massacres

These two regions, which have an ethnic Russian majority, had been the worst affected by the coup. Viktor Yanukovich, the overthrown president, had received the majority of votes in the Donbass, in the south-east of Ukraine, where a large part of the population is Russian. One of the new regime's first measures was to ban the Russian language from the education system: previously ethnic Russians had the right to be educated in their own language, now a language alien to them has been imposed on them. The broadcasting of radio and TV programmes in the Russian language was banned. Demonstrations were called with slogans such as ‘Yanukovych is our president!’. To quell discontent, the new regime sent in troops accompanied by neo-Nazi paramilitaries, causing massacres such as the House of Trade Unions in May 2014 in Odessa, where around 50 opponents were burned alive. The inhabitants of Donetsk and Lugansk responded by organising people's militias and holding referendums where the majority decided to secede from Ukraine because they didn't want to be subjected to a hostile regime that oppressed them and had already suppressed the anti-Golpist movement in Odessa and Kharkov by force. Then war broke out.

Political parties banned

When Zelensky came to power, the dictatorship had already been consolidated. Opposition parties such as the Party of Regions (the largest in the country until the coup) and the Communist Party (the second largest) could neither organise freely nor take part in elections. Donbass citizens who refused to recognise the new regime were already officially considered terrorists and those who fell prisoner were tortured and killed. Alexander Kharitonov was arrested. Lyubov Korsakova had to flee to Russia, where she was still the victim of an assassination attempt. I spoke to both of them in 2022. They are just two of thousands of victims of repression in the Donbass. Around 15,000 people have died as a result of Kiev's aggression since 2014.

Neo-Nazi battalions operating freely, massacring

Neo-Nazi battalions like Azov, Aidar and Tornado, as well as far-right organisations like Praviy Sektor and Svoboda, operated freely and were even incorporated into the Ukrainian state - into the army and official politics, with members in parliament. Meanwhile, the opposition was absolutely exterminated. In 2021, three major opposition TV channels (112 Ukraina, NewsOne and ZIK) were closed down. Censorship affects radio and TV stations, print newspapers, websites and social networks, including Youtube channels. The censorship is ‘worthy of the worst authoritarian regimes’, denounced the European Federation of Journalists in 2023. The country's largest religious community, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, was outlawed by parliament in October last year.


Today, in addition to the Party of Regions and the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the Progressive Socialist Party (of Kharitonov and Korsakova), the Union of Left Forces, the Socialists, the Opposition Bloc, Justice and Development, State, OURS and Vladimir Saldo's Bloc, among others, are illegal. The SBU (the Ukrainian political police) justifies the bans by accusing these parties of having ‘carried out anti-Ukrainian activities, promoted war and created real threats to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine’. Many opponents of the regime and the war are in prison, such as the pacifist Bogdan Syrotiuk and the communist brothers Mikhail and Alexander Kononovich.

A Democracy???????????????

Despite all these dictatorial measures, censorship, the persecution and imprisonment of opponents, the outlawing of political parties and religious bodies and the dominance of openly Nazi forces, Ukraine is considered a democracy by imperialist leaders and the Western media monopoly. All these obvious violations of democratic freedoms have been concealed or at best minimised over the last ten years.

Freedom House, the US government-funded organisation that carries out an annual assessment of the state of democracy around the world, sees nothing wrong with the banning of a dozen opposition parties in Ukraine and puts the censorship of freedom of expression and religion into perspective.

The Ukrainian government is not as guilty as the ‘Russian invasion’, even though it only took place in 2022, while in the previous eight years all freedoms had already been suppressed in Ukraine.

The most recent item on the Ukrainian regime's list of arbitrary actions was the expiry of Zelensky's mandate on 20 May without new elections having been held. The Ukrainian constitution mandates that they take place every five years and, in fact, they should have taken place in March of this year. However, the government claims that the martial law in force since February 2022 does not allow elections to be held while it is in force. As a result, the parliamentary elections, which were due to take place in October 2023, have also been postponed indefinitely.

International coverage

In general, international coverage in the world's main media has been silent on this issue. The few stories that mention the expiry of Zelensky's mandate argue that martial law prevents elections from taking place. This is a falsification of Ukrainian legislation. The country's constitution mentions the rights and duties of the president and explains how elections work in many of its articles. Chapter V, on the country's presidency, mentions the possibility of the president leaving office before the end of his term, but there is nothing about extending the presidential term.

In its only mention of the expiry of Zelensky's mandate, CNN aired a live conversation between anchor Paula Newton and Kiev correspondent Nataliya Gumenyuk, in which the latter tried to justify the extension of Zelensky's mandate by saying, among other things, that the constitution was written at a time when nobody imagined that a war would happen. For the law, even more so for a country's constitution, what counts is what is written down. If the constitution provides for a five-year presidential term and does not provide for an extension, then it is unconstitutional.

The German DW consulted Ukrainian lawyers to interpret the constitution, instead of consulting the Ukrainian constitution itself. Of course, these jurists said that Zelensky could remain president. After all, he's the darling of the international press - because he's the darling of the US government. Zelensky may imprison opponents, close down TV channels, make parties illegal, persecute priests and massacre entire populations on the border with Russia, but he is a champion of democracy. Zelensky is not Maduro or Ortega to be mocked in the international press.

A branch of the American press, Rede Globo obviously also had to come out in defence of Zelensky. G1 published a story that sought to justify the unconstitutional continuity of the Ukrainian president in every paragraph, while O Globo said that questioning Zelensky's legitimacy was nothing more than Russian ‘war propaganda’.

The unidirectional angle in the press coverage is no accident. The agenda was delivered, as always, by the US State Department, with the following guidance from Secretary Antony Blinken at the beginning of the month: the elections will take place ‘when the Ukrainians agree that the conditions allow them to take place’. Everyone who understood the message knows that Blinken meant ‘when we (the Americans) agree’.

It's not just because the March elections weren't held that Zelensky is an illegitimate president. Every Ukrainian president since 2014, when Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown by a far-right coup, is legally and constitutionally an illegitimate president. The regime born out of the 2014 coup is a dictatorship and the president is chosen from among the administrators of that dictatorship, with no real opposition. But Zelensky seems to be opening a new chapter in the history of the Ukrainian dictatorship: by breaking with electoral formality, he is trying to perpetuate himself in power. This will certainly cause discord with other sectors of the regime, who want to remove him from power without changing the regime's dictatorial structure.

But since Zelensky is the darling of the United States, the European Union and NATO, and since they are the ones who really run the Ukrainian dictatorship, he should have at least momentary success. Imperialism needs to keep Zelensky at the head of the government, otherwise a change could further destabilise the regime, which would affect the army's performance on the front line and could anticipate a military defeat for Russia. And defeat for Russia would be the worst nightmare for imperialism, which has already made public its willingness to fight ‘to the last Ukrainian’.

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Author`s name Eduardo Vasco