After the publication of my review of his insightful biography of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, author and political analyst Serhii Rudenko generously accepted my invitation to respond to a few questions for this blog.
In the aftermath of the war launched by Vladimir Putin on February 24th, the offices of the television station where he worked became a bomb shelter. He has moved to another region, which suffered the recent Russian onslaught. The coming winter will undoubtedly be extremely difficult for Ukrainians, but Mr. Rudenko’s resilience and determination to pursue his work is immensely commendable.
I consider myself privileged to be in touch with him and to present you with the content of our discussion.
Mr. Rudenko, in your book, you depict an administration with a lack of political experience and a very high turnover level. Has the situation stabilized since the beginning of the war?
Yes, it has stabilized. In the conditions of war, Zelensky had to choose the most optimal and effective people. Now we see around the President of Ukraine a team that governs the state in the conditions of war. Hardly anyone in the world has such experience in governing the state. It is not easy.
Zelensky wanted to be the president of peace, but he was forced to become the president of war.
Who are the strongest / most competent collaborators of President Zelensky actually?
Today, I would single out several people whom I consider the strongest in Zelensky’s team. These are the Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Valerii Zaluzhnyi, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba.
Compared to his predecessor, the current President of Ukraine didn’t have many affinities with the military world prior to his entry in politics. How has it affected his response to the war?
Zelensky did not serve in the army. Until 2019, he had no idea how this whole military machine works in our country. Zelensky wanted to be the president of peace, but he was forced to become the president of war. Fate decreed that he became the leader of the courageous Ukrainian people in the war with Putin. Zelensky had to become the president of khaki, and now he looks quite organic in the status of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief.
Zelensky’s relationship with the military has not always been easy. How is he perceived by the soldiers and the officers now?
We are fighting. Today we are more united than ever. The army with the president. The president with the army. The people – with the people and the army. We have only one enemy today – Russia, which wants to kill us all. We will not allow them to do this.
I assume you must have met with President Zelensky in the past. How is he at the personal level?
I met Zelensky neither before his presidency nor since he came to power. However, I know almost everything about him, because I am a political analyst and I analyze his actions, statements, achievements, and defeats quite thoroughly. For me, Zelensky is more important as a political leader than as a person with whom you can drink coffee or have a nice conversation.
The best thing is that Zelensky knows how to learn.
What are Volodymyr Zelensky worst shortcomings and what are his best qualities in your opinion?
The worst thing is that he trusts his team a lot, even when he doesn’t have to. The best thing is that he knows how to learn. Zelensky learned to be president quite quickly.
If there had been no great war, we would never have known what Zelensky is capable of.
The comparison between Volodymyr Zelensky and Winston Churchill is probably the most pertinent historically. Without World War II and his leadership during that conflict, Churchill probably would have been a minor figure in history books. Do you think the same applies to President Zelensky regarding the war in Ukraine?
If there had been no great war, we would never have known what Zelensky is capable of. Obviously, he would now be fighting for the right to run for a second presidential term. With the outbreak of a large-scale war, Zelensky has turned into one of the leaders of the modern world. Whether we like it or not, he is already a historical character. The character who was destined to accept the challenge from Vladimir Putin.
What is the current level of approval towards President Zelensky?
He is a central figure in the country. He is the number one person not only in Ukraine. He is one of the leaders of the world.
Only the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Valeriy Zaluzhnyi can compete with Zelensky in the next presidential election.
Politics is the universe of the unexpected. But what could we expect of the 2024 presidential elections? Is Dmytro Razumkov still in the race?
I believe that today only the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Valeriy Zaluzhnyi can compete with Zelensky in the next presidential election. With Ukraine’s victory in the war with Russia, he can compete for the presidency. I am very doubtful about Razumkov’s prospects today.
Are you working on another book and, if so, can you tell us what it will be about?
I am finishing the book The Battle for Kyiv. This is a story about the events of February-March 2022 when the Russians tried to take the Ukrainian capital. The book contains the stories of people who participated in the defence of Kyiv and the story of how they fought with Putin’s army. Sometimes these stories look like fiction. But there is no fiction in the book. All the characters in the book are real. I have known almost all of them very well for decades. They are politicians, journalists, public figures, and singers. I hope readers will like the book not only in Ukraine but also in the world.
Thank you very, Mr. Rudenko. Be safe.
Serhii Rudenko’s book, Zelensky: A Biography, is published by Polity Books and is an excellent idea for a Christmas gift for the relative or friend who is interested in current affairs.