May 20 marks the fourth anniversary of Volodymyr Zelensky’s inauguration as Ukraine’s president. Speaking to Sputnik, Nikolay Azarov, a veteran politician with over 20 years of experience in Ukrainian politics under his belt, opened up on Zelensky’s political origins, his disastrous tenure in office, and his unenviable future.
Nikolay Azarov knows a thing or two about the inner workings of Ukraine’s politics. First elected to parliament in 1994, the politician quickly proved his mettle as an administrator, becoming an advisor to the cabinet of ministers in 1995, tapped to serve as chairman of Ukraine’s tax administration between 1996 and 2002, laboring as finance and deputy prime minister (2002-2005 and 2006-2007, respectively), and working as prime minister from March 2010 until January 2014.
Azarov presided over the most successful period of economic expansion in post-Soviet Ukraine’s history, with the nation’s GDP growing consecutively during each of his four years in office, reaching a high of $190.5 billion in 2013 (a record which was not surpassed, even in nominal terms, until 2021). His technocratic government’s strategy focused on trying to expand economic cooperation with both Russia and the European Union, while striving to expand Ukraine’s use of its domestic energy base.
Azarov became the first victim of both of Ukraine’s color revolutions – losing his job as deputy PM in early 2005 after highly charged presidential elections between then-Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and Western-backed candidate Viktor Yushchenko, and resigning from the prime ministership in January 2014, while Kiev was being rocked by the Euromaidan protests. Azarov’s resignation was meant to ease tensions between Yanukovych and the protesters, but backfired, with pro-Western political forces smelling blood, and ousting Yanukovych in a violent coup in February, several weeks after his prime minister’s departure.
Azarov knows Ukraine’s current president well enough, having served in senior positions in government while Zelensky was working as a television entertainer and comedian.
From Humble Roots as Entertainer…
Speaking to Sputnik on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of Zelensky’s inauguration as president, Azarov recalled that in his own time, he couldn’t possibly imagine that the comedian and actor could one day become president.
“Of course not, such an idea could not have even entered my mind, because I saw him at all sorts of events, parties. It was hard to imagine that an entertainer […] could suddenly become president,” Azarov said.
“But at the same time, when Zelensky, who was an absolute political unknown to me, and the rare crook and scoundrel [Petro] Poroshenko, who I knew very well, were running against one another in the elections [in 2019, ed.], I naively believed that it would be better to let a comedian be president than the seasoned opportunist and swindler Poroshenko,” Azarov said.
Azarov quickly realized that hoping for something better from Zelensky was a mistake, judging, for starters, by the kinds of people he began to surround himself with, from his appointment of political unknowns without any higher education, experience, etc. to high positions, to his move in early 2020 to replace seasoned administrator Andriy Bohdan as head of the presidential administration with Andriy Yermak, who had worked as a lawyer for Zelensky on his Kvartal 95 entertainment production company, but had no experience in government.
“Actually, his entire entourage comes from this small company, and they all began to occupy such key positions in decision-making,” Azarov recalled. This included individuals who helped Zelensky’s company in various offshore and tax evasion schemes. “I’d like to point out that Kvartal 95 paid practically no taxes. It was a shadow firm, the turnover of which was largely cash.”
Initially, Azarov thought that Zelensky and his people could be politically educated to become effective administrators. He recalled how, during Zelensky’s first months in office, he tried to provide some free, open expert advice on how to get his government running smoothly by recording and posting several videos online, but to no avail.
Synthesis of Oligarchic and Foreign Interests
“When it comes to formulating and articulating his own beliefs,” Azarov noted that the president very quickly – from his inauguration onwards, “immediately fell under very serious influence” of the US Embassy in Kiev, including both its formal and informal representatives.
“We don’t know [its exact extent] for certain, but in any case, someone’s influence began to be clearly seen in his speeches, in some of his decisions. It became clear to me that he had completely – simply totally dissolved as leader before his American advisors, or ‘partners,’ as he called them,” Azarov said.
When this took place, “completely different kinds of texts began to appear, his behavior began to change. That is, he took on a different orientation. And his presidential apparatus, having received these instructions, began to prepare different kinds of solutions to suit Western curators. Therefore to say that there was initially some kind of ‘moderate Zelensky’ is wrong. There wasn’t, and that’s the problem. He had no convictions, no understanding, nothing of his own,” Azarov lamented.
“In other words, Ukraine lost its status as a subject – which admittedly it didn’t have under Poroshenko either, but under Zelensky this began to look like a caricature, because absolutely everything – down to trifling decisions on [the appointment of] judges, prosecutors – even they began to be made only after consultations with the Americans,” the former prime minister said.
This was further complicated by Zelensky’s “unteachable” nature, according to Azarov. “That is, he didn’t master the constitution – he never read it. He didn’t delve into the essence of the laws which were adopted. In general, he didn’t understand the job that he had taken, what the work of the president is, what the work of ministers is, what the work of the prime minister is.”
How Could Someone Like Zelensky Become President?
Zelensky’s appearance on the Ukrainian political scene has several explanations, Azarov said. Not only did he make a name for himself in the eyes of ordinary Ukrainians thanks to his hit show Servant of the People – in which he played a populist politician ready to stand up for Ukraine’s interests – even against large Western-controlled institutions like the International Monetary Fund, but the country’s politics had been cleansed of all anti-American forces following the 2014 coup.
In the aftermath of the 2014 coup, it became state policy “to destroy all political opponents of the pro-American position. The Party of Regions – which had been the largest political structure…was practically destroyed. Various left-wing political structures – the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, everything living and not corresponding to the American position, everything was literally destroyed,” Azarov said. “Someone was killed, someone else left the country, someone was imprisoned. The head of our fraction in parliament, Alexander Sergeevich Efremov was imprisoned for five years without any decision by a court…Another leader of the faction was thrown from a 12-story building. We were told he committed suicide.
In this environment, Ukraine’s politics was left with slim pickings, with Zelensky’s Servant of the People party filled with exotic and outlandish individuals.
“Ukraine’s American curators understood clearly that Poroshenko had become unelectable. He ‘worked’ for five years as president, mainly engaging in his own affairs, his own business, creating a stable anti-rating of 80 percent for himself. He became unelectable.”
Other opposition leaders like Yulia Tymoshenko of the Batkivshchyna party also proved tainted. And so the choice fell on Zelensky, whose candidacy was first concocted by Dnepropetrovsk oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, who had previously helped to finance Zelensky’s work as an entertainer.
“Kolomoyskyi had a fascinating thought: ‘why not make this grifter president? And then, he will serve as a kind of ‘cardboard fool,’ through which I will be able to rule the country’? I think Kolomoyskyi was the first to have this thought, knowing his opportunistic nature. And this idea seemed worthy to the American curators as well, since it was clear that they would be able to take this material in for processing and mold it into whatever they wanted.”
The West’s control over Ukraine is now divided into multiple dimensions, according to Azarov, with the Americans focusing on big ticket items like weapons supplies, financing the regime, and molding its political orientation, while “special operations,” such as intelligence collection, terrorist attacks, etc. are likely the MI6’s domain. “Because the British have been sitting in Ukraine firmly for a long time, and the Americans are trying not to get into the dirty business of explosions, murders, and so on too closely. The British have nothing to lose, compromising themselves completely a long time ago” in this regard.
From Entertainer to War Criminal
During his first several months in office in 2019, Zelensky briefly appeared ready to entertain the idea of a peaceful resolution of the long-running Donbass crisis, expressing support for the so-called Steinmeier Formula, named after then-Foreign Minister of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier and meant to get the ball rolling on the territory’s reintegration into Ukraine in exchange for broad, constitutionally-mandated autonomy. Zelensky’s musings sparked a major backlash in Kiev, with opposition forces backed by ultra-nationalist thugs gathering in the capital and other large cities to stage “No to Capitulation!” protests and threatening to oust him if he did not reject peace. Zelensky quickly reneged, with the Donbass crisis dragging on, and escalating dramatically beginning in late 2021 as Moscow accused Kiev and NATO of preparing to resort to a “military solution.”
Azarov believes Zelensky’s transformation from a harmless entertainer to wartime president responsible for war crimes in Donbass is a banal matter, and that when he began to enjoy the financial fruits of his position, he forgot whatever other motivations may have driven him.
“Look, this is business as usual. I think that when he began to receive the income he got from his position, his breath stole into his goiter. Because instead of destroying the scheme of corruption that Poroshenko had created in Ukraine, Zelensky came to head it up,” the former PM said.
“Today, decisions wind up on his table, and he calmly approves them, without delving into their essence. Poroshenko at least pretended to be worried about the victims. In a well-known interview, he said that ‘the souls of dead soldiers pass through my office.’ I don’t know who came up with this…but he uttered it and even tried to shed a tear. He was a liar, of course, but a unique one. But Zelensky doesn’t even bother with this. Throughout this year-and-a-half long conflict, I have never heard any words of sympathy from him. One would expect not words, but real deeds from him showing his concern, but there hasn’t been anything like this,” Azarov said.
Zelensky’s ‘Unenviable Future’
“It’s absolutely clear to me that so long as this regime is in power and is propped up by the Americans and the British, Ukraine will only continue to be destroyed. An American researcher has said that the population of Ukraine has fallen to below 20 million people. I don’t know how he calculated it, but he gave examples that, according to the UN, 8.5 million have left for Europe alone. Add to this three to four, maybe five million who have left for Russia. Add here 12.5 million from Crimea and the southeast, which is now outside Zelensky’s control. In total that’s about 25 million. We had 42 million people in or around 2014. That is, through such simple arithmetic, we see that this figure of less than 20 million is accurate,” the politician calculated.
“Even the Great Patriotic War, which moved through Ukraine like a steamroller, did not result in such depopulation. What does this say? It says that neither Zelensky nor his entourage care whatsoever about this issue. He is ready to carry out the instruction that Boris Johnson gave during his visit to Ukraine – to fight to the last Ukrainian. Moreover, this war has witnessed the violation of all of the absolute rules of warfare by the Zelensky regime,” Azarov said, pointing to the deliberate targeting of civilian settlements in Donbass.
“War is war, and there are always casualties. Therefore, when military facilities are being shelled, no questions arise. But when residential areas are shelled and, moreover, shelled on purpose, instead of by accident, as sometimes occurs, this indicates that these people are absolutely not interested in it and don’t care about it,” Azarov said.
Ultimately, Azarov believes that Zelensky does not consider Ukraine to be his home country, but rather an “instrument” to be used for the sake of profits and popularity abroad.
“We have already gone through this with Yushchenko, whom the Americans hauled through European countries in exactly the same way, with standing ovations and applause everywhere. Why was Yushchenko applauded? Only because he came to power illegally as a result of the Orange Revolution, and because he was an anti-Russian president.” Five years later, Azarov recalled, Yushchenko lost the presidential election and faded into history after receiving less than 10 percent of the vote.
The same fate awaits Zelensky, Azarov believes, since notwithstanding the information war, and the constant hammering of propaganda into the minds of ordinary Ukrainians on a daily basis, a significant percentage of the population will always retain a measure of common sense, resulting from the fact that what’s being said in the media space doesn’t match up with their lives and material well-being.
“That is, people themselves compare how they used to live and how they live now. Therefore, any propaganda always comes into conflict with the real facts. Moreover, now that there have been so many deaths, so much devastation, so many have been disabled, this conviction –no matter how it is being drummed into people, that they are defending their homeland – any normal person will ask the question: ‘listen, why are we defending our homeland by having the Americans give us money, give us weapons, and so forth’? Therefore, Zelensky’s future is unenviable – that’s an absolute certainty. And any prospect for resolving this conflict excludes Zelensky,” Azarov concluded.
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