Foto: Emil Filtenborg

The story about President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his former top ally Dmytro Razumkov is developing into a drama perfect for the big screen. In a new survey, former Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Dmytro Razumkov would win a head to head presidential election against Zelenskiy.

Over the past year, the relationship between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his former top ally, Dmytro Razumkov, has grown increasingly sour. In a new survey by the Razumkov Centre, which usually does relatively solid opinion polls but might be a little harder to trust in this regard, Razumkov is set to beat Zelenskiy, should there be a presidential election tomorrow, reports Interfax-Ukraine.

I many ways this is a regular news story about differing political views inside the Ukrainian government, but it has a poetic ring to it. It’s more a story arc, than a developing news story. It is tempting to describe it with terms as ‘crescendo’ and ‘point of no return’. The story has a dramatic quality. Not dramatic like a thriller, but actually dramatic. Like an old Italian opera.

The most obvious place to start is the beginning. In the spring of 2019, political shooting star Volodymyr Zelenskiy entered world politics as he in dominant fashion bested his opponent, Petro Poroshenko, who at the time was the President of Ukraine. Shortly thereafter, the party organisation behind Zelenskiy, Servant of the People, stormed into parliament in the elections taking an absolute majority.

The man behind the scenes

The atmosphere in Ukraine was hopeful. Among NGO’s, Western partners and the millions of voters, there was a genuine hope that Zelenskiy would be the man to take a large step towards ending the war with Russia and clearing out the state government of corruption. For a long time, at least half a year, Zelenskiy was a media darling. Zelenskiy, a former comedian, enthralled and inspired people with quick remarks and promises of peace and prosperity.

But behind him, standing a little away from the press’ speedlites and microphones, Dmytro Razumkov had been standing all the time. As one of the founders of the Servant of the People Party, and a staunch ally to Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Razumkov was one of the most central figures. His ideas largely formed the ideals of the Servant of the People, which he was chairman off until he was appointed to the post of Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada.

Dmytro Razumkov is a professional politician. He holds a degree in international relations from Taras Shevchenko University in Kyiv, has previously worked for an MP and has done political consulting for years. In December, two years ago, Fokus Magazine named Razumkov the 7th most influential man in Ukraine. Above him was the president, his chief of staff, the prime minister, the prosecutor general, oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskiy and the head of the Security Service.

Together with then prime minister Oleksiy Honcharuk, Dmytro Razumkov formed a reformist backbone in the Servant of the People Party, which due to the enormous victory in the parliamentary elections had a lot of first timers in the ranks. But nothing lasts forever.

Trouble brewing

In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Ukraine. Around the same time, the Zelenskiy Administration had their first government shuffle. Primeminister Honcharuk left office and was replaced with Denis Shmyhal. Other reform friendly heads was also pushed out of office. Razumkov remained in place.

That spring, they pushed through two essential reforms. One, ending the moratorium on the sales of ariable land, and one reform called the Anti-Kolomoiskiy law, that would guarantee that oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskiy would never get back PrivatBank, which he used to own. The bank was nationalised following an enormous corruption scandal. Both reforms was passed, though they were tried sabotaged.

At the finish line, following these two reforms, the Ukrainians were met by IMF who awarded them a 5 billion USD loan, which the country desperately needed. To begin with, the money was needed for investments in infrastructure, but as the pandemic tightened the grip on Ukraine, they needed even more money for the practical combat against the disease, but also the losses they incurred during lockdown.

The International Monetary Fund paid out their first tranche, roughly half the amount pledged. To receive the second tranche, the Ukrainian leadership had to promise that they would not meddle with the affairs of the National Bank of Ukraine, NBU, which has been seen as one of the main successes of Ukrainian post-Maidan institutions. Shortly thereafter, former governor Yakiv Smolii of the central bank resigned citing pressure from the president.

Cooling relations

This led to a cooling front between IMF and the Ukrainian leadership. IMF grew uneasy, as the head of NBU was replaced. Slowly but surely, the new head replaced the old board with new members. In the reform area, things were moving slowly, and Zelenskiy – at least publicly – was losing patience with the anti-corruption process. He launched an initiative that would spark a bitter conflict between Razumkov and the President.

To fight off oligarchs, Zelenskiy argued, it was necessary to attack the problem head on. In February this year, Zelenskiy signed a decree sanctioning TV channels widely believed to be owned and controlled by the pro-Kremlin oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk. The sanctions were controversial, because they bypassed the judicial system entirely. The main problem was, that Medvedchuk is a politician and a Ukrainian citizen.

This decision was criticized openly by Razumkov. He saw it as an infringement on the freedom of speech. Still in a position of power, Razumkov’s words had a lot of weight behind him. The relationship between him and the president’s office kept souring gradually. In October, the Verkhovna Rada dismissed Razumkov. 284 members of the Verkhovna Rada, including 215 MP’s from the Servant of the People voted for.

Roaming threat

Had this been a play, the dismissal would be the point of no return. Many pondered what Razumkov would do now. He had pledged to stay in politics. It did not take long until Razumkov announced that he had created a new faction of MP’s. Most of the MP’s were poached from the Servant of the People Party. This leads us to the the reason for writing all this up now.

The recent poll from the Razumkov Centre cited by Interfax-Ukraine shows that Zelenskiy has turned a former ally into a very real political opponent. The serious contenders for the presidential election, if the election would be today, are Volodymyr Zelenskiy, all though he has said he would not run again, previous president Petro Poroshenko, Yuriy Boiko, Yulia Tymoshenko and now Dmytro Razumkov.

In the first round, 25.2 percent of the Ukrainians would still vote for Zelenskiy. Because of the Ukrainian electoral system, that would mean that he would face off with another candidate in a second round of elections. The most likely opponents in order are Poroshenko, Boiko, Tymosheko and now Razumkov.

Granted, Razumkov are quite far down the list and would have to gain a lot of momentum to make it into the second round. Should he make it that far, he would be the only one of the candidates who would defeat Zelenskiy. With the dismissal, Zelenskiy has created a political enemy. An enemy who knows the insides of the Servant of the People party.