Alexander Vershbow Talks Ukrainian Elections, Reforms and Zelenskiy
13 April, 2019

We got a chance to speak to the former Deputy Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Alexander Vershbow at the Kyiv Security Forum 2019, which took place on April 11-12. The issues we touched on include the presidential elections, the favorite Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his plans, how the Western world will adapt to potential change in leadership, as well as the importance of reforms.

Vershbow believes the first round of the elections is considered credible and it is a great achievement for Ukraine. At the same time, he expressed concern at the fact that Zelenskiy remains a mystery to the people both in Ukraine and abroad.

There are questions about why he has proposed the referendum on NATO when it's already been settled in terms of the Constitution. Does this imply any differences between him and [Petro] Poroshenko and other leaders on the future destiny of Ukraine?

Vershbow also noted that “the basic idea of having a referendum is a democratic procedure. It's up to Ukraine to determine whether it's appropriate.” Western partners will accept any decision on the part of Ukraine, but it seems logical that Ukraine enhances its defense mechanisms in the face of Russia’s growing threat.

The diplomat also did not write off Poroshenko’s chances in the second round of the presidential elections because “ten days is a long time in politics and if the debates take place they could shake things up a little bit in either direction.”

READ MORE: Rebecca Harms on What the EU Expects from Ukraine's Presidential Elections

He mentioned that the U.S. government was already preparing itself for the new head of Ukraine both at home and in Ukraine. Thus there should be no extended period of miscommunication in case of Zelenskiy’s victory.

Vershbow also declared that there is a general disappointment in the West due to the loss of momentum on reforms in Ukraine.

The main thing is we need to see much more commitment to reform across the party lines. There can't be this sort of partisanship that has contributed to this deadlock on so many important reforms. That's where the new president can hopefully strike some kind of grand bargain with the leaders of all political parties (or the majority of them). To have a broad pro-reform coalition so this time Ukraine will succeed where it has repeatedly failed in the past.