Task Force Update: Ukraine Has A New President

Russian propagandists have thrown many slurs at Ukraine since Vladimir Putin’s invasion in 2014. Especially prominent among them in the lead-up to the presidential election has been the claim that Nazi sympathizers and fascists run Ukraine. While anti-Semitism, unfortunately, still exists in Ukraine, Ukraine ranks as the least anti-Semitic country in the region. Moreover, the country’s election this past Sunday effectively refuted that egregious and unfounded accusation of supposed rampant anti-Semitism in Ukraine. The victory of Volodymyr Zelenskiy, together with the fact that current Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman is Jewish, makes Ukraine the only country outside of Israel with Jewish leaders in the top echelons of government.

More broadly, Ukraine’s election was peaceful and orderly. I observed it in Kyiv as co-leader of the International Republican Institute’s (IRI) election observation mission. The first election I observed in Ukraine was in 1998. It is a serious understatement to say that Ukraine’s democracy has made enormous strides. The major international observer missions–OSCE ODIHR, IRI, and NDI–gave Ukraine a generally good bill of health for the conduct of the campaign and election day. This, too, flies in the face of Kremlin propaganda.

That the incumbent, Petro Poroshenko, debated Zelenskiy on stage two days before voters went to the polls stands in contrast to anything Russian voters have seen under Vladimir Putin. That Poroshenko lost by a huge margin and did not rig the outcome likely sends shivers down the spines of Putin and his Kremlin cronies. That Poroshenko quickly conceded minutes after the polls closed showed grace and an acceptance of the norms of the democratic process–something unheard of in Moscow. Ukraine’s election, in other words, stands in stark–and very positive–contrast to any in Russia.

As our partner Detector Media notes in its regular assessment of Russian television shows, the Kremlin continued right up to the run-off to seek to discredit the very idea of the election. Propagandists repeatedly argued that the vote was rigged and illegitimate while disparaging the two candidates in the second round. Even more absurdly, commentators insisted that Ukraine commits aggression against Russia, denying the recognition by the international community that Russia is the aggressor in Ukraine.

The Task Force dashboard also revealed a number of outlandish Kremlin claims and exposed ongoing threats and accusations leveled against various Ukrainian officials. The dashboard quickly debunked the false allegations and disinformation, including reported threats of violence (there was none in the election), major malfunctioning of the voting process (voting ran largely smoothly), and supposed Western interference.