Source: Vladimir Frolov, The Moscow Times

Original Text has been edited

Volodymyr Zelenskiy is the new president-elect of Ukraine. This is a fresh political reality for both Ukraine as well as Russia. About the upcoming president's first 100 days, 39 percent expect a reduction in utility rates, 35 percent expect bills on lifting immunity from deputies, judges and the president, and 32 percent expect an investigation into high-profile corruption cases. 57 percent of Zelenskiy voters support Ukraine joining the EU, and 37 percent are pro joining NATO. The second greatest "geopolitical demand" is neutrality (37 percent) and that Ukraine refrains from membership in any integration associations (30 percent) i.e. that Ukraine maintains international subjectivity. This is generally good news for Moscow: there will be less hysteria and greater chance of negotiation. However, it also presents bad news: it will be impossible to steamroll Zelenskiy, the comedian-turned-president, to suit Russian terms.

Perhaps, it is more accurate to read Zelenskiy’s electoral mandate as a demand to completely dismantle state capture, oust those that had appropriated the state institutions of the corrupt elite, bring about true equality of all citizens before the law, and abolish privileges.

What is important for Russia is whether Zelenskiy's election will lead to an improvement or deterioration in Russian-Ukrainian relations. At the very least, Zelenskiy will divest himself of Poroshenko’s toxic baggage in terms of relations with Moscow, although the latter always upheld secret communication channels with the Kremlin by way of Viktor Medvedchuk.

This creates a particular window of opportunity, which would not exist should Poroshenko have been re-elected. Moscow has no intention of slamming this window shut before it becomes clear what winds will blow through it.

Moscow will simply accept and take heed of the election results and will continue to monitor the signals given by the new leadership in Kiev. From what Zelensky publicly touched upon during his campaign, there is potential for a step-down in aggressive rhetoric and the establishment of a more relaxed atmosphere for the discussion of, for example, normalizing transport links (reinstating direct flights, and cargo transit), lifting certain sanctions, and access to certain markets. To a large extent, this would duplicate the example of the successful post-war normalization of relations with Georgia. Needless to say, a return to the pre-2014 days and the "brotherly relations" between Russia and Ukraine is out of the question.

Zelenskiy will not be able to recognize Russian sovereignty over the Crimea (although he did declare that Crimea has de facto been lost to Ukraine and he has no intention of fighting Russia over it). Zelenskiy has also called for lifting the artificial restrictions on the use of the Russian language in Ukraine (which includes lifting the ban on access to Russian social networks and the restriction on cultural exchanges).

Should these steps be taken, it will go some way to breaking the ice and will be duly appreciated by the Kremlin. But this positive agenda comes with limitations. It is inevitably contingent on progress being made on the Donbass situation and would collapse again should irreconcilable differences arise around implementing the Minsk agreements.

Based on what Zelenskiy said about the Donbass, it is clear that he has only a vague understanding of the details of the agreement.

Indications that there could be a direct dialogue between the leaders of the republics quickly reverted to a familiar tack: talks with Moscow should take place in the presence of Western mediators, and the Normandy format should be remodeled to include the United States and Great Britain in a "Budapest style format". This, albeit possibly well-intentioned stupidity, signals to Moscow that it is fair to expect that Zelenskiy will attempt to reject agreements that have already been reached, which in itself may provoke a crisis.

Going forward, Zelenskiy's adherence to the Minsk negotiation process is untenable ("all the anti-Russia sanctions are linked to it"), and Zelenskiy would not implement the Minsk agreements as interpreted by Russia:

In all likelihood, Zelenskiy will not implement the Paris summit agreement  reached by the Normandy Four on achieving the "Steinmeier formula" i.e. holding elections in the republics under a special law and granting the DLNR special status on a temporary basis on the day the elections are held, and then on a permanent basis after the OSCE can confirm the integrity of the elections.

Zelenskiy's team continues to reject a tight schedule for the implementation of the Minsk agreements (Moscow would like it to coincide with the local elections in Ukraine in the autumn of 2020).

Fulfilling the Minsk agreements is Moscow’s direct interest, because it has secured  Minsk II in the UN Security Council resolution. The "full Minsk II" is still a win-win situation for Russia even if the agreement is not implemented. The implementation of Minsk II allows Russia to maintain influence and achieve its goals in Ukraine by peaceful means. Moscow has no reason to reject Minsk II, especially since neither Kiev nor the West are putting forward any new "big deals"

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