IS ZELENSKY IN DANGER? BUT FROM WHO?
by Gennady Shkliarevsky
Many of you may have recently seen catchy headlines about Putin, who, answering a direct question of whether he intends to kill Zelensky, denies any intention to harm the Ukrainian president.
Even before Western leaders had time to react to Putin’s statement, two members of the Zelensky administration—Mikhail Podolyak, who is in charge of all media operations of the government, and Dmitry Kuleba, Foreign Minister–gave a response that can naturally be regarded as having an official imprimatur. They said that Putin is a liar and that the West should not trust his public statements.
This is not to probe the degree of trustworthiness of Putin’s words. Americans do not trust the words of their own leaders to say nothing about the leaders of other countries, especially Russia or China. This is to probe the meaning of what Podolyak and Kuleba said.
Their statements clearly indicate that if anything happens to Zelensky, it will be Putin’s doing. These statements also suggest that in case of his assassination, Zelensky will be pronounced a martyr.
We certainly should have no illusions about Putin and his government. However, one should point out that they may not be the only ones wishing to eliminate Zelensky.
According to the Independent, there have already been 12 attempts on Zelensky’s life. One certainly cannot exclude Putin as a potential perpetrator. However, one can claim with a high degree of probability that at least some of these attempts should not be attributed to Putin.
For one thing, Moscow has shown that it can effectively and quickly dispose of those it deems undesirable. It does not need multiple attempts to do so. Moreover, Moscow understands very well that its problem in Ukraine is not Zelensky; the problem lies much deeper, and the removal of Zelensky will certainly not eliminate the problem and is likely to make it worse.
At the same time, there are certainly some unprincipled and ruthless manipulators among the Ukrainian political elite who may benefit from the assassination of Zelensky. In this regard, the responses from Podolyak and Kuleba look very ambivalent or even suspicious, to say the least.
Gennady Shkliarevsky is Professor Emeritus of History at Bard College, New York.