Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a frosty response to comic Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s landslide election as Ukraine’s new president, with the Kremlin saying it was “premature” to offer congratulations on his victory.
“Moscow respects the choice of the Ukrainian people, especially since this choice is very obvious,” though it’s too soon to consider possibilities for Putin and Zelenskiy to work together, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “It’s possible to judge only on concrete actions,” he said.
While the untested political novice’s resounding defeat of outgoing President Petro Poroshenko came as a relief in Moscow, the Russian leadership has reserved judgement on what the newcomer’s victory will mean for relations after five years of conflict over Putin’s seizure of Crimea and the Kremlin’s backing for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Zelenskiy, 41, gave little away about his policies during the campaign other than a promise to “break this system” by sweeping away corruption. He pledged to bring home Ukrainian prisoners captured in the fighting and to revive the stalled Minsk process for ending the conflict.
Russian PM Dmitry Medvedev urged the comedian to show “common sense” in repairing relations that were poisoned by the Crimea crisis and Moscow’s support of the rebels in a war that’s killed 13,000 people since 2014.
Zelenskiy has “chances of improving cooperation with our country,” Medvedev said. “For this you need honesty and a pragmatic and responsible approach.” His arrival in power may breathe new life into efforts to resolve the crisis in eastern Ukraine “through a constructive dialogue between Moscow and the West,” former Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said.