The news portal Politico published an interesting — although perhaps somewhat morbid — question: What would happen if Volodymyr Zelensky was eliminated by the Russians?
According to Politico, in the week following the invasion, there were at least a dozen serious assassination attempts against Zelensky, citing Ukrainian advisor to the president Mykhailo Podolyak. Although his claims have not been independently verified, the situation in Kyiv is reportedly calmer these days.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has previously stated that the Ukrainians have contingency plans to ensure the government continues to run if the country lost its leader but did not offer further details.
The Ukrainian constitution stipulates that the president of the parliament would take over the baton. The post is currently held by Ruslan Stefanchuk, who, however, does not have the same level of support as Zelensky, neither among the Ukrainian public nor among the lawmakers.
“But I don’t think that matters. There is a strong leadership team, and I think we would see collective governance,” the Politico article quotes Adrian Karatnytskyi, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.
“The country has achieved a very significant degree of solidarity and national unity, so if something terrible were to happen to Zelensky it would not be as decisive as we think,” said Karatnytskyi, adding that the possible death of the president would definitely come as a huge shock to Ukrainians.
Other officials have been floated as possible replacements for the Ukrainian leader. In addition to Stefanchuk, Andriy Yermak, Zelensky’s current chief of staff, a former film producer and lawyer, as well as Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, could also play important roles in a new government leadership team.
Command of the army would likely remain in the hands of Chief of Staff Valery Zaluznyi. Karatnytskyi would also like to see Szerhij Pritula, a former television personality who became well-known and respected for his charity work, in some leading role as well.
If anything, Zelensky’s death could likely lead to a sea change in the attitude of Western allies. Many Ukrainians had a low opinion of Zelensky before the war and are familiar with his faults and weaknesses; however, the West has lionized him and promoted him across the press as the savior of Ukraine.
While Zelensky’s death could strengthen the resolve of some Western nations, others may increase Ukraine’s new leadership team, which would have less political capital, to come to the negotiating table, according to a team of experts questioned by Politico.