NATO membership and Zelensky’s legitimacy crisis

NATO membership and Zelensky’s legitimacy crisis

The debate over Zelensky’s legitimacy weakens his position, particularly in terms of national opposition. (AP)
The debate over Zelensky’s legitimacy weakens his position, particularly in terms of national opposition. (AP)
Short Url

The Ukraine crisis continues to escalate in complexity, both militarily and politically. On the political front, NATO is maintaining a calculated stance regarding Ukraine’s potential membership. NATO officials have confirmed that no invitation to join the alliance will be extended to Ukraine at the upcoming Washington summit, echoing statements made by US officials.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated that alliance countries have not yet determined when Ukraine could join. He indicated that Kyiv must be helped to meet the necessary conditions, particularly NATO’s technical standards and operational compatibility.
Regarding membership, he said alliance leaders could give their agreement “at some stage.”
Ukraine’s NATO membership requires unanimous approval from all members — a prospect that seems distant given the current members’ positions. Kyiv’s request for expedited alliance membership, submitted in September 2022, is unlikely to materialize in the short term, if at all.
NATO’s position on Ukraine’s membership remains unchanged, linking it to the end of the current conflict with Russia. What is new, however, is a hardening within the alliance regarding the very fact of discussing the question of membership.
Complicating matters further is the question of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s legitimacy. His presidential term ended on May 20, but Zelensky’s invocation of martial law means he can justify continuing in office until new elections can be held. The 2024 Ukrainian presidential election was canceled due to the state of martial law and general mobilization. At the time, Zelensky declared that it was “not the right time” for elections.
Western support for Zelensky’s mandate continues due to the lack of a realistic alternative, despite his declining popularity. The EU and UN have affirmed his legitimacy, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov argues that Zelensky’s legitimacy expired on May 21.
The debate over Zelensky’s legitimacy weakens his position, particularly in terms of national opposition. This is compounded by reports of his declining popularity, Western discontent with the appointment of Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi as the new army commander-in-chief and deteriorating conditions on the ground.

The debate over Zelensky’s legitimacy weakens his position, particularly in terms of national opposition.

Dr. Salem Alketbi

In mid-May, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced the capture of 12 towns, mainly in Kharkiv, within a week. It reported Russian losses of more than 1,000 soldiers on the Kharkiv axis, while Ukraine lost approximately 9,565 soldiers across all fronts.
Earlier, Zelensky had described his forces’ situation in Kharkiv as very difficult.
The deteriorating situation of Ukrainian forces on the ground after two years of fighting, and after significant military and financial support from the West, is putting increasing pressure on the Ukrainian president to reach a ceasefire agreement with Russia.
This is especially true as the US presidential election approaches and there are increasing chances that former President Donald Trump will win a new presidential term. If he is victorious in November, Trump is expected to push strongly for negotiations to end the Ukrainian crisis. It will be difficult for him to continue supporting Kyiv as the Biden administration does.
Even if negotiations are accepted, Russian President Vladimir Putin is now questioning Zelensky’s legitimacy. He recently stated: “But with whom to negotiate? This is not a trivial question ... Of course, we realize that the legitimacy of the incumbent head of state is over,” while indicating the importance of dealing with “legitimate authorities” that can guarantee the implementation of any agreement.
Russia suspects that last week’s peace conference in Switzerland aimed to affirm Zelensky’s legitimacy, viewing it as a political move unrelated to the legal aspect of his legitimacy.
Realistically, organizing a presidential election in wartime Ukraine is challenging. The Ukrainian constitution prohibits elections under martial law, which was declared as part of the country’s state of war. It stipulates that the incumbent president remains in office until a new one is elected. Zelensky’s position aligns with the constitution, but Russia insists on not signing an agreement with a president whose term has ended, as it does not wish to negotiate with Zelensky in the first place.
Both on the ground and politically, Ukraine’s situation is becoming more tense despite Putin’s recent expression of a willingness to negotiate, which is based on the reality favoring Russia — something the West rejects.
There are no signs of a breakthrough in the crisis on the horizon, leading to a wait for the outcome of the US presidential election, which could determine the next steps for Ukraine.

  • Dr. Salem Alketbi is an Emirati political scientist and former candidate for the Federal National Council. X: @salemalketbieng
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view