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Declining Popularity Threatens Zelensky’s Grip on Power, Says Kyiv Mayor

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Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko has delivered a sharp critique of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, asserting that Zelensky’s popularity is on a downward spiral due to his perceived mistakes, ultimately jeopardizing his political standing.

In a candid interview with the Swiss news website 20 Minutes, Klitschko, a former heavyweight boxing world champion and a longstanding political rival of Zelensky, expressed concern about the president’s increasing isolation and autocratic tendencies.

“People see who’s effective and who’s not. And there were and still are a lot of expectations. Zelensky is paying for mistakes he has made,” Klitschko remarked, indicating a growing dissatisfaction with the president’s handling of the 21-month war and a failed Nato-backed counteroffensive.

Despite opinion polls indicating that support for both Zelensky and the fight against Russia has dipped, they still hover above 60 percent. Klitschko, however, criticized Zelensky for ignoring warnings about the Russian invasion in February 2022, contributing to the near-capture of Kyiv by Russian forces.

“People wonder why we weren’t better prepared for this war. Why Zelensky denied until the end that it would come to this,” Klitschko asserted.

Zelensky’s opponents have intensified their criticism in recent weeks, accusing him of mishandling the counteroffensive, failing to combat corruption, avoiding a scheduled presidential election in March, and diminishing international political goodwill.

Former Zelensky adviser Oleskiy Arestovych has even advocated for initiating talks with the Kremlin to end the war, a proposal firmly rejected by Zelensky, who has pledged never to negotiate with Russia.

Klitschko echoed the sentiment of Ukraine’s military commander-in-chief, Valery Zaluzhny, that the war has reached a stalemate, a viewpoint that irked Zelensky, who urged military leaders to focus on fighting rather than engaging in politics.

While Klitschko predicts Zelensky’s eventual loss of power, he emphasizes the importance of not changing presidents while Ukraine is still at war with Russia. He acknowledges the crucial role the president plays but maintains that accountability is paramount.

In a parallel story in Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, Klitschko reiterated his criticisms of Zelensky, describing the president as isolated, with the two rarely meeting despite their proximity in offices.

Klitschko highlighted the significance of local self-government as the only independent institution preventing Ukraine from becoming an autocratic state centered around Zelensky. He credited regional mayors and governors for resisting Russian attacks in the initial weeks of the war.

Despite the challenges, Klitschko noted that Kyiv faces renewed assaults by Russian drones targeting energy and power infrastructure. While the city’s air defense systems intercept most drones, the increased population this year, including half a million refugees, strains Kyiv’s resources.

As Ukraine grapples with internal dissent and external threats, Zelensky finds himself under scrutiny, and Klitschko’s remarks reflect the broader sentiment of a populace disillusioned by the handling of the ongoing conflict and its ramifications.

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