Virtual Insanity

The New President of Ukraine Only Campaigned Online

He never once appeared in person for interviews, rallies, or speeches — but he was big on YouTube and Instagram.

4. 25. 19 by Kristin Houser
Максим Стоялов/Victor Tangermann
Image by Максим Стоялов/Victor Tangermann

Political Outsider

Ukraine’s current president is a former Parliament member who once served as the nation’s head of foreign policy, economic development, and trade.

The man the Eastern European nation just elected by a landslide to succeed him once played a president on a TV show.

And actor/comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s qualifications — or lack thereof — aren’t even the strangest part of Sunday’s presidential election.

Zelenskiy also conducted what was essentially the world’s first successful virtual presidential campaign, never once appearing in person for interviews, rallies, or speeches — a strange and troubling new example of politics in the internet era.

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Easy Going

During his four-month campaign, Zelenskiy addressed voters only through short YouTube videos, Instagram posts, and TV appearances, according to an in-depth analysis published by Politico on Wednesday. He didn’t debate his opponent until the day prior to the election, and never faced any substantial scrutiny from the press.

In fact, based on Politico‘s reporting, the campaign didn’t seem to affect Ukraine’s president-elect much at all — he continued to produce episodes of his television show, tour with his comedy troupe, and perform in variety shows.

Voters not only didn’t get a chance to see Zelenskiy campaigning in the flesh, they also never found out what exactly he planned to do if he was elected president — his entire platform seemed to be based on not doing whatever citizens didn’t like about the current state of affairs.

Russia, Russia, Russia

Of course, it’s hard to talk about Ukraine and not at least mention its neighbor Russia, which currently occupies the Crimean Peninsula as well as other parts of the nation.

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Ukraine’s lame-duck president, Petro Poroshenko, ruled on a decidedly anti-Russian platform, backing sanctions against it and supporting restrictions on trade and social contact with Russians, so it’s hard to imagine Russia isn’t at least somewhat pleased to see him replaced by a popular political outsider, one who might not pose as much of a threat to its ambitions.

And that, of course, begs the question of just how much influence, if any, Russia had on Zelenskiy’s ascent from television regular to leader of one of the world’s most politically turbulent democracies.

After all, it wouldn’t be the first time Russia allegedly helped a TV personality launch his political career — and Zelenskiy didn’t have to do much more than smile for the webcam to make it happen.

READ MORE: The World Just Witnessed the First Entirely Virtual Presidential Campaign [Politico]

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