According to the AFP, fresh polling shows President Zelensky’s popularity has dropped precipitously among the Ukrainian population, with numbers showing that general trust has dropped to 62% compared to 84% one year ago.
This is perhaps why Zelensky was generally described as agitated at various points in an end-of-year Q&A session he gave Tuesday before an international press pool in Kyiv. At one point, he responded flatly to a BBC reporter’s question about whether he thinks Ukraine is beginning to lose the war with a curt “no.” Here’s how things went from near the start of the presser:
Next, Zelensky is asked a series of seemingly complex questions on domestic politics, one of which is about the possible creation of a government of national unity, which would include technocrats—unelected leaders who are picked for their expertise.
The president seems visibly irritated by the questions and keeps shaking his head and frowning, saying they are too long and confusing.
“You’re talking too much,” he says. “I want you to ask a specific question.”
And yet, despite everyone knowing the proverbial writing is on the wall and that Ukraine has made no gains and is already running out of ammo, with US funding set to dry up by December 30, Zelensky reiterated his refusal to negotiate and to press on with his aim of seeing Ukraine return to its pre-2014 borders.
This would, of course, mean wresting Crimea from Russian military control, something seen by pretty much all war observers as an impossibility. Zelensky stressed that it’s only on the terms of Ukraine’s own peace proposal that a ceasefire can be achieved. “The further Russia withdraws, the weaker it is,” he at one point stressed.
He said elsewhere that he remains confident that Washington will stand by Ukraine even as foreign defence funding for next year is held up by holdout Republicans in the US Congress and is anything but certain. “We are working very hard on this, and I am certain the United States of America will not betray us, and that on which we agreed in the United States will be fulfilled completely,” Zelensky said.
There was also this interesting moment, which a year ago would have been unthinkable for the Western press corp to ask, and strongly suggests he’s on the ropes politically and in popular opinion:
A CNN Portugal journalist is up now, asking Zelensky if he’s concerned about the prospect of Ukrainians “splitting up” both in their support for him and for the war.
The Ukrainian leader says unity is his country’s biggest “weapon”, and jokes that it’s “homemade”.
He says sticking together has helped Ukraine, and its people, stay strong since the war began.
On whether support for him as president is dwindling, Zelensky says he can only tell the reporter that it’s been an “honour” to hold the role. He adds that if some people don’t like how he’s doing the job, “that’s normal”.
Zelensky also in the press conference again mentioned that the Gaza crisis has by and large taken the globe’s focus away from Ukraine’s plight and Russian crimes. Zelensky has recently complained that this is “Russia’s goal” – to take the global focus away from the Ukraine war.
In most cases, it depends on us. If we don't lose our resilience, if we don't lose our spirit, we will end the war sooner. You can live with skepticism, but you can also f* a country with skepticism. I am not ready for the latter. – Zelensky pic.twitter.com/9NO7jpqoLv— Maria Drutska 🇺🇦 (@maria_drutska) December 19, 2023
Strongly suggesting that these are indeed desperate times, the Ukrainian leader further said he’s mulling the possibility of mobilizing an additional 500,000 reserve troops. But already Ukraine is sending older men to the front lines, and even calling up priests to fight in some cases.
Increasingly, mainstream media has become more realistic about Ukraine’s prospects. A November Wall Street Journal article, for example, urged that it’s time for the West to end its “magical thinking about Russia’s defeat”. This will inevitably mean peace negotiations which won’t be favorable to maintaining Ukraine’s territorial integrity.