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Is Zelensky a Legitimate President for Peace Talks?



The ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia has raised questions about the legitimacy of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s role in peace negotiations. Russian President Vladimir Putin recently visited Belarus and publicly questioned whether Volodymyr Zelensky has the authority to negotiate on Ukraine’s behalf.

 

Zelensky assumed office in May 2019 after winning the presidential election. His five-year term was supposed to end on May 20, 2024. However, the situation in Ukraine has been far from stable. The Russian invasion in February 2022 led to martial law being imposed, which effectively banned elections during this period. Zelensky’s term has thus been extended due to the ongoing conflict.

 

Ukrainian legislation prohibits holding elections during martial law. Given the state of war with Russia, it would require amending the law to hold new presidential elections. Zelensky’s decision not to call for new elections while the country is at war aligns with this legal framework.

 

Putin’s remarks in Minsk highlight the issue of legitimacy. He stated that they must be “completely sure” they are dealing with legitimate authorities. While Zelensky’s term has technically ended, his continued leadership has been recognized by international actors. The European Union, the United States, and other countries have engaged with him as Ukraine’s legitimate president.

 

Russia has put forth preconditions for peace talks, including retaining the territory its forces have taken since the 2022 invasion. Zelensky has rejected these conditions, emphasizing Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The question of legitimacy adds complexity to negotiations, but Zelensky’s stance reflects the urgency of resolving the conflict.

 

An international peace conference on Ukraine is scheduled for June in Switzerland. Notably, Russia has not been invited, and Putin has dismissed the conference’s importance. Zelensky’s participation in such talks remains crucial, regardless of the legitimacy debate. The focus should shift from questioning his legitimacy to finding common ground for lasting peace.


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