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Zelensky showing ‘authoritarian traits’, says Swiss intelligence report

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky addressing Swiss parliament
While Swiss parliamentarians agree that support should be given to Ukraine to defend itself, some have tempered this with the need for democratic reforms. © Keystone / Peter Klaunzer

Ukraine is at a “critical point” in its democratic evolution as it heads towards presidential elections in 2024, says a confidential assessment by the Federal Intelligence Service.

The assessment, written in the wake of the attempted mutiny in Russia by the Wagner mercenary group and seen by the newspaper NZZ am Sonntag, claims that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is attempting to politically eliminate his biggest rival, Kyiv mayor Vitaly Klitschko, ahead of next year’s election. The claim, it added, is based on “credible intelligence.”

“In his attempt to eliminate Klitschko politically, Zelensky is showing authoritarian traits,” write the report’s authors. “It is very likely that Western states will exert pressure on the president and his entourage in this regard.”

+ Swiss president stresses solidarity in talk with Zelensky

The report, according to the NZZ, was circulated a day before the Swiss government was to discuss the sale of Leopard 1 tanks to Germany for use in Ukraine, a proposal that it eventually rejected.

Ulrich Schmid, a professor of Eastern European studies at the University of St. Gallen, told the newspaper that Zelensky had nothing to worry about for his re-election.

“Since his courageous decision not to leave Kyiv in the face of the Russian attack, he enjoys a lot of credit among the population,” he said. But, he added, some of the ingredients for democracy in the country were missing. “What are the prerequisites of a functioning democracy?” said Schmid. “Independent parties and a free press. Neither is present in Ukraine at the moment.”

“This development is not surprising [as] wars strengthen the executive,” said the professor.

The Swiss foreign ministry and defence ministry declined to comment on the confidential report, said the NZZ.

Support tempered by criticism

Publicly Zelensky has enjoyed broad support from Western countries, including Switzerland, since Russia invaded Ukraine. The Ukrainian leader addressed the Swiss parliament by video link three weeks ago, an event that the People’s Party boycotted. While all parties agree that support should be given to Ukraine to defend itself, some parliamentarians have tempered this with the need for democratic reforms.

“[Our] solidarity is not with [Zelensky] as a person or a political party, but with the Ukrainian people who are under attack,” said Cédric Wermuth, co-president of the Social Democrats. “There are good reasons to criticise Zelensky’s domestic policy, especially from a left-wing perspective.”

Damien Cottier, a parliamentarian with the Radical-Liberals, told the NZZ: “It is important to make it clear to the government in Kyiv that as soon as the war is over, free and fair elections must be held immediately.”


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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR