If voters in Ukraine elect television star Volodymyr Zelensky president Sunday, as seems almost certain, that should please the Kremlin, which in the course of supporting rebels in the eastern regions of Ukraine has made clear its dislike for incumbent Petro Poroshenko. Zelensky, a political neophyte who plays a teacher unexpectedly elected president in the TV show “Servant of the People,” handily won the first round of the election March 31. Polls suggest he will beat the president in the runoff by as many as 30 points, and to the Kremlin, he must seem like a much more malleable figure.
That doesn’t mean he will be. Champagne corks popped in Moscow in November 2016 when Donald Trump unexpectedly won, and he has been a major disappointment for Putin, who wanted a change in Washington’s Russia policy. Zelensky could foil the Russians in exactly the same way.
Zelensky has no policy track record. During the campaign, he avoided detailed platform proposals, media interviews or political rallies, preferring instead to let his TV persona define his image. He could make mistakes — huge mistakes — as president. But he is no dummy: He built a successful business empire, and he may not be as prone to manipulation as Putin would want.
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