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Ukrainian comedian and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky shows his ballot to the media at a polling station. Photo: Genya Savilov/AFP/Getty Images

Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, who plays president on a popular television show, has defeated incumbent President Petro Poroshenko with more than 70% of the vote to win Ukraine's presidential election, according to exit polls.

The big picture: This was Ukraine's first presidential election without a clear pro-Kremlin candidate, reflecting a shift for a country that has been increasingly drawn toward the West since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014. Zelensky, who lacked any sort of a formal campaign, has promised that as a fresh face on the political scene, he can shepherd lasting structural change that career politicians cannot.

  • The incumbent Poroshenko's unpopularity is tied to his failure to tackle corruption. Poroshenko has suggested the inexperienced Zelensky would be a dream come true for Vladimir Putin.

Claire Kaiser, an expert on Eastern Europe at McLarty Associates, tells Axios that Zelensky will have to build a strong national security team and send an early signal he has a handle on foreign policy.

  • "Anyone running the show in Ukraine has the dual challenge of managing the economy and finding some sort of solution to the war in the East," she says.
  • Kaiser says Zelensky hasn't sent any signals that he plans to shift Ukraine's orientation away from Europe and the U.S., so while "there will definitely be a getting to know you phase," U.S. policy toward Ukraine is unlikely to change significantly.

Go deeper

Dave Lawler, author of World
2 hours ago - World

How Biden might tackle the Iran deal

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Four more years of President Trump would almost certainly kill the Iran nuclear deal — but the election of Joe Biden wouldn’t necessarily save it.

The big picture: Rescuing the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) is near the top of Biden's foreign policy priority list. He says he'd re-enter the deal once Iran returns to compliance, and use it as the basis on which to negotiate a broader and longer-lasting deal with Iran.

Kamala Harris, the new left's insider

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Joe Buglewicz/Getty Images     

Progressive leaders see Sen. Kamala Harris, if she's elected vice president, as their conduit to a post-Biden Democratic Party where the power will be in younger, more diverse and more liberal hands.

  • Why it matters: The party's rising left sees Harris as the best hope for penetrating Joe Biden's older, largely white inner circle.

If Biden wins, Harris will become the first woman, first Black American and first Indian American to serve as a U.S. vice president — and would instantly be seen as the first in line for the presidency should Biden decide against seeking a second term.

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Large coronavirus outbreaks leading to high death rates — Coronavirus cases are at an all-time high ahead of Election Day — U.S. tops 88,000 COVID-19 cases, setting new single-day record.
  2. Politics: States beg for Warp Speed billions.
  3. World: Taiwan reaches a record 200 days with no local coronavirus cases.
  4. 🎧Podcast: The vaccine race turns toward nationalism.