Apr 21, 2019

Comedian known for playing president on TV wins Ukrainian election

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.

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Biden formally secures Democratic presidential nomination

Joe Biden speaks at Delaware State University's student cente on June 5. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Former Vice President Joe Biden became the formal Democratic presidential nominee on Friday evening, per AP.

The big picture: Biden has been the presumptive frontrunner to take on President Trump since Sen. Bernie Sanders suspended his campaign in early April.

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Scoop: German foreign minister to travel to Israel with warning on annexation

Heiko Maas. Photo: Michael Kappeler/picture alliance via Getty Images

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is expected to travel to Israel next week to warn that there will be consequences if Israeli leaders move forward with plans to annex parts of the West Bank, Israeli officials and European diplomats tell me.

Why it matters: Israeli and European officials agree that if Israel goes ahead with unilateral annexation, the EU will respond with sanctions.