Ukraine's first lady questions if Zelenskyy will run for president again as the war-torn country weighs whether to hold an election at all
- The Ukrainian first lady, Olena Zelenska, isn't sure her husband will run for reelection in 2024.
- The Ukrainian election is complicated by the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia.
While Ukraine debates whether or not to hold its next presidential election as Russia's invasion drags on, Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska told CBS she isn't sure if her husband will run for a second term in 2024.
While being interviewed on "Face the Nation," Zelenska said the political aspirations of her husband, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, have not consistently garnered her personal support. But, she said, if he ran for a second term, she wouldn't feel as reluctant as she did during his first presidential bid.
"Even when he ran for the first time, I didn't fully endorse it," Zelenska told CBS correspondent Margaret Brennan. "But if he runs again, if he runs for the second time, if he decided it is necessary — well, we have some experience, we've been there."
She added that she wasn't sure he would run at all, especially given the uncertain state of elections in the country.
"It will also depend whether our society would need him as a president, if he will feel that Ukrainian society will no longer wish him to be the president, he will probably not run," Zelenksa said. "But I will support him whatever decision he takes."
With nearly one-fifth of Ukraine occupied by Russian forces, millions displaced by the war, and tens of thousands of citizens serving as soldiers, holding a free and fair election would be "virtually impossible" and "ill-advised," according to Ukrainian officials and election experts who spoke to the Washington Post.
"The Russians are pushing for this through their secret channels," a Ukrainian official told the Post, adding that holding a 2024 presidential election would be risky and harmful for the country. "There is no situation in which it is possible to have a democratic election during the war."
The push for democratic Ukrainian elections
Russia has been holding "sham elections" to install members of the Russian ruling party in occupied Ukrainian territories. Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, has called the Russian elections in Ukraine "illegitimate," and the Council of Europe called them "a flagrant violation of international law," Insider previously reported.
Still, some US officials, including Senator Lindsey Graham, have been publicly pushing for Ukraine to hold its presidential election as scheduled in March of 2024, following the same timeline as it would typically occur if the war wasn't ongoing.
"I realize the Ukrainian Parliament must approve this and the security environment to conduct an election would be challenging," Graham said in a statement made in late August. "However, I cannot think of a better investment for the stability of Europe than helping Ukraine survive as an independent, self-governing, Rule of Law-based democracy. I would encourage all of Ukraine's allies to help provide the financial and technical assistance to support this effort."
A senior Biden administration official told the Post that the White House is "not pushing them to have an election."
While the Ukrainian first lady's statement seems to indicate Zelenskyy has not yet decided whether he will run for a second term, the Ukrainian president said late last month that he would be open to announcing and holding elections in 2024 if the country's allies provided security and logistical support, Reuters reported.
Representatives for Ukraine's Central Election Commission and the US State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Insider.
Kremlin predicts Putin's continued political success
Russia's next presidential election is also set for 2024, though it remains unclear whether the country will hold formal voting proceedings.
Earlier this month, Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for the Kremlin, said that President Vladimir Putin has not yet decided whether he will run, Insider previously reported.
Peskov, in early August, said Russia "theoretically" doesn't need to hold presidential elections because it's "obvious" that Vladimir Putin will win "with more than 90 percent of the vote."
Despite Peskov's apparent certainty in Putin's continued political success, Kremlin officials want to exclude politicians under age 50 from campaigning against him to prevent the 70-year-old from looking weak.