Ukrainian authorities have crafted a comprehensive plan to guarantee a seamless transition of power in the event of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s death, reported Politico, citing Ukrainian officials and lawmakers.
In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of last year, persistent speculations have emerged concerning potential assassination attempts on the Ukrainian President by Russian spies.
Days after the outbreak of full-scale war, Ukrainian officials alleged that there had been numerous significant assassination attempts on the Ukrainian President by Russian sabotage and intelligence teams.
Zelensky has emerged as a powerful symbol of what the Western world perceives as a just and principled fight for democracy and national sovereignty, making him a prominent and conspicuous target for Russian spies.
In early May 2023, the situation took a darker turn when Russia’s former president openly issued a call for the killing of Volodymyr Zelensky following the Kremlin’s accusation that Ukraine had launched a drone attack with the alleged intention of targeting Russia’s current leader, Vladimir Putin.
Despite the potential threat of assassination, the Ukrainian president did not openly display apprehension or worry regarding this matter. When questioned about concerns regarding Russian assassination attempts, Volodymyr Zelensky responded by stating that he cannot afford to be preoccupied by such thoughts.
In an interview with CNN last month, the Ukrainian leader drew a comparison to Putin, who he claimed rarely leaves his bunker, stating that if he constantly dwelled on this issue, it would have a detrimental effect on him.
He highlighted that it is the responsibility of his bodyguards to devise strategies to prevent such attempts, and he personally avoids actively thinking about it.
But due to the constant threat to his life, President Zelensky’s overseas visits are planned with great secrecy. Leaks in the past have jeopardized his trips, and experts express concerns given the Kremlin’s history of assassination operations, such as the cases of Alexander Litvinenko and Sergei Skripal.
While there is a reluctance to openly discuss the matter, a contingency plan is already in place in case of any unfortunate circumstances surrounding Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky.
Under the Ukrainian constitution, the line of succession is well-defined. If the president is unable to fulfill his duties, the Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada (the Ukrainian parliament) assumes the responsibilities of the presidency.
Ruslan Stefanchuk, a member of Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, currently holds the position of Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada. Thus, if Zelensky is unable to carry out his presidential duties, Ruslan Stefanchuk will step in to assume those responsibilities.
Who Is Ruslan Stefanchuk?
Ruslan Stefanchuk, aged 47, currently holds the position of Speaker and Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, the country’s parliament.
He assumed this role after receiving 261 votes from lawmakers, with 222 of those votes coming from the governing Servant of the People Party, during his election on 8th October 2021.
Upon his election, Stefanchuk expressed his gratitude for the opportunity and acknowledged the significant responsibility of the position.
Before becoming the Chairman of Ukraine’s parliament, Stefanchuk served as an advisor to President Zelensky and was also the president’s representative in the parliament. Beyond his political career, he is a distinguished legal scholar, professor, and member of the National Academy of Legal Sciences of Ukraine.
Stefanchuk shares a close relationship with President Zelensky, with their acquaintance tracing back to their college days.
Reports suggest that Stefanchuk’s predecessor, Dmytro Razumkov, was dismissed due to disagreements with Zelensky on critical legislative matters, including measures to counter the influence of oligarchs and the endorsement of sanctions against pro-Kremlin oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk.
Given his loyalty to President Zelensky, Stefanchuk, who previously also served as first deputy, was perceived as a more fitting choice to take up the position of Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, aligning closely with the president’s vision and objectives.
In addition to his close alignment with President Zelensky, Ruslan Stefanchuk has adopted a casual khaki uniform akin to the attire worn by Zelensky and his close advisors.
Utilizing social media platforms, he actively shares posts celebrating Ukraine’s resilience and resistance, delivering speeches from sites impacted by conflict, and urging the global community to take decisive action to support Ukraine’s cause.
In June 2023, Ruslan Stefanchuk received a prestigious award from the parliament of Lithuania in recognition of his contributions toward promoting the principles of parliamentarians, democracy, and the sovereignty of Ukraine.
According to Lithuania, the honor was bestowed upon him for his “heroic leadership” in safeguarding freedom and upholding the democratic values of Ukraine.
However, Politico noted that Stefanchuk’s trust rating in opinion polls is notably lower than that of President Zelensky, standing at approximately 40 percent. This figure amounts to less than half of the president’s trust rating.
Furthermore, he faces challenges in garnering popularity among opposition lawmakers, who may not share the same level of support for his policies and positions.
Therefore, due to his limited authority, it is assumed that a group of influential politicians, including Andrii Yermak, the former movie producer and lawyer serving as the head of the president’s office, along with Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov will be responsible for performing these functions.
Furthermore, Valery Zaluzhny is expected to retain his position as the country’s top general. Nonetheless, the potential death of Zelensky could have implications for Kyiv’s Western allies.
Many of these allies are captivated by his “charisma” and see him as a symbolic figure representing the struggle for democracy and sovereignty. In the aftermath of such an event, the West may intensify pressure on Ukraine to negotiate with Russia.