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If we accept Russia's constant meddling in US elections for a fact, and also accept that the efforts were successful, then a question arises as to why Russia couldn't or wouldn't want to prevent Zelenskyy from taking office? In almost every regard it would be so much easier to achieve success, namely the country is relatively poor, corruption was rife, it's physically very close which facilitates illegal border crossings, so basically a cakewalk for a trained team. However that didn't seem to happen and ultimately led to the war.

I'm interested in all that in the context of balancing their perceived extensive involvement in US domestic matters, which would take so much more resources to successfully pull off, versus meddling with Ukraine's affairs which should be extremely easy in comparison.

Can we derive from that that Russia/US meddling issue is all made up and Russia is really just an impotent state that cannot even put a smaller neighbor under its control, much less a vastly more difficult place like the US? Or were there specifically reasons they wanted to target one instead of the other? Or was that a miscalculation?

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    "accept that the efforts were successful" too doubtful premise
    – kandi
    Sep 10 at 10:12
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    Zelenski won by a landslide, in part facilitated by the popular reaction to Russian's meddling (and I am talking about military occupation of the country). It is hard to challenge that, even in the case of dictatorships that hold all of the levers of power.
    – SJuan76
    Sep 10 at 10:33
  • @SJuan76 That's an interesting and sober take. Perahps you could repurpose it into answer? Sep 10 at 16:33
  • Who says they didn't? Has anyone actually asked that question and investigated if they did or not?
    – Joe W
    Sep 10 at 18:40
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    Somewhat related, what Russia said immediately after Zelensky was elected politics.stackexchange.com/a/71527/18373
    – Fizz
    Sep 11 at 2:33

3 Answers 3

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How about this kind of intervention? Is that intervention enough?

Ukraine's former president Viktor Yushchenko says he hopes Europe will wake up to the threat posed by Russia in the wake of the poisonings in Salisbury.

Fourteen years ago Mr Yushchenko was taking on a presidential candidate favoured by Russia when he was poisoned with a dioxin, a toxic chemical.

Or this, re. 2019:

While the interference did not live up to worst fears, numerous examples of it can be found in the kinetic, disinformation, and cyber realms over a period of months. Russia’s war with Ukraine and its occupation of parts of Ukraine’s territory constitute the most blatant interference, including the disenfranchisement of some 16 percent of the electorate living in Crimea and areas around Donetsk and Luhansk.

Heightened vigilance by Ukrainian authorities and civil society helped to reduce its potential impact. In contrast to 2014, when Russian cyberattacks compromised the Central Election Commission network, Ukrainian authorities were more prepared for possible attacks in 2019. As a result, during the first and second rounds of the presidential election—despite numerous minor cyber incidents—Ukraine did not suffer a major cyberattack.

As the question asks:

why Russia couldn't or wouldn't want to prevent Zelenskyy from taking office?

Also seems that many have short memories. Until recently many were claiming Zelensky was too accommodating to Russia, so why would Russia have gone out of its way to avoid his winning?

Or, even more amusingly, pre-election, Why a Zelenskyy presidency would be a disaster for Ukraine:

Fourth, Putin and his minions in the breakaway regions of Ukraine’s southeast will be delighted with Ukraine’s progressive decay under Zelenskyy’s mismanagement. Who better to lead the country they consider a joke than a clown? Who better to fail at coping with a possible provocation in the occupied territories, the Sea of Azov, or mainland Ukraine? Putin will be sorely tempted to launch an armed attack on, say, Mariupol just after Zelenskyy’s inauguration. Perhaps even more dangerous would be a charm offensive that seeks to entrap the naïve Zelenskyy in a set of obligations that amount to Ukraine’s abandonment of its sovereignty.

Furthermore, a pre-election INFRI study, Kremlin-linked forces in 2019 elections states that Russia was primarily interested in getting rid of Poroshenko. Which did happen. Then, according to the study, Russia, having ensured no one too anti-Russia got elected, would just re-engage into negotiations with whichever individual won.

Last, Russian interference in the US, is often assumed to seek to promote one particular candidate, while in fact many experts are of the opinion that merely poisoning the electoral debate and pushing Americans against each other is closer to their actual intent.

One suspects too, that by 2019, being Russia's preferred candidate would have been somewhat of the kiss of death in Ukraine, making the whole premise of this question - that Russia could push "their" guy to victory, somewhat unrealistic.

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  • The fact that Crimea and parts of Donbass have not take part in elections is hard to call intervence as this regions always voted for pro russian candidat.
    – convert
    Sep 10 at 14:53
  • Well there are opinions, by nytimes and atlanticcouncil, and then there's intelligence work. I also meant but couldn't clearly state in the question that during the 2014-2019 period there was ample time to nurture a presidential candidate, and that's what I consider election tampering as well. Instead Russia seemed content to just let Ukraine be with regard to important political figures, even though they had some plans for the country from the start. Yuschenko story is legit, but the question remains why they didn't want to go/prepare some other way other than bringing in tanks in 2022. Sep 10 at 16:29
  • @convert Meddling with ironic, unintended consequences is still meddling. Sep 12 at 3:11
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After 2014, the Kremlin was severely limited in Ukraine on what they could hope to pull off in terms of elections because they had removed a large chunk of the Russian population from the voting pool in Ukraine via Crimea and the Donbas republics.

So if you want an analogy: imagine Russia wants to intervene in the US elections (say in the Republicans' favor) but also wants annex some US territory. But for whatever reason, Russia doesn't annex California, but goes for Texas and Florida instead (and they pull off the annexations or at least manage to get these states to secede). How do you think the next US elections will go (in terms of Democrats vs Republicans) if Texas and Florida are removed from the voting pool in the US?

Nonetheless, to continue the analogy, a "3rd party candidate" was elected in Ukraine in 2018. Zelensky had just formed his party and for that matter he was a Russian speaker too (but also Jewish). He just wasn't from the parties that were notoriously pro-Russian, like that of 2010-2014 president Yanukovych (who had been a governor of Donetsk too), and which had been marginalized after he fled. This is how France24 described the candidate[s] before 2019 election:

A native Russian speaker himself from the central city of Kryvyi Rig, Zelensky appears on track to deal an upset defeat to incumbent Petro Poroshenko in Sunday's second round of voting. [...]

That has set him apart from Poroshenko, who has used patriotic slogans and mocked Zelensky's spoken Ukrainian. [...]

[Zelensky] has remained vague on the ways he would tackle the most serious crisis to hit Ukraine since it gained independence in 1991.

As it turned out, Zelensky apparently liked being president of a pro-West Ukraine [much] more than he liked the alternative of being a simple Putin stooge.

So, to finish the analogy, do you expect a Republican to win (after those hypothetical annexation/secession events) on a platform of "Russia can keep Texas and Florida" or just "Texas and Florida were right to secede"?

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  • I have been wondering if Donbass was included in the 2019 election. If they were they probably would have voted for Zelensky, because besides speaking Russian he also had an election promise to withdraw the military front towards Donbass. Did Donbass participate, or not? Sep 11 at 14:03
  • @Constantthin: LPR & DPR did not take part. The rest of the Donbas did mostly vote for a 3rd candidate (Boyko--a former minister of the Yanukovych era) but he was eliminated after the 1st round en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…
    – Fizz
    Sep 11 at 15:35
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Even if Russia would be able to prevent Zelenskyy from taking office this would mean that Poroshenko would stay there which is not a better alternative. There were even some Russian experts which were thinking that Zelenskyy was a more suitable candidate for Russia then Poroshenko. However none of the two candidates was really any better then an other one for Russia, so any kind of intervention made no sense.

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