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Putin rejects Zelensky's legitimacy, claims his authority must be transferred to speaker

by Nate Ostiller and The Kyiv Independent news desk May 28, 2024 7:11 PM 2 min read
Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on the economic issues via a video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia on April 11, 2023. (Gavriil Grigorov / Sputnik / AFP)
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Russian dictator Vladimir Putin claimed on May 28 that presidential power should be shifted to the speaker of Ukraine's parliament, Ruslan Stefanchuk, because Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's term has allegedly ended.

"According to preliminary estimates, the Verkhovna Rada and its speaker remain the only legitimate authorities in Ukraine," Putin told journalists. "If they wanted to hold presidential elections, they would need to cancel the martial law act, and that's it. But they didn't want to do that for a number of reasons."

If martial law had not been imposed, the next presidential election would have been held on March 31, 2024, and Zelensky’s term would have ended on May 20. But Ukraine introduced martial law after Russia launched its full-scale invasion on Feb. 24, 2022. The Martial Law Act explicitly bans presidential, parliamentary, and local elections.

Some of Zelensky's critics, including Russian propagandists, claim that the Constitution does not authorize extending his presidential term under martial law. They argue that he ceased to be a legitimate president on May 20. However, leading constitutional lawyers dispute this claim, saying that the Constitution allows such an extension.

Putin falsely claimed that Ukraine's constitution stipulates that presidential powers should be transferred to the speaker of parliament if elections are not held under martial law.

While the constitution does allow for the transfer of powers to the speaker in the case that the president's term is prematurely terminated, it specifies that the move should be initiated only if the president is impeached or is otherwise removed from office, such as in the case of resignation or inability to perform duties for health reasons.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and European Commission spokesperson Peter Stano voiced their support for Zelensky's legitimacy on May 21.

"It is clear that Volodymyr Zelensky is the rightful and legitimate president of Ukraine," Baerbock said during a visit to Kyiv. She added that Germany's constitution also prohibits holding elections during martial law.

"We (in the EU) also have no doubts that the president of Ukraine is Volodymyr Zelensky," said Stano.

Baerbock also criticized Russian officials who have said that Zelensky is an illegitimate president.

"The very people who started this war and made the elections impossible are now bringing the narrative to the world about the alleged illegitimacy of the president because he was not reelected," she said.

Zelensky’s term would have expired this month, but he’s staying. Russia wants to use it
President Volodymyr Zelensky’s term in office is supposed to end on May 20, 2024 – but it won’t. As Russia’s war delayed the elections and Zelensky’s term is looking indefinite, Ukraine’s President’s Office is preparing to weather the storm of critics questioning the president’s legitimacy. Offici…
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