• The Maidan movement is still in its camp in central Kiev (Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

Gas Princess and Chocolate King to battle for Ukraine

28.03.14 @ 09:27

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - Former Ukraine PM Yulia Tymoshenko has said she will run for president, but her star is on the wane, while oligarch Petro Poroshenko is rising.

“We need genuine reforms, not imitations . . . I will serve, I will be a hired politician, who will work every day to gain the trust of the people," she told press in Kiev on Thursday (27 March). She described Russian leader Vladimir Putin as Ukraine's "enemy number one" and promised to rebuild the country's military.

Her bid to return to power in the May elections comes one day after the latest poll in Ukraine put her support at just 8.2 percent.

The survey, by four agencies and NGOs – Socis, KIIS, Rating, and Razumkov Centre – placed her behind ex-boxer Vitaly Klitschko, on 8.9 percent, and Poroshenko, on 24.9 percent.

Her political party as a whole fared better on 22.2 percent, neck and neck with Poroshenko’s party on 21.6 percent.

Tymoshenko, also known as the 'gas princess' thanks to her career in the Ukrainian gas trade, was harmed when her private comments – that Russian people should be murdered over the invasion of Crimea – went public and backfired.

The leak also hurt her in Berlin, where Bundestag speaker Norbert Lammert said on Thursday that she is "as unfit for the president post as the ousted Viktor Yanukovych".

Poroshenko, known as the 'chocolate king' after making a fortune in the confectionary business, is a canny politician who worked for the former regime but who kept close ties to the opposition.

He quickly abandoned Yanukovych and became a popular speaker on the Maidan, the protest camp in Kiev. He is also seen as a capable pair of hands due to his long experience in high office.

Tymoshenko's bid could also suffer due to the actions of the interim government.

The caretaker President and Prime Minister, both from her party, just agreed to raise people's household gas bills by 50 percent in return for an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout worth between $14 billion and $18 billion.

The two have also behaved oddly on Russia.

When Russia began the Crimea invasion in February, they did not protect Crimea-linked energy and water facilities on the mainland. They gave no orders for their navy to resist or to leave Crimea and they have not closed the border with Russia or imposed sanctions on Russian officials.

As a result, Russia on 15 March occupied a gas pumping station on the Arabat Spit, which belongs to the mainland Kherson district. Russia has also seized 51 out of 61 Ukrainian warships in Crimea.

For its part, the EU is concentrating on repairing the Ukrainian state.

EU and US leaders have said they would trigger economic sanctions if Russia invades the mainland. But they have written off the Arabat Spit facility and Crimea.

A western diplomat in Kiev told EUobserver: "It [the gas pumping station] was already occupied when the EU leaders made their statements, so it was already accepted as part of the status quo."

He added the EU has various theories why Ukraine reacted so weakly: "One is lack of competence and lack of human resources in the new authorities. Another is not to provoke Russia. I would lean to the lack of competence, human resources theory."

A delegation of some 20 senior EU officials visited Kiev this week, including neighbourhood commissioner Stefan Fuele, and EU anti-fraud chief Giovanni Kessler.

Kessler's job is to help create a Ukrainian version of Olaf, the EU's anti-corruption bureau.

But it is a long term project, which will not help Ukraine repatriate the money stolen by the Yanukovych administration or stop EU and IMF money from being stolen by the incoming administration.

Maidan critical of new elite

The pollsters say that more than 80 percent of Ukrainian people plan to vote on 25 May.

But amid the interest in populists and oligarchs, the leaders of the Maidan movement, which still occupies its camp in central Kiev, are becoming increasingly critical of the new elite.

Igor Lutsenko, one of the Maidan organisers, told EUobserver he never expected much from the EU, but wants more from Ukraine's new leaders.

"Taking into consideration that the EU has applied way more stringent sanctions [against Russia] than our own government, I don't have a moral right to criticise it," he noted.

"The Maidan is not an expert community and doesn't express a specific wish for Crimea. But it expects decisive actions. So far, the Ukrainian government hasn't demonstrated a vigorous spirit . . . it has done the contrary."

The interim government is trying to recruit regional oligarchs to secure its control over the country.

But Lutsenko said they should arrest Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man and Yanukovych's main sponsor, who is based in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine.

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