Tuesday

23rd Apr 2019

Opinion

Should the EU trust Poroshenko to lead Ukraine?

  • Chocolate King Poroshenko with EU top diplomat Catherine Ashton (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

As Ukrainians gear up for the long awaited presidential election of 25 May, all eyes are fixed on Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s seventh richest man.

Despite an unprecedented number of candidates (46) seeking their chances at the ballot, the latest polls put this little known businessman and former minister in the lead, just shy of the 50 percent majority needed to obtain a first-round victory.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Widely embraced by Western media and politicians, Poroshenko is presented as the candidate best suited to lead Ukraine out of its quagmire of inner turmoil and patch up the wounds left behind by the Euromaidan.

Indeed, he was the first billionaire to speak out in favour of the revolution, showing up in Kiev’s main square to broadcast his views throughout Ukraine on leading TV network Kanal 5, one of the country’s major channels.

After former president Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia, he quickly shot up in visibility, eventually convincing Vitali Klitschko to endorse him as his party’s candidate for the presidential elections. A self-made man, he amassed his considerable wealth of $1.3 billion from manufacturing and selling sweets, transforming his Roshen company into a household name in the ex-Soviet bloc.

This is the standard narrative related in Western media channels. Unfortunately, these are all answers to the wrong questions.

A well-rounded appraisal of Poroshenko should not linger too much on his feats of the last few months, but should start from one fundamental question: Can he be trusted?

In the wake of the Euromaidan and of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Ukraine has revealed its inner chasms and seeming insurmountable divisions. The centrifugal forces that had kept the country together under Yanukovych’s rule have all but collapsed under the destabilising influence of its rapacious Eastern neighbor.

Many now fear that other regions will follow suit and be either absorbed or even occupied by Moscow’s appetite for territorial control. Therefore, what Ukraine needs is a leader that can successfully bind together its people, restore confidence in a shared destiny and bring the country back into the European fold.

But is Poroshenko that leader?

Poroshenko’s track record reads like a manual of party-hopping. He has been a near-permanent presence on the Ukrainian political scene, cautiously supporting all major political figures at different times.

He found his way into politics in the late 1990s by joining the Social Democratic Party, led at that time by Viktor Medvedchuk, a close friend of Vladimir Putin. As a member, Poroshenko was elected to parliament in 1998 enjoying the support of the Kremlin-backed President Kuchma.

In 2000, he became one of the founding members of the Party of Regions.

He broke ranks in 2002 and became Viktor Yushchenko’s campaign chief, winning him another seat in parliament and his first significant political function as head of the parliamentary budget committee.

After Yushchneko’s dramatic win in the 2004 Presidential elections, Poroshenko got his first whiff of real power, as secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, a position which gave him considerable access to Ukraine’s elite circles. For a while, he was even known as “Yushchenko’s wallet”, due to the significant financial backing he offered the ex-president in campaign funds.

His stint in the government did not last very long: following a very public and brutal falling out he had with then-prime-minister Yulia Tymoshenko, in which they traded accusations of corruption, Poroshenko resigned from his position.

His leadership capacities were considerable, and at one point he was even suspected of having formed a shadow government and that a “Byzantine system of management” had evolved under his rule. It is unclear whether these allegations were true. What is clear though is that with his departure, the government had lost a powerful ally, both politically and financially.

After a stint heading Ukraine’s National Bank, in a move that surprised many, Poroshenko returned to the political scene in 2012 as minister of economic development and trade under Yanukovych. During his term, he oversaw Ukraine’s delicate balancing act with the European Union and Russia over joining their respective trade areas.

More Richelieu than Willy Wonka?

While European leaders seem to be won over by his steady rhetoric and curt declarations that appear to reflect a deep commitment to European values, his track record strikes a dismal note. Indeed, throughout his political career, Poroshenko did not espouse the same strong pro-Western views as today.

As minister of trade, he initiated talks with his Russian counterpart Andrey Slepnev and signed a memorandum of cooperation meant to increase the interdependency of the two economies before an expected association agreement with the Kremlin-backed Customs Union.

Poroshenko has been at times a leftist, a centrist and a rightist, at once pro-West and pro-Moscow.

So how can he ask the wholehearted support of his citizens and of the international community if he has never been able to fully support a plan for Ukraine? Once elected, there are no guarantees that he will stick with the ideas he so loudly proclaims now.

The underlying theme beneath Poroshenko’s extensive political career is not some moral crusade on how to improve the lives of Ukrainians but a marked fluidity of convictions that have shifted alongside the undercurrents of the ruling political class.

With this in mind, his charm offensive should not fool anyone.

The writer is a Geneva-based economist

EU blacklists 15 more Russian officials over Ukraine

The EU has added 15 more names to a travel ban list of Russian officials linked to events in eastern Ukraine, but unlike the US, it refrained from targeting businesses and trade with Russia.

EU must help independent media in Ukraine

Some seven journalists have been killed in Ukraine since the pro-EU uprising of 2014 - with elections looming in 2019, next year looks like another dangerous year for reporters covering Kiev.

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Latest News

  1. Romania drafts EU code on NGO migrant rescues
  2. Bulgaria, Hungary, and Malta shamed on press unfreedom
  3. EU drafts $20bn US sanctions list in aviation dispute
  4. Brunei defends stoning to death of gay men in EU letter
  5. US Democrats side with Ireland on Brexit
  6. Wifi or 5G to connect EU cars? MEPs weigh in
  7. How Brexit may harm the new EU parliament
  8. EU parliament backs whistleblower law

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  6. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  7. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  8. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  9. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  12. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us