13 February, 14:34

Petr Poroshenko: the dark horse of Ukrainian politics

Petr Poroshenko: the dark horse of Ukrainian politics

Petr Poroshenko, the chocolate king of Ukraine and one of the country's wealthiest people, is more and more often called the most likely candidate for the post as prime minister. The man who founded one of the most successful confectionary corporations Roshen and who is worth about a billion and a half USD has been mostly involved in politics rather than business over the past decade.

And now that grey cardinal could spoil the game for the opposition leaders trying to divide up the power and become a neutral figure, which would be acceptable both for the authorities and the opposition.

Petr Poroshenko made his first million while still a student when he registered one of the first small enterprises in Ukraine – called ‘Service Center’. Later he increased his capital trying his luck in a number of business areas: he sold cars, spices (which brought him his first million USD), bought plants, banks and raw material deposits. Now among other things he owns Channel 5 TV channel, which always serves as the mouthpiece for the revolutions.

From the very beginning of his political career Poroshenko, who sided with Viktor Yuschenko, prime minister at the time, refused the positions offered to him by president Leonid Kuchma, including the position of prime minister. After the victory of the Orange Revolution he accepted the invitation of Yuschenko, the newly elected president, to become the head of the National Security Council. After a fast resignation, Poroshenko also tried the position of the head of the National Bank, Minister of Foreign Affairs in the government of Yulia Timoshenko and even the Minister of Economic Development in the government of Nikolai Azarov.

Now he has a good chance of taking the seat as prime minister, although it is too early to talk about his victory in presidential elections, believes Valeriy Solovey, a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and a PhD in history:

“He is publically not a very attractive figure. In any competition he would lose to Klitschko and Yatsenyuk, maybe even to Tyagnibok. As far as his support for the ‘Right Sector’ or financing of Euromaidan go, it is well known in Ukraine that Poroshenko invested in that to be able to claim the position of prime minister as a figure of compromise, among other things. If the candidacy of Yatsenyuk or somebody else were blocked by the Party of Regions or by some other circumstances, Poroshenko would have a good chance of becoming prime minister”.

Truly, Poroshenko can win the fight for the position as the head of the government simply due to the fact that he acts as a relatively neutral figure, which could be acceptable to both opposing sides. The support of the West could play a significant role in that. Despite his connection to the far right extremist group called Right Sector, Poroshenko has not lost the trust of foreign politicians. It was him that the US Secretary of State John Kerry turned to with a proposal to form a technical government. But although the businessman prefers to stay in the shadow and not to make loud statements, his radical views and a fairly sizeable wealth do not add people's trust for him. Last year no more than 5% of Ukrainians were prepared to elect Poroshenko as their president. But if in the West of the country Poroshenko can still improve his image, the Eastern regions do not view him as a presidential candidate due his intent to choose the association with the EU. However, Poroshenko still has a chance in his fight for power, thinks Bogdan Bezpalko, deputy director of the Center for Ukrainian and Belorussian Studies at the Moscow State University.

“Poroshenko has some chance to succeed, but in general the lack of acceptance of him in Ukrainian society is quite high. There are such factors as his oligarchic position as well as some aspects of his personal preferences. The Ukrainian mentality is often unpredictable. And now that focus can play an important role in Ukraine as a state. Poroshenko can simply start his political game and act as a proper politician. He has the means for that, so why not”.

Now that the opponents of the present authorities have started to become disenchanted by all public opposition leaders, Petr Poroshenko's rating has gone significantly up. Now, 13% of Ukrainian citizens are ready to vote for him if there were no Yulia Timoshenko among the candidates. If the former prime minister took part in the elections, he would lose to her by less than three percent. If Poroshenko went to the second round of elections against Yanukovich, he could get 60% of the votes. His financial independence, which could potentially hold him from getting rich at the expense of the country's budget, is a definite advantage he has in the eyes of those ready to vote for the Chocolate King. But it is unlikely that a successful entrepreneur would change business for politics for good, thinks Vladimir Pantin, PhD in philosophy and the head of the department of internal political processes at the Institute for the World Economy and International Relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

“I think he is unlikely to get to power himself, although he could take an important position in the government. He could become prime minister for a while. But he is still an oligarch and not a politician. Thus, he is unlikely to conduct real policy in Ukraine's favor. His role is in opposing Yanukovich. Tradeoffs and agreements between them are possible. But he will not play an independent role as a politician”.

Now Petr Poroshenko is trying to distance himself from the standard rhetoric of the opposition leaders and win the sympathy of Ukrainian citizens by promising them concrete actions, such as to restore the pavement on Grushevsky Street at his own expense and to renovate the Dynamo stadium. And maybe due to such tactics or the final disenchantment of Ukrainians in the opposition leaders, the grey cardinal of the Ukrainian politics would be able to play an unexpected role and surpass his political competitors.

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