The Return of the Prodigal Son, Who Never Left Home
Despite implementing large-scale image-building projects, which were largely directed towards the European audience, Petro Poroshenko has no alternative choices for the nation’s development. He has always been part and parcel of the post-soviet oligarchic system
With his Decree dated March 23, 2012 posted on the president’s website, Viktor Yanukovych appointed Petro Poroshenko Minister of Trade and Economic Development.
As a result, the conglomerate in power will have considerable financial, organizational and media assets at its disposal. According to Forbes, this “second echelon” oligarch is worth more than USD 1.1bn. He has tried and tested electoral areas in the Vinnytsia Oblast. He employs thousands of workers who are potential voters in the regions where the incumbent government does not enjoy much sympathy. Poroshenko controls Channel 5 on Ukrainian TV, which, since the Orange Revolution, has become popular with large sections of Ukrainian society, skeptical of the media that are more loyal to the current government.
The recruitment of Poroshenko makes it unnecessary for the “Family” to resort to coercion in order to buy his share of media assets (the possibility has long been a hot topic in political circles). Perhaps the hiring of Poroshenko will allow the regime to give the impression (to Europe and voters) of a new team of liberal reformers with a lot of business expertise in the government (including Serhiy Tihipko, Valeriy Khoroshkovsky, and Serhiy Arbuzov). Poroshenko’s personal reputation is not tarnished at home or abroad. At least, many will have already forgotten the late Oleksandr Zinchenko’s accusations against him, made in 2005.
European circles, blindly searching for any adequate Western-thinking individuals within Ukraine’s establishment, have a favourable opinion of Poroshenko as a person who is reliable, can be charged with introducing changes in Ukraine and ending the deadlock in EU–Ukraine relations. Poroshenko has worked hard to build the right kind of image. He decided to follow Viktor Pinchuk and has used his own charitable foundation to organize numerous round tables and conferences, the purpose of which was to link his name to European integration issues. However, as a rule, the contents of such forums had little to do with either Ukraine’s most urgent problems, or its possible European transformation. While avoiding any issues that might upset the regime, let alone the very essence of the oligarchic monopoly in Ukraine, Poroshenko and his foundation actually focus on themes that are popular with Eurobureaucrats. This generally ensures the image of a liberal politician who is on the same wavelength as Europeans.
CHIP OFF THE SOCIAL-DEMOCRATIC BLOCK
Despite first impressions (balancing the government by including “constructive representatives” from the former enemy camp), Poroshenko’s situation actually looks more like the return of the prodigal son. This is a typical representative of the post-soviet “elite,” whose political philosophy was shaped during the Kuchma years. While the defection of its individual representatives to the opposition in the early 2000s, was merely the result of the inability to realize personal ambitions within the party in power at that time.
The candy oligarch started his political career during the 1997-98 parliamentary election campaign. He entered the strife simultaneously as No.11 on the list of the Social-Democratic Party of Ukraine (united) and a majority candidate in constituency No.12 in the Vinnytsia Oblast. This was when the SDPU(u), led by Vasyl Onopenko, had already been usurped by “the Kyiv Seven”, led by Viktor Medvedchuk and the Surkis brothers. Rumour has it that their political technologists were the ones who introduced the wide-spread and notorious “merry-go-rounds,” vote buying, and “dirty” information campaigns. However, this did not stop Poroshenko from representing this party in the 3rd convocation of Parliament for nearly two years, and even being a member of its Political Bureau. It was he who, during the humanitarian NATO operation in Yugoslavia on March 26, 1999, read a statement on behalf of the SDPU(u) faction. The statement denounced “NATO’s aggression against Yugoslavia.”
The early 2000s were a time of political structuring within regional “elites,” unhappy about their interests being ignored by President Kuchma. Poroshenko began to implement his own political project: on February 29, 2000 a group named Solidarnist (“Solidarity”) was created, and later became a faction; in the summer of the same year he established the Solidarity Party of Ukraine. At the same time he was engaged in negotiations, which in November 2000 led to the emergence of a new political force, named “The Party of Regional Revival “Labour Solidarity of Ukraine””. However, he did not become its leader (although, according to well-informed sources within his entourage, he was apparently promised this position during negotiations).
Several months later the party changed the cumbersome abbreviation PRRLSU to a new name: the Party of Regions of Ukraine, headed by Mykola Azarov, the then Head of the State Tax Administration. Consequently, Poroshenko had to be content with being his deputy. Yet it looked as if he felt quite comfortable working in a tandem with Azarov. They established a good rapport: their friendship is said to have been the reason for Azarov appearing on the Maidan, wearing an orange scarf. Prime Minister Azarov recently complimented Poroshenko, saying that he would be quite comfortable working with him in the government.
However, Poroshenko’s problem in 2001 was that Azarov and Semynozhenko (who replaced Azarov in the PR) were no longer the real decision-makers in the Party of Regions. Decisions were made by a different set of people, and Poroshenko soon realized that he could not play with them on an equal footing. Thus, in the spring of 2001, he confronted his former comrades from the Party of Regions. On April 26, 2001, when the Verkhovna Rada dismissed Yushchenko’s government, only one Solidarity MP voted in favor of this decision; and in May, Poroshenko revived his own “Solidarnist” Project. These actions were dictated by purely technological, as opposed to ideological motives. Poroshenko’s identification with pro-government forces was expressed in Solidarnist’s formal assessment of the government’s program: “Solidarnist” strives to preserve the model triangle of partnership: “…the President, the Verkhovna Rada, and the Prime Minister… Prime-minister Yushchenko must clearly declare his support for the strategic course of the President’s reforms, and politically dissociate himself from radical opposition and find the means to rid himself of the image of an opposition leader”.
ON THE “YUSHCHENKO” BANDWAGON
Poroshenko then entered the orange period, the logical result of which was the imprisonment of the most “turbulent” representatives of the opposition of 2001-04 (Yulia Tymoshenko and Yuriy Lutsenko), whereas Poroshenko, who was a candidate for a position in his former boss’s government, formed in March 2010 in a constitutionally questionable fashion: buying defectors en masse. Perhaps this happened because neither the defectors nor Poroshenko have ever been truly devoted to orange values, neither on the issue of Ukrainian identity, nor in democracy, and the European course of the country’s development, since they are all a product and component of the oligarchic system, which is incompatible with these values. Poroshenko has no strategic vision of the country’s development on essentially different principles (even on the level of declarations), nor the wish to have one, after all, it is the old system that brought him success. However, the preservation of the monopolistic oligarchy will not allow for any European integration or even domestic transformations using European patterns. The only thing that could be done is perhaps only an outward European appearance. Well, Ukrainian leaders have been more or less successful with the latter – without actually changing the essence.
Poroshenko’s propensities on key issues of the immature Ukrainian identity are indeed revealing. He is a typical fan of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). Poroshenko has made numerous donations, for which he has been praised by the notoriously anti-Ukrainian Pavel, Bishop of Vyshhorod and the Superior of the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (quoted as saying in Russian: “After all, even Vladimir Litvin, Piotr Simonenko, Aleksandr Moroz, Viktor Medvedchuk, Piotr Poroshenko, and many other well-known MPs have actively helped our Church”). Moreover, in June 2009, Poroshenko was ordained deacon at St. Jonas’ Monastery, UOC MP. He has also provided financial aid to the International “Zaporizhia Cossacks” public organization (some media even refer to him as the “General” of these “Cossacks”). This organization is known for its specific servility to the Moscow Patriarchate and for acting as security guards during the visits to Ukraine of Russia’s Patriarch Kirill (Gundiaev). Also, the “Hetman” of Poroshenko’s “Knights” once awarded the “Order of Cossack Glory,” 3rd degree to the notorious author Oles Buzyna.
Poroshenko’s opportunism and readiness to please the winner was particularly obvious in his relations with Yushchenko and Tymoshenko. He evolved from being the main antagonist of Tymoshenko in 2005 to a “compromise figure” between President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Tymoshenko as the Minister of Foreign Affairs (in autumn 2009), and after her resignation in March 2010, he was ready to continue working in the same office for the Azarov government, the formation of which was legally dubious.
During the 12 years of his active political career, Poroshenko has been able to interact with completely different political forces, often mutually antagonistic, which is typical for the representative of a post-soviet Ukrainian “party in power”. Ideology is secondary; power always comes first.
Denying the right of one of Ukraine’s richest men to claim the role of a reformer would be a sign of outright destructive leftism. However, if you are going to reform a post-colonial country where citizens are deprived of economic freedom, and the right to private property only exists on paper, it is necessary to start with a real offensive against monopolies, the separation of business and politics and, horror of horrors, the consolidation of the Ukrainian political nation’s identity on the basis of its culture, language and history. But Poroshenko shuns these themes.
Petro Poroshenko is the Head of the National Bank of Ukraine Council. He was the Minister of Foreign Affairs from October 2009 until March 2010 and Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council from February until September 2005.
Car building business includes the Bohdan Corporation, which includes a range of vehicle and spare parts manufacturers, as well as a chain of showrooms all over Ukraine, as well as ISTA trading house, producing and selling car batteries.
Food business includes the ROSHEN confectionary corporation; the Dnipro Starch and Molasses Plant - the biggest industry plant on the entire post-soviet territory; confectionaries in Kyiv, Vinnytsia, Kremenchuk, Mariupol and Lipetsk (Russia); a chain of wholesale and retail stores; sugar and concentrated milk factories; two grain product plants; the Radomyshl brewery and the Piskiv Glassware Factory.
Media assets include Channel 5, the “Correspondent” magazine and others.
Shipbuilding includes the Leninska Kuznya Plant OJSC in Kyiv (the construction of tankers for the transportation of chemicals, dry cargo ships; automated boilers, freezers, incinerators and engines for different classes of vessels).
Transportation business includes the Transport – Forwarding Enterprise, comprised of passenger transportation and taxi service branches. His Autoexpo company is involved in the organization of car shows, spare parts and after-sales service. Poroshenko also owns one of the biggest taxi stations in Kyiv.
 In early September 2005, Oleksandr Zinchenko, then Head of President Yushchenko’s Secretariat, accused the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, Petro Poroshenko, of the “cynical abuse of power for personal benefit”, the transformation of the Council into a new NKVD to pressure business circles, including the wide-scale redistribution of assets in the Odesa Oblast and Crimea, providing protection for smuggling and the intent to gain monopoly control over the Ukrainian mass media. However, Mr. Zinchenko was unable to confirm his accusations.
Senior Fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security on the way American political establishment sees Ukraine today, the stance of the Obama Administration on Russia and expectations of the NATO Summit in Warsaw