2. Old rivalries matter: Poroshenko vs. Tymoshenko.
In 2014, in the wake of the ‘Revolution of Dignity’, Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and aggression in the east of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko was elected as president of Ukraine. He won a clean sweep across the country, however, as President Viktor Yushchenko found out after the ‘Orange Revolution’ in 2004, a commanding lead can evaporate within a single term.
Poroshenko now suffers from a big negative rating: 45 per cent say they would not vote for him in any event. During his election campaign in 2014, he promised, if elected, to sell his businesses which include Roshen chocolates and the 5 Kanal television channel. He did ultimately relinquish management of his businesses to a blind trust but the Panama Papers leak in 2016 showed that he had set up a company in the British Virgin Islands in August 2014 and he remains one of Ukraine’s ten richest people.
His rhetoric has continued to be focused on the defence of Ukraine’s interests in the face of Russian aggression and securing independence from Moscow for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
In 2005, former president Yushchenko appointed Yulia Tymoshenko as prime minister and Poroshenko — who thought he had been promised the prime minister’s job — as secretary of the National Security and Defence Council. Within seven months, amid public squabbling, both had left government although Tymoshenko was prime minister again from 2007 to 2010 while Poroshenko later became foreign minister and minister of trade.
Tymoshenko was narrowly defeated in the 2010 election by the ‘Orange Revolution’ loser, Viktor Yanukovych, who then imprisoned her on charges of embezzlement and abuse of power related to a 2009 gas supply contract with Russia. The US and EU said the case was politically motivated and called for her release, but when she was released in February 2014 after Yanukovych had fled Ukraine, protesters in Kyiv had put up posters equating her to Yanukovych.
Politically she looked down and out: she came a distant second to Poroshenko in the presidential election in spring 2014, and in autumn 2014, her party managed to obtain only 19 seats — 5.68 per cent of the vote — in parliament.
But she has clawed her way back into the running, using her charisma, her Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party’s nationwide network and populist appeals. In particular she has campaigned against an increase in gas prices which puts Poroshenko and the government on the spot: gas tariffs for industry are now at world market levels but domestic tariffs are only half of that. The IMF is insisting they be raised as a condition for further financial assistance which Ukraine needs in order to avoid a foreign exchange crisis.