Ukraine crisis: 'Chocolate King' Petro Poroshenko prefers a whisper to a breakaway

 

defence correspondent

On the day it became clear that Petro Poroshenko – the “Chocolate King” – may well become the next president of Ukraine, he was careful about proposed new sanctions on the Kremlin: “One shouldn’t rush into things. We don’t want to hurt Russia: that is not our aim.”

Vitali Klitschko had just stood down as a presidential candidate, pledging his support for Mr Poroshenko. The former boxer pledged his support to the billionaire who had made his fortune from confectionaries, resulting in banners proclaiming: “Willy Wonka and Rocky – The Dream Team.” That was two months ago, after Crimea had been annexed by Vladimir Putin, but before the separatists began to take over swathes of the east of the country. Mr Poroshenko condemned the destabilising role Moscow was accused of playing but was less vitriolic than others.

Now polls say Mr Poroshenko, 46, is on the verge of winning tomorrow’s election outright without the need for the hitherto expected second round scheduled for 15 June; and the daunting task he would face would be try to bring an end to the strife tearing his country apart.

That is unlikely to happen without the help of the Kremlin and today, for the first time, Mr Putin explicitly stated that he will respect the outcome of the election: a fundamental change from his previous stance. Mr Poroshenko may not be the dream candidate for the Kremlin, but the two who are seen as overtly Russian leaning, Serhiy Tigipko and Mykhailo Dobkin, should finish well back. And Yulia Tymoshenko, the former heroine of the Orange Revolution, whose star has plummeted as the Chocolate King’s has risen, is now held in wide distrust by many, including Moscow.

 

Mr Poroshenko had, like some other politicians, appeared in the barricades of the Maidan, often at personal risk to himself from thugs supporting Mr Yanukovych’s government, confirming his solidarity with the protest movement. But he had also urged Ukrainians to settle their differences peacefully and told Moscow newspaper, Novaya Gazeta: “Russia isn’t our opponent, but our partner. Understand, Euro-Maidan is not a movement away from Russia, but... the Soviet Union.”

With anxiety and anger among Ukrainians outside the east at the dismemberment of the country, Mr Poroshenko has, unsurprisingly, been talking tough: “My first step will be to go to the army headquarters and assume the role of supreme commander. We cannot negotiate with terrorists who rob banks, kill and kidnap innocent people.”

Any accommodation Mr Poroshenko makes with Moscow will not, however, mean turning away from the EU. He has pledged to sign an association agreement – the step which Mr Yanukovych failed to take, triggering the protests which led to his downfall.

He has been more cautious about joining Nato, something which would be opposed virulently by Mr Putin, saying only that there may be the need to form a “security arrangement” with the organisation.

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