The man widely expected to be the next president of Ukraine has stressed that his country “did not want to harm Russia” and new sanctions against Moscow by the international community should only be considered if the ones already announced are found to be ineffective.
Petro Poroshenko told the Independent on Sunday that a new security arrangement with Nato was necessary as Vladimir Putin’s takeover of Crimea has shown that the current system was not working. He was keen to point out, however, that all his country was doing was defending territorial integrity, maintaining independence: not seeking confrontation.
The 48-year-old ‘Chocolate Oligarch’, as he had become known, took a major step towards power in impending national elections when Vitali Klitschko withdrew his candidacy and backed Mr Poroshenko. The former boxing champion said “the only chance to win is to nominate a single candidate from the democratic forces. It should be the candidate who has the greatest support, that is why I am supporting Petro Poroshenko.”
Mr klitschko will run for the post of mayor of Kiev. Meanwhile Mr Poroshenko, who made his $1.3 billion (£781m) fortune from confectionary, is left effectively in a two horse race facing Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister. On Saturday evening a placard in English was being waved in the Maidan, the centre of the protest movement drove out the government of Viktor Yanukovych, declaring “Dream Team. Willy Wonka and Rocky.”
Opinion polls have consistently put Mr Poroshenko in the lead with around 25 per cent of the vote; Mr Klitschko has been getting around 8.2 per cent while Mrs Tymoshenko, who was freed from a jail term for fraud after the revolution, trails third with 7.3 per cent.
Mr Klitshko and Mr Poroshenko have visited London and a number of other European capitals recently and the billionair is believed to be broadly viewed by the West as the man best equipped to lead his country at this time of geopolitical and economic crisis, although Mrs Tymoshenko is said to have support from Germany.
With Mr Putin calling Barack Obama to discuss a solution to the ongoing confrontation over Ukraine and the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov maintaining that there are no plans for further cross-border military action, with a meeting scheduled with John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, Mr Poroshenko adopted a statesmanlike stance after registering his candidacy.
One of his first tasks of elected would be to focus on the depleted armed forces which are in no condition to offer any meaningful resistance to the Russians. “We need to build an efficient and modern Ukrainian army which will defend the sovereignty of our country”. But, he also emphasized the need for effective international relations and stating that Crimea need to be recovered through diplomacy and persuading Russia to diffuse the situation should be “ on a step by step” basis.
Unlike some of his compatriots, Mr Poroshenko dismissed suggestions that Ukraine had been let down by the West. “In fact there has been very good support, in the United Nations, from the G7 states and we welcome that.” However, he added: “Crimea has shown that the current international security system was not working and we need to establish something that works”. Asked whether a government led by him would want to join Nato, something which would be vehemently opposed by the Kremlin, he responded: “ What may be necessary is a security arrangement with Nato”.
Mr Porosehnko acknowledged that his country suffered from endemic corruption and major injection of aid investment needs to wait until this is tackled. “I am looking at Western experience in fighting corruption and we have to learn; there must a policy of zero tolerance about this. When I hear about something like a Martial Aid plan for Ukraine being proposed, my view is that this should be a second step after we have taken the first step by eliminating corruption.”
Asked why his administration will not go the same way as previous ones in the country - high expectations followed by disillusionment, Mr Poroshenko held: “ We are going to be very, very different. We have a plan of governance. I don’t want to buy votes like people have done before. We woke up to a new country in January. Our goal is to live in a new way, to shape Ukraine in a way where there will be rich, free and honest citizens who will be happy to be Ukrainians and to live in a country which is respected in the world.”
The news that Mr Poroshenko may become the next leader was greeted with general approval in the Maidan.
“As far as oligarchs go, he is relatively clean; also he has so much money he does not need to steal any more”, said Nicolai Bandarenko, a veteran of the barricades. Nadia Vasiliova, who had set up a stall selling protest memorabilia added: “They brought Tymoshenko here from prison, if you remember there was some booing. People remember why she went to prison.“