April 6, 2019
The second round is coming closer with incumbent Petro Proshenko facing comedian Volodymyr Zelensky. For many months it has been clear that Russia wanted anybody to win – except Poroshenko. Today, in the second round, this is even more the case as pro-Putin Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky comes out stridently in support of Zelensky and denounces Poroshenko. As Zhirinovsky says, “Nobody in Russia is waiting for the re-election of Poroshenko!”
The reasons are fairly obvious.
President Vladimir Putin has not given up his strategic objective of maintaining Ukraine within the Russian World and Eurasian sphere of influence. At the annual Valdai meeting, Putin said he was awaiting the results of the Ukrainian elections so that he could negotiate with the new president. For Putin his co-negotiator could not be Poroshenko whom he sees as taking Ukraine out of the Russian World.
If we think back at the 2016 US elections, Russia also backed Donald Trump because Putin personally disliked Hilary Clinton who supported protests in Moscow in 2011-2012 and because Trump’s election campaign was pro-Russian. Today, Putin has a personal dislike for Poroshenko and sees Zelensky as an opportunity to halt Ukraine’s Europeanisation and de-Russianisation.
Prior to 2014, Russia’s favourites would have been Party of Regions leaders such as Yuriy Boyko and Oleksandr Vilkul. But they can no longer be elected as 16% of their voters and 27 single mandate districts they won in 2012 are under Russian occupation and it is impossible for them to enter second rounds of presidential elections.
In the early part of the election campaign, Yulia Tymoshenko was seen as somebody with whom Russia could negotiate, but she did not enter the second round. Now, Russia has the possibility of imposing bad “peace” deals upon Ukraine through Zelensky.
This is of course dangerous to Ukraine and could lead to Zelensky’s impeachment or removal through another Maidan as Ukrainians oppose any deals that would lead to Ukraine’s capitulation to Russia’s dictate. Three quarters of Ukrainians believe that Russian-Ukrainian relations can only improve after Russia returns the Crimea to Ukrainian sovereignty, ends its military aggression in eastern Ukraine, pays compensation for the destruction brought about by war and ends interference in Ukrainian affairs.
There are six reasons why Russia wants Zelensky to win the second round and why Putin always viewed Poroshenko as his main opponent in the 2019 Ukrainian elections.
Firstly, Poroshenko’s election campaign of ‘Army, Faith, Language’ is built on a platform of Ukrainian patriotism. If Leonid Kravchuk took Ukraine out of the USSR into independence in 1991 then Poroshenko is following in his footsteps in taking Ukraine out of the Russian World.
Secondly, Putin does not trust Poroshenko to negotiate a “deal” with him as he knows that Poroshenko (unlike Zelensky – or earlier Tymoshenko and Boyko) cannot go down the path of capitulation. Only 15% of Ukrainians would agree to capitulation to Putin’s demands; that is, peace at any cost, but three quarters would not.
Thirdly, Ukraine has closed down numerous avenues of Russian soft power and with Orthodox autocephaly will break away from Russia’s spiritual influence. The creation of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine is as important an event as the 1991 declaration of independence.
Fourthly, spiritual independence has been complimented by psychological independence from Soviet Communist totalitarianism. The policy of de-communisation has been important in breaking with the Homo Sovieticus mindset and the lingering impact of the Soviet legacy on Ukrainian mindsets.
Fifthly, Poroshenko initiated changing the constitution to include the goals of Ukraine attaining EU and NATO membership.
Sixthly, in building an army that ranks in capabilities with Poland and Canada, Poroshenko’s military policies have made Russian invasion more unlikely and if it were to happen very costly to Russia. Ukraine’s army has been placed transformed into a contract-based force with conscripts not serving in the front line.
Although the second round will be between Zelensky and Poroshenko, the real contest will be between Poroshenko and Putin. Putin hates Poroshenko because it sees him as a strong obstacle to Ukraine “returning” to be under Russia.
Author : Taras Kuzio