Skip to main content

Opinion: Will Ukraine's 'Candy Man' deliver the goods?

By Alexander Nekrassov, Special to CNN
May 27, 2014 -- Updated 1341 GMT (2141 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Election promises are made to be broken or ignored altogether, writes Alexander Nekrassov
  • Nekrassov: The point of the election was to introduce some sense of normality in Ukraine
  • Petro Poroshenko will be held responsible for anything that happens in the country, he says
  • But his biggest challenge comes from Ukraine's own oligarchs, writes Nekrassov

Editor's note: Alexander Nekrassov is a Russian commentator and former Russian presidential and government adviser. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.

(CNN) -- The thing about presidential elections, be it in Ukraine or anywhere else for that matter, is that it makes sense to ignore everything that was said during the election campaign and, especially, in the immediate aftermath.

Election promises are made to be broken or ignored altogether -- remember "Yes We Can?" And in the first few days, or even weeks, after results are announced lots of things are said that mean pretty much nothing.

Alexander Nekrassov
Alexander Nekrassov

To say that the presidential election campaign in Ukraine produced a lot of statements and pledges that made little or no sense would be an understatement. If you summarise them all, then Ukraine should be in fine shape to join the G7 group of industrialised nations, replacing Russia, in about five years' time.

The election winner, confectionary billionaire Petro Poroshenko, and his nearest rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko - the two have received 57 and 12 per cent of the votes respectively - have promised to unite Ukraine, suppress the rebellion in the east, return Crimea grabbed by Russia, revive the country and put it smack at the heart of Europe while practically no-one even bothered to contradict them. And even Darth Vader -- one of 17 candidates for the presidency, walking around in full Star Wars costume -- didn't really sound over the top compared to others.

Gunmen storm Ukrainian airport
Ukraine votes for new president
Ukraine's contentious election
A man looks at a bullet shell next to a destroyed car after a gunfight between pro-Russian militiamen and Ukrainian forces in Karlivka, Ukraine, on Friday, May 23. Much of Ukraine's unrest has been centered in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where separatists have claimed independence from the government in Kiev. A man looks at a bullet shell next to a destroyed car after a gunfight between pro-Russian militiamen and Ukrainian forces in Karlivka, Ukraine, on Friday, May 23. Much of Ukraine's unrest has been centered in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where separatists have claimed independence from the government in Kiev.
Crisis in Ukraine
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: Crisis in Ukraine Photos: Crisis in Ukraine

The whole point of the hastily-arranged election in Ukraine was to get a "legitimate" president, of sorts, to emerge in Kiev, even if he would be the best of the worst, as someone said, and attempt to introduce some sense of normality in Ukraine which has been rocked by violence and upheaval since November last year after the then President Viktor Yanukovich walked away from a free association deal with the European Union, and was later ousted as a result.

All the talk of a possible second round if no-one won more than 50 per cent of the vote was obviously intended to put a bit of "competitiveness" into elections that were predetermined from the moment one of the favourites, former heavyweight boxer Vitaly Klitchko, stood down from the race, throwing his impressive weight behind Poroshenko.

Not to mention the approval of his candidacy by Washington (President Barack Obama's cover was blown when he congratulated the winner before the votes had been counted -- he really needs some coaching in the art of diplomacy.)

Announcing his victory late on Sunday, Poroshenko said all the things that he had been saying during his election campaign: That under his presidency Ukraine would be united, that the economy would grow, that the country was going to join Europe, that he was prepared to deal with Russia but would never accept the annexation of Crimea and the two referendums on independence that had been conducted in Donetsk and Lugansk regions in the east on May 11.

Opinion: Will Ukraine's new president tame country's elite?

In fact, the "Candy Man" as he was dubbed during the election campaign, said that the anti-terrorist operation in the east against the anti-Kiev rebels would be intensified, although hinted that it won't be running for months but would be wound up relatively quickly. If that wasn't a hint to Moscow that the soon to be crowned new leader was open to suggestion, then I don't what is.

The big challenge that Poroshenko, a clever political operator who has managed to steer through troubled waters under four presidents, is facing comes from the mere fact of his victory. As of now, the buck stops with him and he will be held responsible for anything that happens in the country.

That was why the cunning Tymoshenko, when she accepted defeat in the election, pointed out that her former opponent was now in charge and would be taking on the weight of responsibility. (Tymoshenko still fares her chances of becoming president quite highly and, as I was informed, plans to highlight all the problems that Poroshenko would no doubt start encountering with gusto.)

Seasoned Ukraine watchers, who have slept through the current revolution in Kiev and failed to predict the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovich in February, have now got a new spring in their step, pointing out that a lot would depend on how the Kremlin will play its cards and whether it would be serious in dealing with Poroshenko.

Although Moscow has already signalled, on all levels, that it is prepared to give the new Ukrainian leader a chance, and a possible visit to Russia in June has already been mentioned.

But, ironically, the biggest challenge facing Poroshenko in the next several months comes not from Russia or the so-called separatists in the east but from Ukraine's very own oligarchs, who now see the newly-elected president as a potential threat to their business empires.

Tensions ahead of Ukraine elections
Militants burn polling place in Ukraine
Explosions are precursor to Ukraine vote

It was one thing when Poroshenko was just a candidate, but once that inauguration comes, he will have the power to not only to put financial pressure on the oligarchs but also to order their arrest and put them in prison for the many sins they have committed. And the example of Tymoshenko ending up in the slammer in the times of President Yanukovich must be still fresh in their minds.

Make no mistake, the oligarchs with their vast wealth, their personal armies and their people in the government machine, the police and the intelligence services will not stay idle. The horse trading and the scratching of backs was going on ever since Poroshenko emerged as the favorite for the presidency.

But that doesn't mean he can't be pragmatic and go back on his promises. And it sure doesn't mean that the rest will keep their word as well. Especially as some of the oligarchs actually prefer a situation of instability and uncertainty, as they thrive under such conditions and find it easier to jostle for power.

So what can happen in the next year or so? Well, the parliamentary elections will obviously take place this year in Ukraine, with Poroshenko promising to "see them through." The talks with Russia will commence very soon, if only to resolve the gas supply issue, but won't bring any dramatic results on most other subjects in the foreseeable future, with the prospect of Crimea coming back to the Ukrainian fold looking as likely as Joe Biden winning the next presidential election in the U.S.

So the only realistic way out could be agreeing some sort of compensation, paid out by Russia to Ukraine, say something like $500 billion over a period of 10 years or more, in return for Kiev accepting the loss of the peninsula and the world recognising it as part of Russia.

The resolution of the problem with the separatist Donetsk and Lugansk regions promises to be a thorny issue, but if Poroshenko and President Putin were able to negotiate a ceasefire in the next few weeks or so, this would be seen as a great achievement. And although Poroshenko is telling everyone that the idea of federalism and giving Donetsk and Lugansk greater autonomy is totally unacceptable to him, things, as has been pointed out above, do tend to change a lot after elections, so he might change his mind on this one as well.

Finally, a lot will depend on whether the U.S. and the EU would actually allow Poroshenko some serious room for manoeuvre to deal with President Putin. If he is boxed in by the demands of his Western patrons to keep the pressure on Moscow high, then his chances of achieving anything will be quite slim and the other oligarchs might just be tempted to bring him down.

READ: Leading in Ukraine election, billionaire Petro Poroshenko declares victory

READ: Ukraine's 'Chocolate King' aims for top job

READ: Opinion: Free elections good for Ukraine, but could be bad for Putin

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Alexander Nekrassov.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 1108 GMT (1908 HKT)
The road isn't easy -- past shelling and eerie separatist checkpoints. But where it leads is harder still.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 1631 GMT (0031 HKT)
Future imports and exports between the EU and Russia are now banned -- but existing contracts, including France's $1.6 billion Mistral-class warships deal, are allowed to go ahead.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
More Russian aggression in Ukraine. More U.S. and European sanctions imposed on Moscow.
July 31, 2014 -- Updated 0001 GMT (0801 HKT)
Deadly violence, ongoing tensions and the deliberate downing of a passenger airplane. Though that turbulence is happening far away from American streets -- in Eastern Ukraine -- why should Americans worry?
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
The shooting down of MH17 may finally alert Washington and Europe to the danger of the conflict in Ukraine.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2304 GMT (0704 HKT)
The United States and its allies are angrier at Russia now over Ukraine, but will they do anything more about it -- especially Europe?
The U.S. State Department released satellite images of what it says is photographic evidence that the Russian military has fired across its border with Ukraine to strike Ukrainian military targets.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1540 GMT (2340 HKT)
Some contend that larger weapons have come into Ukraine from Russia.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1437 GMT (2237 HKT)
Background information about Ukraine, the second-largest European country in area after Russia.
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1725 GMT (0125 HKT)
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin on securing the MH17 crash site and negotiating with the separatists.
Learn more about the victims, ongoing investigation and the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 0700 GMT (1500 HKT)
When passengers boarded Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 last week, they couldn't have known they were about to fly over a battlefield.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 0925 GMT (1725 HKT)
The downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 put the pro-Russia rebels operating in Ukraine's eastern region center stage.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
Increased fighting around the MH17 crash scene blocks international investigators. CNN's Kyung Lah reports.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
In the tangled aftermath of the disaster, two narratives have emerged -- one that most of the world subscribes to, and another that Russia and the rebels are pushing.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1229 GMT (2029 HKT)
"Every country, including Russia," must determine whether it is "together with the terrorists or together with the civilized world," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said.
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Russian President Vladimir Putin bears at least some responsibility for the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
June 28, 2014 -- Updated 1708 GMT (0108 HKT)
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says peace is possible if Vladimir Putin is in the right mood.
ADVERTISEMENT