Ukraine’s Candyman Candidate

Polly Mosendz profiles billionaire Petro Poroshenko, now the front-runner in the race for the presidency:

Put simply, he is the Willy Wonka of Ukraine. His company, Roshen, is Ukraine’s leading sweets brand and a household name in Eastern Europe. Roshen produces over 450,000 tons of confections a year, fueling his personal net worth to $1.79 billion. And unlike most billionaires in the former-Soviet bloc, he came by it honestly.

Ukrainian politics are so lathered with corruption that the country has a non-profit organization — “CHESNO” (which translates to ‘honest’) — dedicated to examining the root of politicians’ wealth. Svitlana Zalishchuk, the spokesperson of CHESNO, confirmed that “We [CHESNO] couldn’t find any instances of corruption” in the amassing of Poroshenko’s fortune. In this sense, Poroshenko is the anti-Yanukovych.

In an interview with Poroshenko, Anna Nemtsova takes stock of his style as well as his positions:

[A]s I listened to Poroshenko speaking in his office there were echoes of an old-school Soviet diplomat being very, very careful about what he says. When Poroshenko talks about Putin, for instance, his language is never hateful, always calculated. In a political landscape filled with populist provocateurs, Poroshenko has never played that game, and that may well be why he’s leading all other announced and potential candidates for the critically important presidential elections to be held May 25. …

Poroshenko reminded me that for the last decade and a half his aim has been to bring Ukraine into the European Union while at the same time keeping good relations with Russia. And according to the Ukrainian media Poroshenko’s strong position in the polls comes from widespread hopes that he is the candidate who can find a way to make peace with Russia even now.

Robert Coalson points out that the chocolate baron’s viability as a candidate may be due to this video:

Perhaps the high point of Poroshenko’s performance in the latest political crisis came on March 12. That night, Poroshenko visited the Crimean capital, Simferopol, in a quixotic bid to prevent the peninsula from holding a referendum on joining Russia. Widely seen amateur video showed the stoic Poroshenko walking through the dark streets of the city being hounded by hundreds of chanting, pro-Russian demonstrators:

That night in Simferopol may have elevated Poroshenko to the front ranks in the eyes of many Ukrainians, says Andreas Umland, an associate professor of political science at Kiev-Mohyla Academy. “Him being chased by these pro-Russia militiamen or Russian soldiers—that, perhaps, played a role in making him look credible and a serious politician and not just an oligarch,” Umland says.

But Peter Turchin is not looking forward to an election battle between two oligarchs, Poroshenko and Yulia Tymoshenko, who made her fortune in shady gas deals in the 1990s:

Not anybody who is super wealthy is an “oligarch,” of course. The sources of true oligarchic power must include both a huge fortune and the access to the highest levels of political power. Both Tymoshenko and Poroshenko fit this definition perfectly, since both have been in and out of government, occupying a variety of posts. Since 1999 Tymoshenko has been the Deputy Prime Minister for Fuel and Energy and Prime Minister (twice). Poroshenko hasn’t climbed quite as high as that, but he occupied the two next most powerful posts in the government: Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister of Trade and Economic Development. Just as Kevin Philips wrote, political power begets economic power, and economic power begets more political power. At least, that’s how it works in oligarch-dominated countries.