A year ago Ukrainian oligarch Petro Poroshenko could barely compete to win the Kyiv Mayor elections, now he is the President of Ukraine. He won in the first round over Yulia Timoshenko herself. Who is the person that became President of Ukraine? Pavel Sheremet sketched a human and political portrait of the new Ukrainian President.
Petro Poroshenko is a complex character for a political portrait. He occupies 7th place on the list of the richest Ukrainian businessmen published in March 2014 by Forbes magazine. Member of the Verkhovna Rada, where he came from a single-mandate district. Owner of one of the biggest confectionaries in post-Soviet space, exemplary family man and father of four.
However one has to write about Poroshenko with constant “yes, but…,” “on one hand, on the other hand.” Depending on whether you sympathise with the Ukrainian politician and businessman or whether his activities elicits mistrust, one can find confirmation to any, absolutely contrary versions in his biography.
One can paint a portrait of an unprincipled, cunning and manipulative dealer who is used to converting his political projects into money. But a story about a smart, educated and hard-working person who is capable of making intelligent compromises and achieving great success with small means looks just as convincing.
On principle, he can be defined as a “self-made man.” Poroshenko makes the impression of a person who established himself and achieved everything he has by himself. In many ways, this is the way it was. However, with a few corrections.
Politics, as is known, is two-thirds psychology. Therefore I am curious what moves the esteemed Petro Poroshenko.
It seems that he is good in every way. Young. Established. Educated, he can easily switch between correct Russian to beautiful Ukrainian and grammatically correct English. An exemplary family man. Not rude, always tactful and polite. A successful businessman.
But there is something amiss. There is some defect in Poroshenko that just doesn’t leave one’s mind.
Petro Poroshenko creates the impression of a very politically ambitious person. In his far-reaching and brave dreams, I am sure, he sits in the residence on Bankova street and sees himself in the Presidential seat. For him, status, his position in society and the possibility to influence global processes are very important.
And he has certain premises for it. The only thing that works against him is his provincial complex. Therefore he frequently makes one step forward and then two backward, commits strange actions and looks around far too much in fear of guessing wrongly.
Petro Poroshenko was born in the small Ukrainian town of Bolgrad bordering Moldova, in the family of the main engineer of the Bolgran District Union of Agrarian Equipment Olexiy Ivanovich Poroshenko. Petya was the younger son, his elder brother Mykhailo gave great hopes. At least that is what the neighbours of the Poroshenko family tell the journalists.
Olexiy Poroshenko was an energetic, social person, who was strict to his sons. He was the undisputed head of the family, his decisions were not up for discussion at home. Regardless of his senior age, he is still engaging in politics and agriculture in Vinnitsya oblast. In 2012 he even tried to run for the Ukrainian parliament, but rescinded his candidacy when the first bout of blackmail in the mass media put him in a hospital bed.
In the mid-70’s of the previous century the Poroshenko family moved to the Moldovan town of Bendery, there the father of the future oligarch worked at the Bendery Investigative Experimental-Renovation Factory, and between 1977 and 1983 he was its director. Later there is a gap in the biography of Poroshenko Sr.
According to rumours, he was in jail for economical crimes, having been subject to Andropov’s fight against corruption and abuse in the Soviet industry. And only in 1992, after the fall of the USSR, Olexiy Poroshenko moves to Kyiv. By that time, his sons had already established themselves there.
Petro, the younger brother, was a good student and wanted to become a diplomat. He dreamt about the Moscow Institute of International Relations, which was practically impossible to achieve for a boy from the Moldovan province – having failed the entrance examinations, Petro returned to Kyiv. But he did not betray his dream: in 1989 he graduated the international relations and international law faculty of the Kyiv State University. Therefore the current Presidential candidate speaks English fluently and is well-versed in world politics.
At the beginning of his career, however, the diploma he received turned out to be unnecessary: his business was trade-and-purchase and based on his family. Olexiy Ivanovich Poroshenko, together with his sons, organised the company “Ukrprominvest” un Kyiv, which later was names “Ukrainian Industrial-Investment Concern” and united over 50 businesses.
Today the Poroshenko family’s business empire is wide – confectionary businesses and agricultural establishments, bus production and media. It is not yet fully established, as some businesses are being bought and created, while others, on the contrary, are being put up for sale. For example, recently the empire has rid itself of the bus assembly company “Bohdan.”
It goes without saying that the pearl of the Poroshenko business is the confectionary factory “Roshen,” the oldest Ukrainian factory producing “Kyivsky” cakes and sweets. The owner not only withstood competition with world giants, but turned “Roshen” into an international concern, which includes businesses in Ukraine, Hungary, Southwest Asia. Poroshenko built the confectionary factory in Lipetsk oblast in Russia as well. But recently the Russian law enforcement had conducted a raid there, now the work of the factory has been paralysed, almost 10 million USD’s worth of assets have been blocked.
Until a certain moment Petro Poroshenko remained in the shadow of his father and elder brother. It seems that the hopes for heading the family business were lain on elder brother Mikhailo, and Petro was predicted to have a political career or a high government office. However in 1997 Mikhailo Poroshenko tragically died in a car accident, and Petro was forced to combine both business and political activities in his person.
Petro Poroshenko came to the Ukrainian Parliament for the first time in 1998 from a single-mandate district in Vinnytsia, which is now considered the basis point for the Poroshenko family: his father has been a member of the regional council there for many years, and recently Petro Olexiyovich’s elder son became a local council member as well. One of the first big confectionaries privatised by this family is located in Vinnytsia.
But the victory at the 1998 parliamentary elections was difficult for Petro Poroshenko, he surpassed his competitor by 50 votes only. Since that moment he has changed several parties and political camps.
He started with the Socio-Democratic Party of Ukraine (united), loyal to the President Leonid Kuchma. Meanwhile he got close to Kuchma’s administration, and later the speaker of the Parliamen Litvyn.
In 2000 Poroshenko left SDPU and created a fraction in the Verkhovna Rada, and later his own part “Solidarnist.” Since then nothing has been heard of this political union, but the party does exist, may be resurrected and led out to the political polygon after the presidential elections.
At the same time Poroshenko played a vital role in the creation of the Party of Regions, also loyal to Kuchma. But the love affair with the regions did not last long: a rebellion was blooming among the Ukrainian elite, which ended with the “Orange revolution” of 2004.
In 2001 Poroshenko headed the campaign of the oppositional block of the former Prime Minister and head of the National Bank Viktor Yushchenko “Nasha Ukrayina.” After the parliamentary elections in March 2002, when “Nasha Ukrayina” got the biggest percentage of votes, Poroshenko headed the most prestigious committees in the Parliament – in questions of budget.
He was names as one of the main sponsors of “Nasha Ukrayina” and the “Orange revolution.” Knowing Petro Olexiyovich’s savvy character, this is difficult to believe. In Yushchenko’s circle he stood out with his solidity, confidence and emphasised Ukrainian-ness. Now few remember that before the mid-2000 he had golden teeth.
After the “Orange revolution” Poroshenko became a “dear friend” of Yushchenko’s – this is how they called the most trusted people of the President, which divided the power and money in Ukraine.
Poroshenko became the secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, but only lasted about half a year on this post – between February and September of 2005. He clinched with Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, who accused President Yushchenko’s team of attempts to capture the best sectors of the country’s economy. The scandal was resonant, the mutual accusations – serious. The conflict ended with the deposition of both – Poroshenko and Timoshenko.
Petro Olexiyovich returned to the government in 2009, when Yushchenko appointed him Minister of Foreign Affairs (this is where his diploma was handy). In the MFA, however, Petro Poroshenko, worked even less than in the NSDC and is memorable for supporting Ukrainian-European integration and the accession of the country into the NATO.
In March 2010 a new President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, appeared. But Poroshenko was not lost here either. Back during the electoral campaign he silently supported Yanukovych, standing against his long-term offender and Yanukovych’s main competitor at those elections – Yulia Timoshenko.
He received the post of Minister of Economy from Yanukovych for this. This elicited a sharp negative reaction from society.
Poroshenko understood himself that he was in trouble. Therefore he extended his appointment over several weeks to placate the people.
He gathered the editors of all Ukrainian media at a meeting and asked them not to write what he was saying. He played on the journalists’ trust. The explained, as far as I understood from the words of the participants of the meeting, that he had no other choice, that he was afraid of losing his business, and that he was worried for the country.
Someone started a rumour that Poroshenko made the freeing of political prisoners one of the conditions for his becoming part of the government. So a noble person is simply forced to do ignoble things for the right price.
He achieved his tactical goal – nobody criticised him much for becoming part of the government. However, he lost strategically. And this became apparent during his first public appearance as Minister in Savik Shuster’s talk show on the First National Channel.
There was no undisputed respect for him like there had been earlier. Respect was replaced with condescension. This is where Shuster’s response to Poroshenko’s pathos-filled rhetoric about working for free came from. Poroshenko also said he would give his salary to charity. The audience immediately awoke, began applauding, and Shuster pointed out his out-of-place populism.
Poroshenko, as usually, solemnly and circumstantially talked about Ukraine’s fate, about European integration, about his fight against corruption, other things. But his entire pathos was erased with one phrase by the smart director of “Interfax-Ukrayina” Martynenko, by saying, Petro Olexiyovich, we feel sorry for you, because you ended up between the mallet and the anvil, and you practically have no chances of making a dignified exit. This was the only memorable thing about the big episode with the participation of the new Minister.
Back then I wrote a harsh article about Poroshenko, that his acceptance to be part of Yanukovych’s government was a shameful things that that it would not be fruitful. He took great offence and still reminds me of it.
However, one cannot say that Poroshenko’s life in Yanukovych’s time was carefree. Yes, he became Minister of Economy. But criminal charges were drawn up against the heads of his key businesses by tax and other special bodies. And Poroshenko did not last long as the Ministry of Economical Development and Trade: between March and November of 2012. Petro Olexiyovich could not hang onto big cabinets for a long time.
The possible reason for the thorny path of his governmental career is that Poroshenko is not a team player. He does not like being subordinate to someone, and his own team is still insignificant in its influence and size. Even at the current presidential elections the basis of his electoral headquarters were members of Vitali Klitschko’s UDAR party.
“Petro Poroshenko surrounds himself with absolutely loyal people. And though he makes it look like he listens to others, this it only to achieve even more loyalty,” thinks one of the famous investigative journalist in Ukraine Sergiy Leshchenko from “Ukrayinska Pravda.” “Before the appointment as Minister of Economy Poroshenko met with about fifteen journalists – as if to ask for advice. Everyone tied to talk him out of joining the government. After this Poroshenko announced that he would still go and work for the government. Why did he gather the journalists? It seems in order for them not to criticise him as Minister later.”
Poroshenko as always had serious political ambitions but he lacked the spirit and bravery to realise the. He creeped into big politics instead of bursting in.
“He does well where money can be made. But he always has problems where money has to be spent,” explains one of his old acquaintances.
It is impossible to come to power without informational support. And in 2011 Poroshenko, together with the President of UMH group Boris Lozhkin bought the company KP Media from the American businessman Ged Sunden, which included a popular weekly publication, several newspapers and websites. Besides this, they jointly owned the stations “Nashe Radio,” “Retro FM” and “Next.” But under pressure from President Yanukovych’s family Poroshenko was forced to leave these projects behind. He only retained TV channel Channel 5, but also kept it hungry, which prevented the channel fro being part of the popular and influential media in Ukraine.
In the summer of 2013 Poroshenko is getting ready for the Kyiv Mayor elections. That moment was his political peak, however it was not easy for him to win in Kyiv either. But Maidan unexpectedly put him at the top.
“He survived the Maidan challenge very successfully,” thinks the director of Interfax-Ukrayina Olexandr Martynenko. “On one hand, he was not among the organisers of Maidan and he was not held responsible for all the mistakes and scandals. At the same time he was always on the front line of Maidan, made statements from the booth together with the main leaders. He did not make a single serious mistake throughout those months, for which some could reproach him and others could hate him.”
Poroshenko even showed himself as a hero several times – he tried to stop the clashes in front of the Administration of the President on December 1st. He was in hospital together with the kidnapped and beaten activist Dmytro Bulatov. He went to Simferopol in the first days of the Crimean events, however he barely left unscathed.
An undisputedly firm and wilful man, Poroshenko is able to conduct long talks with the people that have offended him or whom he considered to be his enemies. This is even more important to characterise this person, if one knows that Petro Olexiovich is diabetic, which leads to sharp mood swings.
Everyone criticises him for being greedy, lamenting that one will never get a box of candy from him as a present. On the other hand, he can be understood, it is enough to give candy as a gift once and then he’ll have to ward the slackers off with a stick. But he also spends money on charity and to help sick children.
“I noticed that in the recent years Petro Poroshenko started speaking of himself in the third person. Not “I supported” or “yours truly promised,” but “Poroshenko promised, Poroshenko supported.” When people speak of themselves in the third person, it is a symptom of a superiority complex,” thinks journalist Sergiy Leshchenko. On principle, almost all experts say that Poroshenko’s contradictory character is yet to fully show itself.
“But so far he is not being stubborn and is not saying ‘I want and that’s final!,’ he is listening to us and hearing us,” explained the head of his electoral headquarters Vitali Kovalchuk from UDAR.
Petro Porosheno is frequently reproached for being insincere and cunning. I myself was witness to how he publicly made fun of Sergey Glaziev, advisor to Vladimir Putin, at the YES2013 Yalta summit, and then tried to converse with him and make friends behind the scenes. “Because of such kokhols, you, the Ukrainians, are not liked,” said a close acquaintance of Poroshenko’s. “But he is not bloodthirsty and he sees the civilised manner of behaviour as natural. He wants to be a respected European politician.”
He has been suffering of diabetes for many years. It is a cruel illness which leads to sharp mood swings. He can become a demon and resort to shouting.
They say that Viktor Yanukovych advised his doctor to him, who rid Poroshenko from his illness, if is is possible on principle to get rid of it.
“Society demands a man – not an extremist or a radical, not fidgety, but reliable and stable, this is the reason for Poroshenko’s triumph at the presidential elections. His campaign itself was weak, the signals he sent to society were not comprehensive, the advertisements were not well done. Poroshenko avoided TV debates with Yulia Timoshenko, overtly side-stepping any confrontation. The people forgave him for it. So far.”
This is Petro Olexiyovich’s time to shine, which he has been heading towards for almost a decade. And he is ready to pay any price to be President of the country, even at the most critical moment of its history. But his unexpectedly sky-high rating may disappear just as swiftly, if Poroshenko continues to act in his usual manner – one step forward, two steps back, through intrigue and covert games.
Translated by Mariya Shcherbinina