[Marxism] In Russia, Tune Changes About Leader in Ukraine
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun May 25 21:23:13 MDT 2014
NY Times, May 26 2014
In Russia, Tune Changes About Leader in Ukraine
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
MOSCOW — Petro O. Poroshenko, the billionaire businessman who won
Ukraine’s presidential election on Sunday, was portrayed last month in a
bilious campaign profile on Russian television here as money-grubbing,
devious, a radical sympathizer — in short, a run-of-the-mill Ukrainian
politician to Russian eyes.
The program on NTV, a Kremlin ally, said he owned a mansion resembling
the White House, clear evidence of dangerous Western sympathies. The
report mocked him as “The Chocolate Rabbit,” twisting his usual
nickname, “The Chocolate King,” from his confectionary fortune. A
scientist, or at least someone wearing a white coat, materialized on
screen to denounce his popular Roshen chocolate brand as riddled with
Then as Mr. Poroshenko emerged as the front-runner, a change occurred.
The attacks ceased, and his chocolate factory in southern Russia, which
government police had shuttered, was allowed to operate again.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia even mentioned the chocolates in
passing on TV as edible, and, in recent days, he has said on various
occasions that he would work with whatever new leadership emerges in Kiev.
“We will, by all means, respect the choice of the Ukrainian people and
will cooperate with the authorities that will come to power as a result
of the election,” Mr. Putin told a group of journalists from foreign
news agencies on Saturday in St. Petersburg, according to a transcript
on the Kremlin website.
But there were a few caveats. Mr. Putin said he still considered
President Viktor F. Yanukovych, deposed in February, Ukraine’s
legitimate leader. Plus, much-needed constitutional reform would likely
make any new presidential term short-lived, he said.
Behind Mr. Putin’s remarks, Russian analysts, Western diplomats and
others see twin objectives. The Kremlin’s main goal is to maintain its
influence over Ukraine by whatever means necessary, but ideally through
strong regional autonomy. Second, it would prefer that the instability
in eastern Ukraine not disintegrate into militia warfare.
Moscow would not be willing to work with, never mind embrace, Mr.
Poroshenko, nor anyone who fails to recognize the need to pursue a
“The attitude toward him will be chilly, but they understand that they
will have to work with him,” said Aleksei V. Makarkin, an analyst at the
Center for Political Technologies in Moscow.
If anyone can dance the complicated minuet required to both court Europe
and not provoke Moscow, analysts and diplomats concur, Mr. Poroshenko can.
Mr. Poroshenko has proved business negotiating skills, a pragmatic
streak and long experience in the fractious Ukrainian government. He was
the foreign minister in 2009 and 2010 and the trade minister after that,
telling Agence France-Presse last week, “I know Putin; I have had
extensive experience in discussions with him; he is a strong and tough
But what Mr. Putin thinks of him remains unclear. On the positive side,
Mr. Poroshenko has certain attributes that look good from Red Square. He
has ties to Russia’s business elite, having invested heavily here. He is
known to make pilgrimages to Russian Orthodox monasteries. His son met
his daughter-in-law in St. Petersburg, Mr. Putin’s hometown.
Russia did not go so far as to condemn him as a Nazi sympathizer, its
main taint against a raft of Kiev politicians. He is, as one analyst not
authorized to speak publicly said, seen by the Kremlin as “rukopozhaty,”
or someone with whom you are willing to shake hands.
Mr. Poroshenko’s main conduits to the Kremlin are believed to include
Dmitry V. Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch. Mr. Firtash helped to
consolidate Mr. Poroshenko’s candidacy, but he is now stuck in Vienna,
fighting extradition to the United States on corruption charges. On a
certain basic level, however, none of that matters, analysts said.
“Russia does not think about individuals,” said Yevgeny Minchenko, an
expert on Ukraine at the International Institute for Political
Expertise. “Russia thinks about conditions, about moves, what they do.
They are not worried about who you are; they only worry about what you do.”
The leadership in Kiev generally recognizes that it needs to inaugurate
a direct dialogue with the Kremlin, analysts noted. Russia is just too
big a neighbor to ignore, much less escape. There are also solid
Mr. Putin repeated during a question-and-answer session Friday at the
St. Petersburg Economic Forum that he wanted Ukraine to pay the $3.5
billion it owes Russia for natural gas now. Russia is Ukraine’s largest
trading partner, and the economically troubled junior partner builds
numerous important components for the Russian military.
But Mr. Putin seems prepared to slowly strangle the country rather than
see it emerge as any kind of perceived threat.
Personal rapport might help Mr. Poroshenko smooth negotiations with Mr.
Putin, analysts said, but only so far. They were both judo enthusiasts,
for example, although it appears that the portly Mr. Poroshenko no
longer practices. “Maybe that will help, but I think that they are in
different weight classes,” said Orysia Lutsevych, an analyst with
Chatham House in London.
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