Whether Yulia Tymoshenko Or Petro Poroshenko Win Ukraine's Election, Vladimir Putin Will Be Left Behind
On Sunday, candidates known as "The Chocolate King," and "The Gas Princess" will compete for votes in Ukraine's Presidential Election. While the contest may sound like some sick version of Candy Land, the stakes could not be higher for a country that has been riddled by civil strife since November. Ukraine is poised between Russia and the European Union, and whoever wins the election will have to contend with pressure from both sides.
In the past six months, Putin has gone to extreme ends to preserve his influence over Ukraine, and has tried to delegitimize Ukrainian sovereignty under the interim government, a case that will be harder to make after Ukrainian has a publicly elected president. But, how do the two most popular candidates plan to handle Putin?
"The Chocolate King"
Petro Poroshenko, who made a fortune manufacturing chocolates before he entered politics in 1998, is running on a pro-West platform, but still hopes to maintain a good relationship with Putin. Currently the frontrunner in Ukraine's Presidential election, Poroshenko hopes to straddle the line between the Kremlin and the EU. Proshenko has ties to Russia -- both through business and family -- and forty percent of his business comes from Russia.
Money talks, and like almost every other candidate who has been involved in this election, Poroshenko has been accused of corruption in the past. Specifically, Poroshenko has been linked to Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian tycoon who is involved with several scandals and has worked with an FBI-wanted mobster.
Despite his ties to big business and the East, Poroshenko has earned some of his reputation as a reformer. As Foreign Minister from 2009-2010, Poroshenko drafted Ukraine's controversial association agreement with the EU. Poroshenko has said he supports Ukraine's entry into the EU, and recently met with officials in the United Kingdom regarding Ukrainian travel in Western Europe. While Poroshenko's divorce from Putin may not yet be complete, he hasn't made Russia any promises either.
"The Gas Princess"
Yulia Tymoshenko — who I'd like to personally thank for making milkmaid braids office-appropriate — is a bit tougher when it comes to negotiating with Putin. Tymoshenko co-led Ukraine's last big political uprising, the Orange Revolution, in 2004 and served as Prime Minister following the election. Like Poroshenko, Tymoshenko earned a name for herself in business before entering politics, as a natural gas tycoon (not as sweet as chocolate, but a bit more lucrative).
This is Tymoshenko's second run for president; she ran against Yanukovych in 2010 and was imprisoned on embezzlement charges shortly after her loss in the election. Even if everyone in Ukraine is corrupt, that's incredible timing. Today, Tymoshenko is perceived by many as a symbol of Ukrainian political agency, and as one tough cookie. The woman just spent seven years in jail, and now she wants to run for president. In 2004, Tymoshenko co-led the Orange Revolution on an anti-Kremlin platform, and today her politics don't seem to have changed much.
Well, maybe they've hardened. Last week, the Russian government leaked a recording of someone who sounds exactly like Tymoshenko saying that Russians should be killed with nuclear weapons. Like we said, tough cookie. Despite her icon-status in Ukraine and around the world, Tymoshenko isn't polling as well as Poroshenko, and many think she should resign from the race and back Poroshenko as many of the other candidates in the race have done. But, anyone who thinks Tymoshenko is going to back down without a fight clearly doesn't know The Gas Princess very well.