Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ukraine's 'Chocolate King' Signals Strong Ties to West, Yet Can't Quit Russia

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ukraine's 'Chocolate King' Signals Strong Ties to West, Yet Can't Quit Russia

Article excerpt

The visionary in Petro Poroshenko, the billionaire elected Sunday as Ukraine's new president, is pro-Western: He foresees his country building a close economic association with the European Union and hopes for stronger political ties with the United States, including closer military cooperation.

But the pragmatist in Mr. Poroshenko recognizes that Russia, Ukraine's powerful eastern neighbor, will inevitably play a crucial role in his country's future. The president-elect widely known as the "chocolate king" for the fortune he built from chocolate-making has business interests in Russia and Belarus, and he has pledged to go to Russia to meet with the Russian leadership in the first half of June.

Both Washington and European capitals were careful not to crow over Poroshenko's first-round victory, even though he was perceived to be the West's choice.

Taking a cue from the victorious candidate, Western capitals placed the emphasis of their congratulatory statements on the election's national character and what that said about Ukrainians' desire for unity. Several thousand votes were cast in Crimea, the peninsula annexed by Russia, although voting was largely impeded in strife-torn Donetsk and Luhansk.

Moscow also expressed satisfaction with the results - taken as a sign by many regional experts that, given the alternatives the election presented, Russian President Vladimir Putin considered Poroshenko the best outcome, and someone he can at least try to work with.

"Putin wants a partner with whom he can deal, and Poroshenko looks like he could be" that person, "no better, no worse," says Andrew Weiss, a former National Security Council director for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian affairs, now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. "He's not [Moscow's] man, but [from Putin's perspective], it's better to have a partner in Kiev than no one."

In his campaign, Poroshenko rejected Russia's annexation of Crimea - a position that aligns him with the West. But Mr. Putin probably realized that almost any candidate for president of Ukraine would have to take that stance, Russia analysts say, and will now watch for where he takes that position as president.

The reality of Ukraine's dire economic straits, and the key role Russia will play in Ukraine's efforts to address them, may very well force Poroshenko to play down the Crimea issue, some Ukraine experts say.

Despite the new president's "principled stance on Crimea, he will be under strong pressure for fast economic reforms," says visiting Carnegie Ukraine expert Balazs Jarabik. …

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