Opinion: Both Russia and EU Looking Forward to New Ukrainian President

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Two months before the presidential election in Ukraine, the ratings of the two leading candidates - President Petro Poroshenko and the leader of the Batkivshchyna Party, Yulia Tymoshenko –have almost levelled off. While the Ukrainians are wondering who will win in the expected run-off, Moscow and Brussels have already set their front-runners of the electoral race.

Poroshenko vs Tymoshenko: Pros and Cons

Judging by the latest polls, the presidential race has got its front-runners: the current President, Petro Poroshenko, and the veteran of Ukrainian politics, Yulia Tymoshenko. The Head of state has significantly improved his position in recent months and has almost reached the level of his main rival, so the experts increasingly predict the second round of voting. At first glance, the growth of Poroshenko’s rating seems to be either a miracle or a sociologists’ mistake: even the head of his office did not recently believe in the possible re-election of the current President. In fact, everything is logical – Poroshenko recently played some powerful cards right. The first and the main one is the autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The Head of state was personally involved with the case and guided all stages of separating the Ukrainian church from the ROC. The expectation worked out –the church split between Moscow and Kiev is currently wedded with the name of Poroshenko, who fully reaps the fruits of this victory. The President keeps on aggravating relations with Russia not only in religion, but also in politics. He announced several simultaneous decisive steps – the withdrawal from the Commonwealth of Independent States and the reinforcement of a strategic course for the EU and NATO integration in the Constitution. These measures will surely find a response among the radically-minded part of the Ukrainian society and will bring additional electoral points to the President. Poroshenko also receives the financial assistance from Europe and the IMF. Fresh money – new opportunities. Particularly, on the eve of the elections the President could promptly raise pensions, public sector wages and social benefits. Money, of course, was not given for the purpose of charity, but who cares if the presidency is at stake? However, the chances of the Poroshenko’s main rival look no less advantageous. Tymoshenko is not involved in the domestic and foreign failures of the current Ukrainian authorities. In 2014, the current President crushed the Batkivshchyna leader in the first round of the election. Since then, the situation has changed a lot: the last 5 years have become without exaggeration the most difficult period in the history of Ukraine. Against this background, many people have already forgotten why they didn’t like Tymoshenko back in 2014, and she became redolent of much more “fat” past times. Now, the once disgraced politician easily bombards the position of the President. But Poroshenko merits criticism: the rampant corruption, the conflict in the east of Ukraine, the failure of democratic reforms and the severe economic crisis are inextricably linked with the name of the oligarchic president. In addition, the current aces of the Head of state are ambivalent, since the Autocephalous Church is emerging slowly, and Western loans are based on the increasing of tariffs and social spending cuts. The fact that during Tymoshenko’s premiership, the country was integrated into the European Union peacefully without economical disasters and completely spoiled relations with Russia, also brings benefits to this candidate. Taking advantage of the disappointing results of Poroshenko’s presidency, this allows her to actively win the support of people pushing the populist rhetoric and promising speedy changes.

Moscow and Brussels vs Poroshenko

While Ukrainians are considering what candidate will get their vote on 31 March, the major European geopolitical players have already made their choice. For the European Union, the presidential election in Ukraine is a long-awaited chance to put the country's European integration process on new rails, as RTA experts have already mentioned. The EU considers Petro Poroshenko a used asset that did not justify trust and discredited the European idea inside the country. Brussels wants to relaunch the reform process and stop the theft of European money, and the “president of the war” does not suit it. The main and final task of Poroshenko is to absorb all the adverse experience of the past years and leave the arena so that the next leader of the country could start from scratch. Adventurous foreign policy is another reason to dismiss Poroshenko. By his actions, the president is constantly aggravating the situation in the region, and the European Union does not need conflicts: Brussels has enough own problems, starting from Brexit and the domestic political crisis in Romania to the obstinate tricks of Italy and Hungary. Therefore, the EU wants to see Kiev not as a source of additional “headache”, but as a reliable and predictable partner. Therefore, Brussels almost openly stakes on Yulia Tymoshenko, who preserved the image of the technocratic politics of the first “orange” wave. To some extent, the leader of Batkivshchyna suits Russia as well. The Kremlin considers the current Ukrainian president a very annoying misunderstanding, as evidenced by the absence of any contacts between the presidential administrations. Moscow is “waiting out” the Poroshenko era and is preparing to restore bilateral relations with the next Ukrainian leader. And although the rhetoric of Yulia Tymoshenko addressed to Russia is no less belligerent than that of her opponents, she is a more understandable, pragmatic and also familiar partner with real experience of compromise cooperation. At one time, it was a gas deal with Moscow that led to a criminal sentence of Tymoshenko under President Viktor Yanukovych. It is noteworthy that the views of the EU and Russia agree not only on the preferred candidate for the future president of Ukraine. The parties now, in fact, have identical strategic interests in Ukraine: ensuring stable gas transit to Europe and settlement of the situation in the east of the country. Apparently, Moscow and Brussels consider Tymoshenko to be a much more suitable executive than the current president. Her election as president may be the beginning of a detente between Russia and Ukraine. Perhaps the Kremlin will even make the first conciliatory step as some fall-backs in the Donbas – for example, it will coordinate the introduction of international peacekeepers on the separation line between the parties. Anyway, the stabilization of Ukraine remains with the first task of both Moscow and Brussels, and only then followed by geopolitical bargaining.