On the eve of the second round of elections Petro Poroshenko has almost no legal ways to win.
No chance of winning
Less than a week is left before the final stage of the presidential elections in Ukraine. According to the latest polls, Volodymyr Zelensky is almost 30% ahead of the current head of state. The showman’s victory is almost in his bag, and therefore Zelensky’s election headquarters refused to take active actions in recent weeks following the principle of ‘do no harm’. Apparently, they’ve placed the stake on the online chat with voters, as well as the final debate on April 19, where Zelensky will deliver a prepared speech.
Unlike his opponent, Petro Poroshenko is extremely energetic. He regularly makes statements on sensitive issues, tries to show hitherto unusual flexibility, confidently gets rid of discredited officials in his entourage. The President surely does not forget to speak over and over on his favorite geopolitical topic, talking about the brilliant successes and prospects of Euro-Atlantic integration.
At this time Poroshenko’s headquarters conducts rather dirty public relations campaign against Zelensky: exploits the rumors about his drug addiction and relationships with the oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, launched threatening viral videos with a dump truck hitting Zelensky. Conspicuous billboards with photos of Poroshenko and Putin and an inscription “April 21 – the decisive choice” filled the streets of Ukrainian cities.
Another Poroshenko-instigated hot topic of the elections was the debate. The President’s team presumes on Zelensky’s inexperience: Poroshenko is better aware of affairs in the country, so, without effort will be able to outmatch the rival in face-to-face debate. First Zelensky refused public debate with the President, but after accusations of cowardice, made a spectacular move transferring the debate on the stadium in Kyiv.
However, the significance of the debate is artificially exaggerated, and Poroshenko has no more trumps left. Given the huge advantage of the showman, nothing will seriously affect the outcome of the election. In fact, Poroshenko has only two options to remain in power – to use the administrative resources in an unprecedented way or to organize a military provocation in the Donbas, which will postpone the elections for some time.
Europe warns Poroshenko
Last week, the participants in the presidential race almost simultaneously traveled to the key European capitals. While Petro Poroshenko met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Volodymyr Zelensky had his first conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron. Immediately after Zelensky, the current leader of Ukraine was received at the Elysee Palace.
Meetings in Berlin and Paris are interesting for several reasons. Official communication with presidential candidates is not a common practice for European leaders, but rather an exception to the rule. In addition, the date of receptions – just a week before the vote – hints that it was not ordinary contacts, as further explained Merkel.
Obviously, the true meaning of the meetings should be sought ‘between the lines’. Many Ukrainian experts, especially those affiliated with the President, have already hastened to interpret Poroshenko’s travel to Berlin and Paris as evidence of his support in the West. Moreover, a little earlier the representative of the US Department of State Kurt Volker almost openly ‘agitated’ for the Ukrainian leader.
However, there is reason to believe that political assistance to drowning Poroshenko was not the topic of the meetings. First, Berlin officially denied these conjectures, and secondly, the symbolism and atmosphere of the meeting – protocol incidents, divergent positions on the Nord Stream-2 – is not exactly the best way to express its support.
Most likely, the leaders of Germany and Ukraine discussed the upcoming elections. Merkel, who has many years of experience of interaction with the current Ukrainian government, apparently outlined Poroshenko’s framework of what is permitted, warning against any provocations and falsifications before and during the vote. Instead, Poroshenko might have been offered immunity from criminal prosecution, guarantees of preservation of capital and the opportunity to remain in the political life of the country, at least until the next parliamentary elections. In part, this assumption is confirmed by the message of the Chancellor that she expects free and fair elections in the second round, which she articulated during a press conference with Poroshenko.
As for the meeting of Macron with Zelensky, it can be interpreted as the beginning of a smooth transit of power in Ukraine. Taking into account the almost ensured victory of the showman in the second round, he is gradually brought up to date and prepared to start active work, primarily to resolve the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and restart the Normandy format. The fact that Donbas was one of the topics of communication with the French leader was later confirmed by Zelensky himself. In addition, France already has a successful experience of conflict settlement in conjunction with Russia, namely the implemented Medvedev-Sarkozy plan for Abkhazia.
Later meeting of Macron with Poroshenko in this context, apparently, was purely a courtesy meeting and was needed only to ensure parity and prevent any speculation about antagonism between Berlin and Paris about Ukraine.
Synchronous French-German maneuver confirms that the European Union resigned to the inevitable Poroshenko’s departure from office. Now the EU leaders are primarily concerned about the preparation of favorable ground for a successful start of the Zelensky presidency, and seek to neutralize any potential threats. Including from the incumbent President of Ukraine.
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