Just who is Petro Poroshenko? And why does he think he may be taken seriously by Yushchenko in the company of such political heavyweights as Tymoshenko and Moroz? Indeed, even Kinakh and Pynzenyk are better known in the Ukrainian political arena than Poroshenko. All of Poroshenko's supposed rivals for the post of prime minister have previous experience in top government jobs: Moroz was parliamentary speaker in 1994-98; Tymoshenko was deputy prime minister in Yushchenko's cabinet in 2000; Kinakh was prime minister in 2001-02; and Pynzenyk served in the government as a minister and deputy prime minister in 1992-93 and 1994-97. As for Poroshenko, his most prestigious public post to date is his leadership of the parliamentary Budget Committee, which he has headed since 2002.
To begin with, Poroshenko is the owner of the Channel 5 television station, which has made a huge propagandistic contribution to the success of the Yushchenko-driven "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine. Channel 5 was the country's only television channel sympathetic to Yushchenko's presidential bid throughout the 2004 election campaign and in the first week of the "Orange Revolution" that followed the discredited 21 November second election round that favored then-Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. It was only in the second week of the ongoing protests of orange-clad Ukrainians on Independence Square in Kyiv that journalists on other television channels, both private and state-controlled, launched a rebellion against official censorship and started to cover events in Ukraine in a more unbiased manner. Channel 5 spearheaded a major breakthrough in Ukraine's electronic media toward more pluralistic and objective news coverage, which clearly benefited opposition presidential candidate Yushchenko.
Also notable is that Poroshenko is a very rich businessman, and his financial contribution to the Yushchenko presidential campaign -- in addition to that from Tymoshenko -- has surely been hefty, although we will most likely never learn exactly who paid what in sponsoring Yushchenko's campaign. Poroshenko runs the Ukrprominvest concern, which includes five confectionary plants and a business that sells foreign-made automobiles and motorcycles, and also manufactures domestic motor vehicles and ships. Poroshenko is the largest manufacturer of confectionery in Ukraine and has been dubbed the country's "Chocolate King." He once said that "more than $100 million" has been invested in Ukrprominvest.
Asked by Channel 5 to comment on Yushchenko's requirement that the next prime minister not have business connections, Poroshenko said that he has no business interests "from a formal point of view." This may be true to some extent. According to some Ukrainian media, a significant part of the Ukrprominvest property legally belongs to Petro Poroshenko's father, Oleksiy Poroshenko, who is now general director of Ukrprominvest.
Petro Poroshenko was born on 26 September 1965 in the city of Bolhrad, Odesa Oblast, near the Ukrainian-Moldovan border and near the Danube Delta. He debuted in big politics in March 1998, when he was elected to the Verkhovna Rada from a first-past-the-post constituency in Vinnytsya Oblast. At that time, Poroshenko was a member of the Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o) led by Viktor Medvedchuk and was on its Political Bureau. In 2000, Poroshenko quit the SDPU-o and formed its own parliamentary caucus, called Solidarity, and a political party called the Party of Solidarity of Ukraine. By the end of 2000 his party joined the Party of Regions of Ukraine (now headed by Yanukovych), of which he become a cochairman. In 2001, Poroshenko left the Party of Regions, recast his former party into a Solidarity Party and joined Yushchenko's Our Ukraine election bloc. Poroshenko become manager of the Our Ukraine parliamentary election staff in 2002 and, after being elected to the Verkhovna Rada in March 2002, became head of the Budget Committee.
Poroshenko, who was deputy manager of Yushchenko's presidential campaign in 2004, is generally described as a very influential person in the Yushchenko entourage and seen as a moderate, particularly in comparison with radical populist Tymoshenko. Although Poroshenko has kept a low profile in politics so far, his maneuverings in party politics and the Verkhovna Rada have demonstrated as a minimum that he is capable of forging political alliances with oligarchic groups, a talent that no doubt boosts his stock as a potential prime minister. Poroshenko's very good political relations with parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn are also an advantage, especially as Lytvyn's 30-strong Popular Agrarian Party parliamentary caucus is tapped to join a pro-Yushchenko coalition in parliament, while Lytvyn himself, whose political stature has risen noticeably during the 2004 election standoff, is expected to guarantee the stability of the pro-Yushchenko parliamentary coalition in the first year of his presidency.
What can be seen as Poroshenko's most serious shortcoming as a candidate for the top cabinet job is his strong business connections, despite the fact that he may be "formally" free of them. Too many businessmen in Ukraine seem to perceive Yushchenko's victory as an opportunity for revenge against the oligarchs who supported the Kuchma-Yanukovych regime and for a "redivision" of the spheres of economic influence under the new regime. Therefore, Poroshenko may not be totally free of the temptation to mete out "economic justice" and promote his "wronged" associates to the posts and benefits they were denied during the era of President Leonid Kuchma.
In other words, Yushchenko will think long and hard before deciding on the nomination of Poroshenko to the post of prime minister. Because Yushchenko does not need a war with Ukrainian oligarchs, but their cooperation, primarily in replenishing the state budget. Poroshenko said in a press interview in mid-2004 that it is quite possible for the Ukrainian budget to immediately have annual revenues of 100 billion hryvnyas ($19 billion) by recovering part of the money from the shadow economic sector. (The budget revenues projected for 2005 stand at 86.5 billion hryvnyas.) Arguably, to make this happen, the government needs to cajole the old oligarchs into leaving the shadow economy rather than to replace them with new ones, "wronged" or not.