While barely covered in the western media as a result of the curious blackout of recent developments in the Ukraine civil war, for nearly a month Ukraine has had a new president, 48 year old billionaire businessman, Petro Poroshenko. In order to cut through the fog, we decided to go straight to the source on what the US has to say about the country's new leader, who for now at least, appears to be in the good graces of both Putin and the US, namely the leaked Wikileaks cables. Readers will hardly be surprised to learn that he features quite prominently.
Here are some of the choice excerpts revealing what goes on inside Petro Poroshenko's head.
The Big Picture, From April 28, 2006: UKRAINE: OUR UKRAINE INSIDER POROSHENKO ON RADA MAJORITY COALITION TALKS, TYMOSHENKO
During an April 28 meeting with Ambassador, Our Ukraine (OU) insider Petro Poroshenko emphatically denied he was using his influence with the Prosecutor General to put pressure on Tymoshenko lieutenant Oleksandr Turchynov (refs A and B). Coalition talks with the Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) were continuing, but there was no progress to report; President Yushchenko still seemed unwilling to accept Tymoshenko as prime minister and was "listening" to influential advocates of cooperation with the Party of Regions. Poroshenko claimed that he was personally opposed to an "Orange-Blue" pairing. Poroshenko related that he had spoken at length with Tymoshenko on April 27; she had sought, and then spurned, his assistance in forming a BYuT-OU coalition in the Kiev city council. Poroshenko confided that he had spoken with Tymoshenko during the Orthodox Easter weekend (April 22-23); she had called him to ask "what he wanted" in return for his support for her serving again as PM. Poroshenko said he had replied that he wanted her to be more flexible and less high-handed in the coalition talks. Poroshenko groused that Tymoshenko could not be trusted, stressing that she was not candid and not "principled." It was very possible, Poroshenko warned, that there could be a crisis scenario in which Tymoshenko and Yushchenko simply could not get a coalition deal done. End summary.
The "Talking points" - running the show behind the scenes, from February 17, 2010: AMBASSADOR'S MEETING WITH FM POROSHENKO
Ambassador called on Foreign Minister Petro Poroshenko February 12. Poroshenko had met earlier that day with Viktor Yanukovych, who was "elated" by President Obama's February 11 phone call of congratulations. Poroshenko said the President's call sent an important message to Yanukovych -- and also to Tymoshenko. It had helped foster stability in an uncertain post-election environment. Alluding to Tymoshenko, Poroshenko condemned "politicians who apply unacceptable methods" to undermine elections. The essential thing was to support democracy, as President Obama had done with his call. Poroshenko added that he had "tried to deliver such messages" himself. Poroshenko noted that he had prepared Yanukovych's talking points for the call.
On Poroshenko's closeness to ousted president yanukovich:
Poroshenko sought to use the meeting to highlight his closeness (or what he portrayed as closeness) to Yanukovych. He gave no signal that he planned to step down soon as FM; indeed, quite the opposite. While Poroshenko remains on the short list for prospective FMs under Yanukovych, other names figure more prominently. Ukraine's former FM and Ambassador to the U.S. and current Ambassador to Russia, Konstantin Gryshchenko, is the name senior Regions contacts mention to us most often.
Meeting with then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, from December 18, 2009, SECRETARY CLINTON'S DECEMBER 9, 2009 MEETING WITH UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER PETRO POROSHENKO
The Secretary discussed non- proliferation, security assurances, Ukraine's economic situation, and energy security with Foreign Minister Petro Poroshenko on December 9 in Washington. During the meeting, which followed the inaugural session of the U.S.-Ukraine Strategic Partnership Commission, the Secretary emphasized that, regardless of the presidential election outcome, Ukraine needs to end political infighting and implement economic reforms. She stressed the opportunity for Ukraine to make a significant contribution to the President's April nuclear security summit and urged Ukraine to make critical reforms in the energy sector. Poroshenko agreed to the Secretary's offer to send a team to Kyiv to discuss a U.S. proposal to remove Ukraine's highly enriched uranium fresh fuel. He emphasized the importance of the IMF's release of further disbursements from the Stand-By Agreement before the election to send a symbolic message, even if the disbursement is partial.
The curious case of Ukraine Uranium, and its transfer to the US:
The Secretary applauded the non-proliferation initiative Ukraine presented at the OSCE ministerial, adding that Kyiv could truly demonstrate its commitment to non-proliferation by agreeing to give up its highly enriched uranium (HEU). She suggested our two countries work together to reach agreement on a plan before the April nuclear security summit. The Secretary suggested a new proposal -- to transfer HEU fresh fuel out of Ukraine by December 2010, and she offered to send a team to Kyiv to discuss the details. The Secretary noted that, while some in Ukraine felt keeping HEU was a security blanket, the U.S. believed that this could have the opposite effect.
Secretary Clinton reiterated that the United States stood behind the Budapest Memorandum security assurances and that these assurances had not changed with the expiration of the START Treaty. She emphasized that the United States envisioned multiple pathways to NATO membership. The United States, however, had received mixed messages from Ukraine during its presidential campaign, and Ukraine's friends wondered whether Ukrainians really wanted NATO membership. The United States continued to support Ukraine's eventual membership in NATO, but the Secretary reminded Poroshenko that all aspirants must meet NATO standards. She noted that during the December 3 NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting, Allies commended Ukraine on the finalization of its first Annual National Program and urged Ukraine to make further progress through its 2010 program.
About those protests taking place this weekend before the Russian embassy? Guess who arranged the current ambassdor, Mikhail Zurabov. From January 26, 2010. LAVROV-POROSHENKO DEAL ON NEW RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE
At a January 26 meeting with the Ambassador, Ukrainian FM Poroshenko explained how he had cut a deal with Russian FM Lavrov to facilitate the arrival of the new Russian ambassador to Ukraine, Mikhail Zurabov. Moscow had burned all bridges with Ukrainian President Yushchenko and had not wanted to send a new ambassador to Kyiv until Yushchenko left office following the February 7 Ukrainian runoff election. On the other hand, both sides were interested in moving forward expeditiously on a number of bilateral issues. Poroshenko therefore got Lavrov to agree that Amb. Zurabov would arrive in Kyiv bearing written credentials addressed to Ukrainian President Yushchenko, as required by protocol and Ukrainian national sensitivities. Indeed, FM Poroshenko even showed the credential document, with Yushchenko's name, to Ukrainian TV cameras. However, Zurabov will not formally present his credentials until the new Ukrainian president has taken office, at which time he will have a new document with the new Ukrainian president's name written in place of Yushchenko's. In this way, a) the sitting Ukrainian president was shown due respect; and b) Zurabov was allowed to arrive and begin working; but c) the Russians were not required to suffer the indignity of Zurabov presenting his credentials to Yushchenko.
And finally, here is what was (formerly) the US State Department's bio of Poroshenko, from October 9, 2009: POROSHENKO CONFIRMED AS NEW FOREIGN MINISTER:
COALITION BACKS PRESIDENT'S NEW PICK
(U) The Rada on October 9 approved Petro Poroshenko as Ukraine's new Foreign Minister. President Yushchenko announced Poroshenko's nomination the previous day when he withdrew his earlier nomination of the current Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S., Oleg Shamshur. Poroshenko was backed by 240 of 450 MPs, including two from the opposition. Yushchenko and the coalition led by Prime Minister Tymoshenko have been at loggerheads over a replacement for former FM Volodomyr Oryzhko who was ousted by the Rada on March 3 (ref). The Rada's refusal to consider Yushchenko's nomination of Ambassador Shamshur left the position vacant for more than six months. After his Rada confirmation, Poroshenko called for Ukraine to continue its efforts at European integration and for "pragmatic, mutually beneficial relations with Russia, based on respect for mutual sovereignty."
CAREER MIXES BUSINESS AND POLITICS
(U) Poroshenko is one of Ukraine's richest businessmen. Estimates vary, but many consider him a (dollar) billionaire. Poroshenko controls Ukrprominvest, which has interests in bus manufacturing, shipyards, banking, and media. He also owns Roshen, Ukraine's largest confectionery company, which has factories in both Ukraine and Russia. Poroshenko served as a member of parliament from 1998 to 2005 in various political parties and was the Chairman of the National Security and Defense Council in 2005. Since 2007 he has served as the Chairman of the National Bank's Supervisory Council. In addition to his business and political activities, in 2002 Poroshenko completed his doctoral studies at the Kyiv Institute of International Relations. He speaks English.
(C) Tymoshenko bloc (BYuT) MP Valeriy Pysarenko told us BYuT backed Poroshenko's nomination because he may be able to help normalize relations with Russia. Pysarenko explained that unlike previous FM Oryzhko, Poroshenko can engage constructively with Moscow and would not needlessly provoke the Kremlin. Pysarenko said that Poroshenko is also willing to cooperate with the Prime Minister on foreign policy rather than oppose her as Oryzhko had. Ihor Kohut, Director of the Agency for Legislative Initiatives told us that Poroshenko was a good compromise candidate for the FM job. He said that Poroshenko has good personal relations with both the President and PM and was strong enough to balance between each of their demands. Kohut described Poroshenko as a "caretaker" Foreign Minister who has the chance to "steady the weak Ministry of Foreign Affairs" until a new president is elected.
OR PM CURRYING FAVOR?
(SBU) Party of Regions MP Nestor Shufrych criticized PM Tymoshenko's bloc for its support of Poroshenko's nomination. He said that Tymoshenko's sole reason for backing Poroshenko was to gain access to his media and financial resources, including the popular television station Kanal 5, for the upcoming presidential election. Kohut agreed that Tymoshenko likely considered the benefits of Poroshenko's media and financial resources, but doubted that this was the most important factor in his approval.
(C) Deputy Prime Minister Nemyria, commenting to visiting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Wallander October 8, noted that Poroshenko's wealth -- he called him a billionaire -- created potential conflicts of interest. While Poroshenko was National Security and Defense Council Secretary, he came under criticism that his business interests in Russia had created a conflict. Nemyria said that Yushchenko had consulted more on Poroshenko's nomination than he had Shamshur's. The President had floated the nomination with Poroshenko a month to two before and gave time for Poroshenko to build support. Nemyria highlighted Poroshenko's ambitious nature but added that there was no "ideal candidate" at this juncture.
So... is Poroshenko playing Russia, or is he really playing the US? or both.