Maybe you’re new to Ukraine. Maybe you want to get a basic understanding of Ukrainian politics but are too afraid to ask. Maybe you think you know, but you’re just very misinformed. We’re here to help!
This first Idiot’s Guide to Ukrainian Politics covers just two people, with person number two being included less out of importance and more as a nod to her longevity on the political scene.
The Chocolate King
First up, Petro Poroshenko. The big man, the head honcho, dubbed “the chocolate king” (well, actually, he’s not. Or, at least, he wasn’t. That’s a relatively new nickname in fact, no doubt created by Russian propagandists to undermine him, but so often repeated that it is commonly accepted in the international press nowadays that this was a common nickname for him… Really.)
Ukraine’s first English-speaking President has been on the political scene for many years, and has been around, serving as both Foreign Minister and Minister of Trade and Economic Development in his career. Another first, he is Ukraine’s first President elected with a clear first round win and no run-off second vote needed.
He’s called an oligarch because he’s rather rich. But, he’s not in the same class of oligarch who has needed to have hordes of security protecting him 24/7. Despite his wealth, Poroshenko could often be seen driving his own car around Kyiv with no G-(oon)Wagon close protection detail shadowing him. His popularity ratings are low, but then Ukrainians do have a habit of blaming absolutely everything on the incumbent president. In truth, he has overseen a period of great change in Ukraine. In fairness it has not been enough.
The Gas Princess
Second, Yulia! One of the only people in Ukraine who is instantly recognisable just by their first name. We all know who is being referred to when we hear the name “Yulia” – it is the head of the Batkivshina (Fatherland) political faction, the Gas Princess (a genuine nickname and well deserved) herself, Mrs Tymoshenko.
Yulia amassed a fortune in her days as the intermediary in the gas trade (hence the nickname) between Ukraine and Russia (how’d she get that gig by the way?), with that fortune now strangely missing from her electronic asset declaration. Nonetheless, she’s a political force to be reckoned with for several reasons: one is her all-consuming ambition for power; and the other is her talent for spouting vapid populist claptrap. As with all populists, she’ll echo problems, without providing any rational solutions. Of course, there was a time when Yulia was a political prisoner, and we can all see why that was a bad thing.
The Opposition Block(heads)
Last up in this short intro to political players in Ukraine, The Opposition Bloc. Now, we all know that every decent democracy has an opposition party, right? They’re necessary – as a government in waiting, as a challenger to the incumbent, keeping those in power in check, that’s the point, normally. Not in Ukraine. Here, the wildly inappropriately named “Opposition Bloc” is nothing of the kind. The name, branding, and style were all created by none other than former President Yanukovych’s go-to guy – Paul Manafort, and is merely a continuation of what Manafort had previously subjected Ukraine to.
Leaders of this party regularly use divisive rhetoric and parrot misleading claims that are firmly in line with Russian disinformation. Oh, and, get this, by coincidence, party members are all multi-millionaires. Without a hint of shame, they’ll campaign on claims that (only!) they represent the voices of the working class when nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, truth is a commodity in short supply for these guys, their allies, and their ideological founders.
Don’t worry, this is What’s On and we aren’t about to suddenly become a political and overly serious publication. Consider it instead a…public service. Next month we’ll give you a bit of a background on and intro to a few more of those who are already thinking about how to secure the votes of the masses in the 2019 elections.