With the Ukrainian second round of elections approaching next week,incumbent President Poroshenko went into a fighting modus. He accused his opponent, the comedian Vladimir Zelensky, of having ties to the Kremlin, and presented himself as the best one to face the Russian president Putin. Ukrainian pro-presidential channels actively promote the idea that only Poroshenko could be the right man in the fight against Russia, and that he is the only candidate that could guarantee Ukraine a European future.
Last week Ukrainian cities woke up to the sight of billboards on which Poroshenko is depicted, opposing Putin, as if stressing that his opponent, Vladimir Zelensky, is a Kremlin protégé. However, unexpectedly, the constant hints that Vladimir Zelensky, may be a “pro-Russian” candidate, had the opposite effect, which explains Zelensky’s first place in the first round of elections. After the appearance of posters “Poroshenko, opposing Putin” Zelensky rating increased even more. Deputy Sergei Leshchenko, who recently left Poroshenko parliamentary group, wrote about it on his page in the FB: “Poroshenko’s billboards, where he and Putin are depicted, did not scare anyone. The plan to play on phobias of society failed – the opposite effect happened, people either just make fun of Poroshenko’s visual masterpieces, or consider them an example of the game of splitting Ukraine. Well, as it was to be expected, such a creative Poroshenko achieved little. According to my information, polls will soon appear, which show the distribution of votes between Zelensky and Poroshenko in the second round will be 70 to 30”.
Ukrainian journalist Andrei Degtyarenko believes that Poroshenko’s public relations officials are only trying to use the card of fear: “Poroshenko’s PR people would hang this billboard even if he had to face the natiolist candidate Koshulinsky. Whoever is not with us is for Satan. Well right, why change something in this strategy, if the injection of fear and the division into “our-enemies” works flawlessly?”
This is nothing new: since 2014, many who have criticized or opposed the current government have seen themselves labeled “enemies of Ukraine” and “Kremlin agents”, including former activists of Maidan or former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili. Now, the notorious Mirotvorets website, where the personal data of the “enemies of Ukraine”, often including their home addresses, are doxed, has published the data of Vladimir Zelensky, who is accused of being an “FSB agent”.
Using Putin to scare the electorate however may not always work the way it was intended too. Zelensky reacted with posters where he confronted the “Alien” from the popular blockbuster. Social networks responded with memes where Poroshenko’s billboards where accompanied by the words: “Can I come to Rostov too?”, hinting at the former President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, who left Ukraine for the South Russian town of Rostov in the aftermath of the Maidan revolution.
Faced with thsi reaction, Poroshenko’s campaign managers on April 11 gave instructions to remove posters with the image of Putin and Poroshenko. The first round of elections showed that Poroshenko’s campaign, built on nationalism and anti-Russian statements, brought him victory only in the two most western regions of the country – Lviv and Ternopil. His opponent, Vladimir Zelensky, managed to win in the center, in the south and east of Ukraine, largely due to the fact that he was associated with his movie hero from the TV series “Servant of the People”, who opposed the IMF and shot the deputies of the Verkhovna Rada in the popular series. Nevertheless, Zelensky himself emphasizes that the public should not confuse his real self with his fictional alter ego.
Ukrainian political analyst Ruslan Bortnik is sure that the idea of opposing Poroshenko to Putin eventually will work out against Poroshenko himself. “Poroshenko’s jabs at Putin are black PR and will end up playing against the President himself. No one understood why Putin had to advertise across the country. This sort of thinking belongs to the field of clinical psychology already. Political consultants of the President were against such advertising. This black PR campaign only mobilized supporters of Zelensky. We must vote so that these idiots won’t stay in power. This is an element of tunnel thinking, convulsions of the President and his team. They are no longer adequate. They perceive Ukraine through the prism of ultranationalism, and for this reason they will lose. It seems that Poroshenko is going to become the President of the Galician People’s Republic, and this is a fundamentally wrong approach”, said R. Bortnik.
As for Zelensky, however, Mr Bortnik does not see a fundamental difference between him and Poroshenko, staying that Zelensky sounds very much like a “young Poroshenko”, the Poroshenko of 2014. Poroshenko’s then rhetoric is very similar to Zelensky’s program now. Hence he scenario of a Zelensky presidency, in Mr Bortnik’s opinion, may end up being very close to what was Poroshenko’s term.
Both candidates who came out in the second round, in principle, offer the same course: further cooperation with the IMF, joining NATO and the EU, as well as a similar, in fact, economic policy. Both stress the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the commitment to the Minsk agreements, which over the years have not stopped the war in the Donbass anyway.
Both these two candidates suits the West, according to Ukrainian political analyst and candidate of historical sciences Valentin Gaidai. “The West, as I have said many times, will be fine with any of the current contendants. If Poroshenko wins, the West will just take it. And Zelensky is 100% ok too for the West”, says Gaidai.
Both candidates are directly connected with the oligarchy: Petro Poroshenko is an oligarch to himself, and Vladimir Zelensky is associated with oligarch Igor Kolomoisky. In fact, Ukrainians will choose between two candidates who will in fact pursue the same policies and won’t bring significant changes. Ukrainians will choose between the two largest oligarchs of the country, which is a very telling result considering the “Maidan against the oligarchs” of just 5 years ago.