You must have heard from others, or maybe wondered yourself what could have happened if we had elected Petro Poroshenko in April instead of Zelensky. It is customary to say that history does not know the subjunctive mood. It really is so. However, instead of the traditional review of the departing year, we offer our readers a somewhat non-standard review. More precisely, shaping what we would be facing in January 2020, if in March 2019 Petro Poroshenko was elected the president of Ukraine. One of our experts Andriy Zolotaryov is convinced that if it was not Zelensky, Yulia Tymoshenko would have headed the country. However, we proceed from the fact that it was Zelensky and Poroshenko who made it to the second round.
So, let us take popcorn and imagine the second-running candidate at the helm.
Political analysts Kyrylo Sazonov and Yevhen Bulavka, Deputy Director of the Ukrainian Institute of Research of Extremism Bohdan Petrenko, Director of the Institute for Global Strategies Vadym Karasyov, head of the Ukrainian Politics Foundation, founder of analytical center Gorshenin Institute Kostiantyn Bondarenko, Director of the Ukrainian Institute for Analysis and Management of Policy Ruslan Bortnyk, director of strategic consulting company Berta Communications Taras Berezovets, as well as the head of Third Sector center Andriy Zolotaryov will help us with that.
What would Ukraine be like in 2019 under Poroshenko?
Parliament: a completely different composition
First of all, the victory of Petro Poroshenko would affect the course and outcome of the parliamentary elections. As you know, in 2019, five factions passed to the Verkhovna Rada, of which the largest one is the presidential Servant of the People Party, having received a total of 254 mandates - was able to form a mono-majority. In addition, Opposition Platform - For Life, Fatherland, European Solidarity and Voice parties entered the parliament.
But under Poroshenko’s presidency, the parliament would have looked completely different. And this, perhaps, is the main difference between the current realities and what the country could get.
“The parliamentary elections would take place in time, and now we would look at the results and also observe the creation of the coalition, of course, without the prefix ‘mono.’ There would be no majority for Servant of the People, moreover, I am convinced that it wouldn’t get anything at all. The population in our country likes to vote for the winner, but there wouldn’t be a clear winner. And the support that Zelensky received today would be distributed approximately equally among all other factions, and perhaps a significant share of it would go to Vakarchuk. So Poroshenko would form a coalition with Voice and, perhaps, with the Fatherland (it would also be involved in all these processes),” Bohdan Petrenko says.
Almost all experts are unanimous in the following points: 1) three “old” factions would have shown the best result, 2) the Voice might not have existed at all, since it was the success of the Servant of the People and the need for new faces which raised it on the crest of the wave, 3) and as for the Servant of the People itself, it would be present with a rather modest result.
“The parliament would be completely different. It would have more Opposition Platform – For Life, more Tymoshenko and, of course, Poroshenko. These three “pillars” would have constituted the basis of the parliament, which would certainly have a coalition. The Servant of the People would also be represented there, but in a secondary position,” Vadym Karasiov says.
Kost Bondarenko sees the picture as follows: “The parliament would be more fragmented. There would probably be a fraction of the Servants of the People, but not so big and powerful. That imaginary parliament - like our current one - would most likely be torn by disagreements, and he would be less productive than now. There would be a more powerful representation of Tymoshenko’s Fatherland and Opposition platform - For life because it was primarily from them that the Servant of the People took the votes.
The Servant of the People fraction would fluctuate within 9-15%. It could have had a decent representation, but not a key influence on the decisions of the parliament. But here we would need a correction based on the results of all other factions. Obviously, the current percentage of SP would be distributed among other political forces,” Yevhen Bulavka says.
Most likely, the Servant of the people would have entered the Rada, but would not have received a high result. “The level of successful newcomers, as it was with UDAR at one time, is at 13-15%,” Andriy Zolotariov agreed.
Definitely not “mono coalition,” there could be options
On the contrary, Taras Berezovets believes that the Servant of the People would still play a major role, no matter with Zelensky or with Poroshenko. “The Servant of the People would still receive the largest faction in Parliament, European Solidarity would come in second place, Tymoshenko and Medvedchuk would also show high results. Perhaps the People’s Front would also pass. In that case, Poroshenko’s political power would form a coalition with Tymoshenko, but it’s also possible that together with Zelensky. The investors of the latter could force him to cooperate with Poroshenko,” Berezovets comments.
But if he sees the majority in the form of a tandem of Poroshenko and Tymoshenko, then Ruslan Bortnik is more inclined to the union of Poroshenko and the Voice, and possibly, Zelensky. “The coalition in parliament would be under the control of Petro Poroshenko. Perhaps it would be formed with the Voice or the Servant of the People. In this case, someone from these political forces would become a Prime Minister. The composition of Rada would be approximately the same, with the difference that Poroshenko’s bloc would have won more votes due to the majoritarian voting.”
Andriy Zolotaryov has the most unexpected forecast for the parliamentary majority: “We would get a coalition of OPFL and Fatherland or at least a situational alliance against Poroshenko. Poroshenko himself, if he formed a parliamentary majority, it would be due to the majoritarian voting. Or for example, the political project Our Land would get a second momentum,” the expert says.
Answering our question Kyrylo Sazonov points out a common feature of Poroshenko and Zelensky: “There would be no monolithic majority, a system of checks and balances would be preserved. However, what Poroshenko would try to get for himself or his man is the chair of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Internal Affairs, no doubt. He is no less than Zelensky inclined to concentrate power in one hands.”
Prime Minister: possibly Kobolev
By the way, about the Prime Minister. Under the presidency of Zelensky, 35-year-old Oleksiy Honcharuk headed the government. Now he cannot be fired during a year, however, according to insiders, the President’s Office seems to be critical of the Cabinet’s activities. The consequence of this may be the resignation of several officials, who will be held responsible for obvious and potential problems in the economy. Various persons are named as the possible retirees, - the Minister of Finance Oksana Markarova, Minister of Economy Tymofiy Milovanov, Minister of Justice Denys Malyusk, Minister of Energy Oleksiy Orzhel and others, but firstly Honcharuk himself.
However, this is a different story. We will return to the one who could become the head of the Cabinet in case of the re-election of Petro Poroshenko for a second term.
“Andriy Kobolev would probably be the Prime Minister and the state of the economy would be the same, the only thing that would add up would be gas wars with Russia,” Bondarenko comments.
Zolotaryov also mentions the candidacy of Andriy Kobolev, the Chairman of the Board of Naftogaz Ukraine. “Groysman would hardly have returned the premiership - he began to tire Poroshenko, and relations between them became increasingly difficult. Groysman would be replaced and it would be presented as the coming of a new generation of reformers. Yuriy Vitrenko, Naftogaz’s Executive Director, or Kobolev could become the new head of government,” he says.
Berezovets sees a different situation: “Groysman’s government would most likely have remained in the personnel sphere, but as relations between him and Poroshenko became increasingly strained, a new Cabinet of Ministers would later appear. And either Hennadiy Zubko, the Vice Prime Minister in the Groysman government, would be a more convenient candidate or Yuriy Lutsenko (Prosecutor General during the presidency of Poroshenko).
Other experts did not give specific names but were unanimous that Volodymyr Groysman (Honcharuk’s predecessor) would not have retained his post. “Poroshenko already had a desire to say goodbye to Groysman, so it’s obvious that he would have been replaced by a different figure, but it’s difficult to say who. At the end of his cadence, Poroshenko was no longer up to promoting any kind of henchman instead of Groysman,” Bulavka notes.
However, Poroshenko would not propose just anyone. “The principle “they are young - they will learn” would not work, and professionals would remain in many positions. Although Poroshenko would not be the same and, perhaps, would rotate at least part of his team,” he adds.
“It is unlikely that Groysman would remain the Prime Minister. Poroshenko was very disappointed with him, in particular, in the fact that he began to grow into an independent figure,” Sazonov said.
Economy, corruption, migration, church: something with changes, something the same
Assessing the internal situation in Ukraine, Yevhen Bulavka draws attention to the fact that the decline in industrial production was already by 7% in November. And this is a sort of anti-record. We had slightly different indicators under Poroshenko. Now the fall for 7% is impressive because Zelensky accepted the country in the wake of growth.” Taras Berezovets shared this point of view.
“The budget during term of another premier (and president) was more balanced, without such debts on a salary like now,” Sazanov added.
But at the same time, ‘in economic plan, the same problems existed, which Ukraine faces now, - Zolotarev is skeptical, - The moratorium on the land sale was prolonged but the debt obligations of Ukraine would remain during the term of Zelensky, Poroshenko or Tymoshenko.
The fact that the land issue would be solved in another way during the presidency of Poroshenko was mentioned by Karasev. “Nothing fundamental would take place. Everything is simple concerning the economy: whomever you choose, the foundations of the monetary police defined by the International Monetary Fund or program of the cooperation with the IMF. Possibly, during the presidency of Poroshenko, there would be no such heel to the side of the international credit oligarchy and the rate would be mostly based on the national oligarchy to which the previous president belonged and continues to belong. But in any case, the trend would be the same, Unless, there would be no struggles around the land as now and the parliament would extend the moratorium on the land sale at the end of 2019,” he said.
Bohdan Petrenko, assessing the hypothetical inner situation during the term of Poroshenko, noted next. “Poroshenko would dial his wild patriotic position a bit because the president should be the president of the whole country but he would continue to actively promote the issue of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and decrease the influence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate. And he would increase the influence of the army: the message with which Poroshenko came to power, he would have to implement”.
At the same time, Petrenko said, “Poroshenko would become less populist – as all presidents who win for the second time and who do not count for another election. Possibly, he would even make some unpopular decisions”. And he would also deal with corruption, not really seriously, mostly for the record. “Poroshenko would clean his rows partially. He would replace someone. He would create the visibility of the counteraction corruption actions,” the expert is sure.
Bortnik also does not believe in the fight against corruption by Poroshenko: “It would amount to the fight against the competitors”. Besides, the expert believes that the style of the ruling of Zelensky has a number of advantages in comparison with Poroshenko’s regime. As long as, the previous president would be re-elected, “the opposition politicians and media would be under the political pressure and some projects would be stopped at all or would switch to another form,” he said.
Besides, ‘the social migration would strengthen. As well as the radicalization of the society, because Poroshenko would deepen his points about army, faith and wringing the construction of the church and other humanitarian concepts”. In a word, Bortnyk concludes, “we would come to the end of the year with similar but not identic results. Today, we observe the release – political and economic. It is not the improvement but the release – it did not take place at Poroshenko’s term”.
According to Bondarenko, during the second term of Petro Poroshenko, "the escalation of the religious confrontation in Ukraine would definitely continue and the lawlessness from the side of the nationalist formations would continue. We may argue a lot whether Zelensky is good or bad but his main credit is that he got a dot in the history of Poroshenko’s regime”.
Zolotarev also does not really on the former president. “Political regime would be preserved. The reforms would stop, particularly, the decentralization. Poroshenko would actively press people looking for grants, tied with Soros out of the policy – it has begun in 2017”.
Russia issues: everything resembles “early” Poroshenko
Almost all experts interviewed by us are unanimous that if Petro Poroshenko was re-elected for a second term, Normandy Four meeting would not take place, and the Minsk talks would be paused. Poroshenko would not develop a dialogue with Russia.
"The situation with Russia would resemble Poroshenko’s first cadence: there would be minor negotiations, plus there might have been an exchange of prisoners, it supposedly would reset relations. The question of a Norman Four meeting would be negotiated, but it probably would not have happened as of now. It probably would have been scheduled for the spring of 2020 - after the formation of the coalition and the parliamentary elections to which Russia delegated would be powerful pro-Russian power," Petrenko comments.
“In the field of foreign policy,” Bulavka adds, “there would be no Normandy Four meeting in the format in which it had taken place. No one would have been in a hurry to organize such a meeting at the expense of taking troops to their billets and at the expense of backstage agreements. And this applies to the gas sector, in particular."
Berezovets partially agrees with the experts. “There would be no meeting of the Norman four for the trivial reason that Putin would not have any reason for this. He would not have received any compromises - neither on gas nor on Donbas. That is, we would have the same situation in the east, it took shape after the signing of the second Minsk agreements, that is, neither peace nor war. Nobody would withdraw the troops and there would be no exchange of prisoners, that is, Sentsov and other political prisoners would remain behind bars," he notes.
Ukraine’s position on the gas issue would be tougher, he assures. “No one would agree to take new gas conditions, Gazprom would be forced to pay Ukraine money by the decision of the Stockholm arbitration, no one would withdraw the claim,” the expert is convinced.
“Now it seems that the gas negotiations were connected with the exchange of prisoners. Under Poroshenko, such a compromise would not have been possible. Although all the details of the gas agreements are not yet known,” Sazonov said.
But his colleague Karasiov has a slightly different opinion. “I want to draw attention to the fact that at the end of the election campaign Poroshenko spoke about the need for a cold peace with Russia. That is, it was no longer a war — hot or cold, but rather a cold peace. For all the shortcomings, Poroshenko understood that it’s not worthwhile to continue the deadlock line for a hybrid war with Russia. Relying on the fact that the Russian Federation will break up and Ukraine will consolidate does not cost either – this strategy did not work and, in fact, it would never be possible. A meeting of the Norman Four, and an exchange of prisoners, would have taken place."
Sazonov believes that “late” Poroshenko would have acted in the same way as Zelensky in relations with Russia. “There are so many powerful factors working in the geopolitics of Ukraine that, by and large, nothing has fundamentally changed in the east of Ukraine. The name of the Ukrainian president does not play any role here. The only thing is that the foreign policy towards Moscow could be tougher, like the position on gas in general," Sazonov suggests.
Ukraine and Trump: no impeachment
In general, America is the second country after Russia, which political scientists focus their attention on. And their unanimous verdict was that Petro Poroshenko would certainly not have set himself up by conducting incriminating telephone conversations with Trump.
And yet, “Poroshenko would try to appease Trump - he has no sentiment for the Democrats, so he would work to improve relations,” Zolotariov notes.
This "appeasing" might be done in different ways. Poroshenko, as a more experienced diplomat, would have found the right tone in negotiations with his American counterpart, experts are convinced. Under Poroshenko, “we would have a completely different country and a completely different situation in the international arena. Trump would never have impeached because there would never have been such a conversation between Trump and Poroshenko as between Trump and Zelensky,” says Berezovets.
He adds: with the previous president, "NATO cooperation would not be inhibited."
But no matter how Poroshenko develops cooperation with NATO, no matter how he restrains the industrial decline, and no matter how harsh Putin is in the gas negotiations, six months after his election, he, like Zelensky, came up with calendar results with the same rating drop. We asked experts to comment on the loss of the Ze-team in the last UTO elections. And that’s what they noted.
“In six months, Poroshenko, just like Zelensky, would have gone through hard times in terms of falling ratings. And he would also have lost the UTO elections,” says Berezovets.
However, Zolotariov disagrees with this. “In six months, Poroshenko would have shown perhaps the best results, since his administrative vertical was operating in a better way. That is, local leaders were corrupt and faced with a choice: either you are with us or against us. And Servant of the People didn’t work in rural areas at all - there was neither communication nor any efforts,” he states.
But after all, is not so important. “If Poroshenko remained president, it would mean a completely different country - with citizens who have a completely different sense of pace and rhythm of life, as well as an understanding of the events that happen. That is, with citizens who think more soberly and do not vote for any populist projects – no matter what they are called,” said Bulavka.
Bogdan Petrenko summarizes everything said as follows: “The personality of those who come to power does not change the country, but only emphasizes what the people are. If we chose Petro Poroshenko, it would only show that we have slightly different people.”
Yes, indeed, a second chance for Poroshenko would mean at least that a different stratum of the electorate dominates among the voters – not the one that has now brought Volodymyr Zelensky to power. These voters are not the best and not the worst, they are just really different. But we have nowhere to take alternatives. We have what we have here.
By the way, now the rating of Petro Poroshenko has begun to grow gradually against the background of a drop in Zelensky’s rating. Although the level of distrust towards Poroshenko remains all the same record high. In our conditions, it is impossible to predict what would happen to top politicians in six months.