Saturday, August 20, 2016

Chocolate

My Zimbio  In February of 2016, Aivaras Abromavicius resigned from his post as Economic Development Minister in Ukraine, because he claimed various officials, including Petro Poroshenko, the country's president, were attempting inappropriate influence.  Poroshenko isn't the only official so accused:  "Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, for example, stepped down on Poroshenko’s advice in February, after accusations from anti-corruption organizations, MPs and protesters that he was at best ineffective at combating corruption and at worst corrupt himself." (Kateryna Kruk, "Kiev's Leaders Have Let Us Down," Newsweek, 3/8/2016).

Kruk writes about Ukraine's Maidan revolution:  "We wanted a free society built on universal values.  We wanted a just state based on rule of law.  We held our ground in the square at the heart of Kiev not because we wanted another rotation of political elites but because we needed to see systemic changes in the way our country was run."  She also concedes, "The ideals of Maidan were so comprehensive and ambitious that we should use them as a roadmap for change in Ukraine in a much longer narrative."  What was Maidan about?  How does the country's chocolate magnate end up running things, anyway?  Where does the country go from here?


In 2013, crowds around Ukraine began taking to the streets, calling for closer ties to the European Union and measures to fight corruption within Ukraine.  Russian ties to Ukraine's government at the time, led by President Viktor Yanukovych, reinforced the government with loans and armed henchmen to put down the protests.  In response to this, Ukraine's parliament, the historic Verkhovna Rada, voted to impeach Yanukovych, and installed its speaker, Oleksandr Turchenov, as interim president until elections could be held in May.



Petro Poroshenko isn't your ordinary chocolate magnate.  His father was a plant manager and young Petro (like Vladimir Putin) received some early renown as a practitioner of Sambo and Judo.  Poroshenko received a degree in economics from Kiev State University, where he met and befriended the future president of Georgia, Mikhail Saakasvili.  Poroshenko continued his involvement with the university for some years, having also started a legal advisory firm that ultimately supplied cocoa beans to the Soviet chocolate industry.

In 1993, Poroshenko teamed with his father and several other businessmen to found UkrPromInvest Ukrainian Industry and Investment Company, then successfully ran for parliament in 1998.  In the years leading to his parliamentary run, UkrPromInvest acquired control over several state-owned confectionery enterprises, which were combined into a single company called "Roshen."  UkrPromInvest has interests in various types of firms (not only confectionery), while Poroshenko also receives some notoriety for his ownership of the 5 Kanal television channel.

Poroshenko first gained election as a member of Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (the party of the second president of the country), but broke off to form his own "Solidarity" party, ultimately heading Viktor Yuschenko's campaign for president.  Viktor won the presidency of Ukraine in 2005.  Poroshenko was appointed to various posts in Yuschenko's government, but was also tainted in various scandals in those years.  He was reelected to Parliament in 2006, but wasn't successful in leadership bids there and opted not to run for another term in 2007.

According to Forbes, Poroshenko attained billionaire status in the early 2000's but has suffered some financial set-backs in recent years due to general Ukraine economic malaise and specific Russian actions against Roshen, Poroshenko's chocolate company.  

Yuschenko rehabilitated Poroshenko in 2009, appointing him Foreign Minister and then to the National Security and Defense Council, where Poroshenko pushed for Ukraine membership of NATO.  In 2012 Poroshenko again ran for Parliament, this time as an independent candidate (district number 12), winning election with 70% of the vote.  

Poroshenko actively supported the Euromaidan protests between November 2013 and February 2014, and stated in an interview, "From the beginning, I was one of the organizers of the Maidan. My television channel — Channel 5 — played a tremendously important role.... At that time, Channel 5 started to broadcast, there were just 2,000 people on the Maidan. But during the night, people went by foot — seven, eight, nine, 10 kilometers — understanding this is a fight for Ukrainian freedom and democracy. In four hours, almost 30,000 people were there." ("Interview with Ukrainian Presidential Candidate," Washington Post, 4/25/2014).  

Given this involvement, Poroshenko's success as a candidate for the presidency is not surprising.  Although he has initiated various reforms as president (including significant changes to police organizations in Kiev, for example), it remains to be seen whether Petro Poroshenko will be able to maintain the credibility necessary to win the presidency when elections recur in 2019.  Ukraine hasn't given up on better government or a better environment for business (and life in general).  Poroshenko will have to demonstrate he can take the country to a new place, if he expects to run and win again.


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