While there are twenty-one candidates running for Ukraine’s presidency, Petro Poroshenko appears to hold a commanding lead, followed by the ever-controversial Yulia Tymoshenko.

The main pretender for victory – Ukrainian oligarch Petro Poroshenko. Photo: AP

Russia and the West await the elections in Ukraine with a feeling of trepidation and concern because the political standoff still seems to be far from being resolved. Yet, the May 25 elections might bring more clarity to the situation, reducing the amount of unpredictability and, probably, turbulence in the region. 

Twenty-one candidates are running for Ukraine’s presidency. Among the candidates with the greatest likelihood of becoming president are three prominent Ukrainian politicians: former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Trade and Economic Development Petro Poroshenko; former Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Sergey Tigipko; and former Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Tymoshenko.

Adding to the mix are other colorful Ukrainian politicians such as Oleg Lyashko (Radical Party), Anatoly Hrytsenko (Civil Position Party), Mikhail Dobkin (Party of Regions), Petro Simonenko (Communist Party), and the Ukrainian physician and public activist Olga Bogomolets [ she participated actively in providing medical support to Maidan in Kiev during the political crisis in Ukraine in 2013-2014 and requested that European troops enter Ukraine during the pre-election debates - Editor's note ].

In addition, figures that are even more controversial are running to become president of Ukraine: Dmitry Yarosh, the leader of the Right Sector nationalist organization, and Oleg Tyahnybok, the leader of the Svoboda nationalist party.

According to surveys conducted by the three largest Ukrainian sociological services (Kiev International Institute of Sociology, Sotsis Center for Social and Marketing Research and sociological group Rayting) during the period from May 8 to May 13, 53.2 percent of voters would vote for Poroshenko; 10.1 percent – for Tymoshenko; 8.8 percent – Tigipko; 6.3 percent – Lyashko; and 6.2 percent – Hrytsenko.

The next five candidates (collecting anywhere from 1 percent to 4 percent of the vote) were as follows: Dobkin, Simonenko, Tyahnybok, Bogomolets and Yarosh.

Citing data from another study conducted by the Sotsiopolis Institute, the gap between the top two candidates – Poroshenko and Tymoshenko – is not as large as reported elsewhere (28.1 percent versus 17.9 percent).

We need to understand the fact that these polls may not objectively shed light on the situation, as it is not yet fully known whether the elections will be held in the Donbas – a region where Poroshenko’s rating is only about 5 percent.

As for the pre-election promises of candidates for president, we should note some themes that are common to all: greater security for Ukraine (in particular, the strengthening of the nation’s military-industrial complex); the guarantee of the territorial integrity of the country; the return of Crimea to Ukraine; and the fight against corruption.

Poroshenko: No NATO membership, but return of Crimea

One of the main tasks according to Poroshenko is the need for early elections to local government bodies. If Poroshenko is elected as president, the West can expect him to deepen the European integration processes in Ukraine. However, Poroshenko considers Ukraine’s joining NATO irrelevant for now.

Russia should expect that Poroshenko would take steps towards resolving the current conflict situation, as the candidate is ready to sit down at the negotiating table. The return of Crimea will be pursued through international courts.

The meeting between Poroshenko and the previously arrested oligarch Dmitry Firtash is being perceived rather ambiguously. Mr. Firtash is being investigated by request of the U.S. (Firtash “is accused of forming a criminal group and bribing Indian authorities” to ensure the participation of his company in a project to develop titanium deposits – Editor’s note).

The two men met in Vienna. Poroshenko’s press service denied this, however, during one talk show Poroshenko himself admitted that the meeting took place, although by “accident.”

Tymoshenko: Accession to NATO through a referendum

Meanwhile, Tymoshenko is focusing on the introduction of a fully professional army, as well as the creation of a new military doctrine. The candidate states that the approximate spending for such an army would be up to 5 percent of GDP. This looks like an attempt to increase her electoral standing with people from the military and defense industries, as well as manufacturers, but spending 5 percent of GDP on defense is hardly something Ukraine can afford in the current economic environment.

At the same time, Tymoshenko will seek to increase the volume of oil and gas extraction in Ukraine, as well as work on the development of alternative energy sources. She is in favor of decentralization and speedy European integration.

As for Russia, the candidate sees the development of relations between the two countries on the basis of mutually beneficial economic cooperation, and sees friendly relations exclusively with a “non-Putin” Russia.

Among the important priorities of Tymoshenko are the elimination of energy, economic, and information dependence of Ukraine on its eastern neighbor. Concerning NATO, Tymoshenko’s position is radically at odds with Poroshenko – the question of Ukraine’s joining of NATO should be solved by a national referendum.

Imposing a visa regime with Moscow? 

Tigipko’s program contains items that are similar to the positions of the other candidates, while also considering the carrying out of “large-scale” economic reforms, the introduction of a professional army and making Russian the second official language of Ukraine. With regard to Russia, Tigipko favors a gradual reduction of Ukraine’s resource dependence on its eastern neighbor.

The rating of Lyashko has increased recently – according to some experts, this is thanks to his constant presence in the middle of major events and his radical positions.

Lyashko favors banning the Communist Party and the Party of Regions in Ukraine. He also proposes to establish European prices for Ukrainian supplies of gas, electricity and fresh water to Crimea, the introduction of a visa regime with Russia and a ban on Russian media broadcasting in Ukraine.

Hrytsenko in his program promises the following: “We need to spread our wings!” He promises, if he is elected president, to conduct polls every month to gauge the support rating of the president by the population, and if this rating drops to 15 percent – a referendum would be held on the people’s confidence in the president, and he would voluntarily resign.

Interestingly, the General Prosecutor’s Office is currently investigating a case in which Hrytsenko is involved. In particular, this involves the legality of the carrying out rearmament at a time when Hrytsenko headed the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine.

Returning of Ukraine’s nuclear power status

Dobkin’s program, entitled “One Country,” is hardly consistent with his position, voiced before the start of the election campaign, about the federalization of the country.

As concerns the funding of local budgets, Dobkin proposes the creation of an Equalization Fund, and thus the donor regions would contribute up to 25 percent of their profits to this fund, and thus finance the poorer regions.

In international relations, Dobkin favors neutrality and joining of any organizations only through a referendum.

Tyahnybok advocates the return of Ukraine’s nuclear status, given that the Budapest Memorandum has been breached, as well as the strengthening of presidential power and the return of offshore capital to Ukraine.

He believes that a visa regime with Russia must be introduced as soon as possible. An important element for him is to propose to those international organizations, whose principles were violated by Russia, to exclude it from membership. Thus, Tyahnybok makes it clear that relations with Russia are considered as fully in need of a re-think; in the event he becomes president, the confrontation between Ukraine and Russia will only intensify.

The other radical candidate – Yarosh – proposes carrying out rearmament of the Ukrainian army, and tripling the amount of money spent on the armed forces. In addition, important elements in his program are the introduction of the right to bear arms and the return of Ukraine’s nuclear power status.

Thus, Yarosh is focusing on the power component, which is consistent with his radical position in the political arena of Ukraine as a whole.

The challenges facing the new president-elect include the successful resolution of the conflict in the Donbas. This can only mean one thing: bringing peace to the region. In addition, the president will have to carry out reforms on the decentralization of power and constitutionally regulate relations between the center and the regions, and only then take active steps in the international arena.