After the victory of the oligarch and former Ukrainian Foreign Minister Petro Poroshenko on May 25, Russia Direct discussed with experts if Ukraine’s new leader will be able to tackle the ongoing political and economic crisis and find common ground with Russia.

Ukraine's new President Petro Poroshenko will face tough challenges to tackle political and economic crisis in the country. Photo: Reuters

After winning in Ukraine’s presidential election, Petro Poroshenko pledged to put the ongoing chaos in Eastern Ukraine to an end.  This may not be easy to do amidst ongoing clashes between the Ukrainian army and the pro-Russia self-defense forces that have resulted in even more casualties and victims in Ukraine’s breakaway regions. If anything, fighting has intensified this week, with nearly 50 pro-Russian rebels killed in heavy fighting.

And Poroshenko does not appear to be willing to put an end to this operation against the pro-Russian forces, as indicated by some Russian media outlets.

“I have no information that it [the operation] should now be stopped. I support its continuation and I demand the change of its formation – it should become shorter in term and should become more effective,” Poroshenko said.

This comes as Moscow warns against the resumption of the military operation and its implications for Russian-Ukrainian relations. At the same time, Moscow demonstrates its readiness for dialogue with Kiev and its new leader. Kiev’s newly elected mayor, Vitaly Klitschko, indicated that the Maidan barricades may disappear soon, "The main task of the Maidan has been achieved, we were saved from dictatorship. The barricades have fulfilled their function and must now be removed.”

The new Ukrainian president believes that his strong support at the polls confirmed three major policy directions for his presidency: the preservation of a "unified Ukraine" including stability in Eastern Ukraine, a "European choice" for closer ties with the West, and the return of Crimea.

Whether he achieves these goals or not will have a major influence on the development of the whole region and the future of Russia-West relations.

Russia Direct talked to Russian and foreign experts about how they see the future of Ukraine with a new political leader and what Poroshenko can do to bring stability to the region.

Angela Stent, Director, Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies, Georgetown University, and author of “The Limits of Partnership: US-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century

The good news about the Ukrainian election is that, despite the attempts by armed separatists in the Donbas region to prevent voting from taking place by destroying polling stations and intimidating the population, the majority of Ukrainians voted to elect Petro Poroshenko in what the OSCE has described as a generally fair and free election. Mr. Poroshenko now has a convincing mandate to embark on what will be a very challenging program of economic and constitutional reforms.

The bad news is that the new government will have to implement these reforms against a background of a continuing insurgency in the East. If the new government is to succeed, it will have to work with Russia to induce the separatists to stand down and enable Kiev to re-establish control over the Donbas region. Ongoing destabilization will undermine Ukraine’s ability to function as an effective state.

In the best case scenario, the new government will undertake far-reaching economic reforms and tackle endemic corruption in a convincing way, enabling the Ukrainian economy to improve its lackluster performance. Constitutional reform will devolve more political and fiscal powers to the regions and should involve the continuation of roundtable talks that include representatives from all the contending sides in an attempt to reconcile differences between them.

There should also be talks between representatives from Ukraine, Russia, the European Union and the United States over Ukraine’s longer-term relationship with Euro-Atlantic structures and with Russia. The process will be long and complex but it is not difficult to imagine the outlines of a settlement that all sides could accept—if there is indeed a willingness to negotiate in good faith.

But there could also be a worst-case scenario, where the destabilization of Eastern Ukraine continues, the new Kiev government is unable to prevail in the East and if Russia exhibits only a limited willingness to deal with the new government.

Continued destabilization of Ukraine will not only have a negative effect on the Ukrainian people in the West and East, but will have repercussions well beyond Ukraine, further impacting the ability of Russia and the West to deal with the unresolved issues of the post-Soviet space and with problems beyond Eurasia.

Igor Gretskiy, associate professor at the School of International Relations, St. Petersburg State University, Russia.

Despite the apparent carte blanche granted to Petro Poroshenko [as a result of the election results], the conditions under which he starts his five-year term are far from being comfortable.

First, the economic situation remains extremely difficult. The state treasury is almost drained. Second, the relationship with Russia is in a deep crisis over natural gas supplies, as well as the issues of Donbas and Crimea. Third, the “anti-terrorist” operation is still under way in Donetsk and Luhansk, so the situation in those regions is far from being calm and stable. Fourth, the president's powers are limited by the current constitution.

Poroshenko will need to look for new formulas of effective interaction with the Parliament. In accordance with the current version of the Constitution, the government is formed by the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, and the President. Therefore, the latter can act effectively only if he has substantial parliamentary majority support.

That's why, trying to consolidate his success and to strengthen his support in the Verkhovna Rada, Poroshenko will definitely strive to hold early parliamentary election before the end of 2014.However, it will hardly lead to the development of authoritarian tendencies in Ukrainian politics, and Ukraine will continue to gradually evolve into a parliamentary republic.

As for Ukraine’s foreign policy, the topic of European integration will dominate Kiev’s agenda. When he was Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Petro Poroshenko sponsored the draft EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, and he will definitely proceed to foster EU-Ukraine cooperation.

Besides, more than 85 percent of Ukrainians voted for those candidates who stood for closer ties with Europe. That is, there is broad consensus on that issue among Ukrainian society and the political elites.

Moreover, Brussels has already endorsed Ukraine’s presidential election results. Therefore, in the nearest future one may expect an intensification of the EU-Ukraine dialogue and cooperation in many different formats, including the Eastern Partnership and the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.

Piotr Kościński, Head of the Eastern Program at the Polish Institute of International Affairs

Petro Poroshenko received the strong support of Ukrainians in the first round of elections, which significantly strengthens his position. He indeed was a compromise candidate. Poroshenko gained the support of the west and center of the country, and has even achieved good results in the east of Ukraine (taking into account that some of the polling stations did not work on election day).

He speaks of the need for dialogue with the residents of the Donbas - but those who were not involved in military actions. We can therefore expect political action, especially the granting of more rights for the regions - in the same way that more rights were granted to local governments in Poland. It is certain, however, that he will continue military operations against armed groups of the so-called "separatists."

This combination of political and military action can bring peace to the east of Ukraine. Of course, a lot depends on Russia. If Moscow will continue support of the so-called "separatists" and if it will incite unrest, problems in Eastern Ukraine will be much more difficult to solve.