To hear the rhetoric of certain Western political leaders, NATO must extend its collective security umbrella over Ukraine, as well as Georgia, as quickly as possible. However, Ukrainian presidential candidate and chocolate manufacturing tycoon Petro Poroshenko has opined that Ukraine may not be ready for NATO membership.
Poroshenko, a former foreign and economy minister in past Ukrainian governments, stated that NATO membership for Ukraine faced major opposition in the country. Poroshenko made his comments in Kiev during the 10th annual investors’ conference of Dragon Capital, Ukraine’s largest investment bank, which is partly owned by Goldman Sachs. Referring to NATO membership, Poroshenko told the German newspaper Bild, “If the idea [of NATO membership] is supported by less than 50 percent, then we cannot use it, so as not to ruin the country.”
Poroshenko was referring to opposition to NATO membership by Ukraine’s Russian population. Poroshenko is well aware of their feelings since he hails from Odessa, which is a mainly Russian-speaking region of Ukraine. Poroshenko now claims his home in central Ukraine’s Vinnytsya, where he moved to start his business and political careers.
During his interview, Poroshenko reminded Bild’s reporter that NATO rejected membership of Ukraine at the military alliance’s summit in Bucharest in 2008. The summit deliberated a proposed NATO Membership Action Plan, but the majority of the countries decided not to invite Ukraine into membership at that time.
When asked if Ukraine wanted fast-track membership in NATO, Poroshenko replied, “No, and it does not depend only on us, but also on NATO. We feel that NATO members are divided on this issue. We have already seen this problem in 2008, when Georgia was first promised membership, but nothing happened then."
Poroshenko also told Bild that he did not foresee a Russian military foray into eastern Ukraine. However, Poroshenko did not show any inclination that he was a pacifist when it comes to economic warfare with Russia. He said that Germany must be willing to pay a price in imposing economic sanctions against Russia, even if that meant economic turmoil as a result of a boycott of Russian natural gas. Poroshenko said that Germany should be “willing to pay a price for democracy.”
Poroshenko, dubbed the “Chocolate King” because he owns Ukraine’s Roshen confectionary company, is considered the seventh wealthiest Ukrainian oligarch, with an estimated personal worth of $1.3 billion. Poroshenko was one of a number of businessmen in the former Soviet Union who took advantage of the collapse of the USSR to take over state-owned industries with very little capital, building them eventually into huge business empires. Poroshenko started out in the 1990s by buying formerly state-owned Ukrainian industrial enterprises, as well as television station 5 Kanal.
Current polls show that Poroshenko, a current member of the Ukrainian parliament who is unaffiliated with any political party, is more popular than his closest rival for the presidency, the scandal-plagued former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Poroshenko’s candidacy has been boosted by an endorsement from Vitali Klitschko, the boxer and one-time presidential hopeful who has opted, instead, to run for mayor of Kiev. The Poroshenko-Klitschko team has been called “Willy Wonka and Rocky,” a reference to the film “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” and Rocky Balboa, the fictional boxer played by actor Sylvester Stallone.
Although Poroshenko appears to have rejected any immediate NATO membership for Ukraine, something which Russia adamantly opposes, the candidate is known in Ukraine as a notorious “flip flopper.” Even after his statement to Bild claiming he does not see any NATO membership for Ukraine in the near future he also advanced the notion that Ukraine must have some other sort of “security arrangement” with the western military bloc.
Poroshenko’s “flip flopping” is seen in his political career. He started out as a member of the Party of Regions, working closely with pro-Russian President Leonid Kuchma. However, he abandoned support for Kuchma and joined the pro-West and pro-NATO “Our Ukraine Bloc” of Viktor Yushchenko, who took over power in the 2004 Orange Revolution, the first of Ukraine’s two anti-democratic and western-sponsored coups d’etat with the second being the recent “Euromaidan” uprising that drove President Viktor Yanukovych from office.
While Ukrainian Foreign Minister in the Yushchenko administration, Poroshenko became a habitué of NATO and western security conferences, including the annual Munich Security Conference. Just weeks before being dismissed as foreign minister on March 11, 2010 by the newly-elected president Yanukovych, Poroshenko told the Munich conference that NATO membership for Ukraine was a goal. He reiterated his earlier comments in December 2009 that he anticipated NATO membership in one or two years. On February 7, 2010, before the gathered NATO military officers and defense contractors, eager for business in a NATO Ukraine, Poroshenko said, “Global and European security issues are as much pressing for us as internal developments in the country. As you probably know, tomorrow, on February, 7, we will have a run-off of the Presidential elections. Its outcome will shape the Ukrainian internal and foreign policy for the next 5 years . . . even in the most controversial for some Ukrainian political forces issue – NATO membership — we have reached a political consensus how to proceed and how to decide. We need to do a lot to move country closer to Euro-Atlantic standards. I am confident that the Annual National Program on preparation of Ukraine towards NATO membership for 2010 approved two days ago by the Ukrainian President will be successfully implemented.”
Yanukovych, not Poroshenko’s old political ally Tymoshenko, won the 2010 presidential run-off. Although Yanukovych opposed NATO membership, preferring to maintain Ukraine as a “non-aligned European state,” the politically-versatile Poroshenko jumped at the opportunity to serve in the Yanukovych government. In February 2012, Poroshenko eagerly accepted the appointment as Minister of Trade and Economic Development in the Party of Regions, Lytvyn Bloc, and Communist Party of Ukraine coalition government of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov. Participating in a government that included the Communists was a huge jump for Poroshenko, who resigned his post as Chairman of the Council of the Ukraine National Bank to join the left-of-center and pro-Russian Azarov government.
It is clear that Poroshenko is a political chameleon who is willing to change his color from “red” to “blue” and vice versa, in addition to cooperating with fascist “browns” and even the “greens” when it is convenient for him to do so. Today, Poroshenko has thrown cold water on the idea of early NATO membership for Ukraine. But what about tomorrow?
With a commanding 40 percent in the polls currently, Poroshenko appears to be the candidate of choice for many Ukrainians. There are some in Ukraine who believe that Poroshenko, in rejecting early membership in NATO, is appealing to the Russians in eastern Ukraine and his native Odessa for support. However, once elected, Poroshenko, the “flip flopper,” can be expected to flip again and support Ukraine’s fast track membership of NATO.
In his final months as NATO Secretary General, former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that NATO membership for Ukraine remained an option. There were voices in Washington, London, and Brussels that favored a further expansion of NATO to “contain” Russia, with membership in the alliance for not only Ukraine, but also Georgia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan being held out as possibilities. NATO also has plans to absorb Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cyprus, Malta, Serbia, and even neutral Sweden, Austria, and Finland into the alliance. From Russia’s viewpoint, such a development would indicate NATO has as its goal the eventual subjugation of Russia and the extension of NATO from not the Atlantic to the Urals but from the Atlantic to the Pacific.