Paris and Berlin enter election race in Ukraine / News / News agency Inforos
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Paris and Berlin enter election race in Ukraine

Meanwhile, even his political allies turned away from Poroshenko

Paris and Berlin enter election race in Ukraine
Context:

After the first round of Ukrainian elections, results of the second one are predetermined.

This predetermination is visible not only as regards social studies but also the fact that none of the candidates left or politicians who were neutral in the first round spoke in support of Petro Poroshenko after the vote. Thus, members of the second party of the People's Front government coalition and its leader, former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, as well as Parliament speaker Andrei Parubiy and even Security Council Secretary Oleksandr Turchinov kept silence. No statements came either from the formal leader of the Block Petro Poroshenko party (BPP), Kiev Mayor Vitaly Klitschko, or from Prime Minister Vladimir Groysman who supported the President during nomination. Now the Prime Minister, answering a relevant question, replied with a joke: "Why does Petro Poroshenko need support? He seems to be walking properly."

But it is only within the country that Poroshenko appeared in political isolation. Immediately after the vote the West made gestures that appeared as implicit support. Thus, on April 4, special representative of the State Department Kurt Volker said on the airwaves of the American Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) that Ukrainians are facing a choice between someone who simply opposes the system pledging a broad reform and someone who may have disappointed them to some extent, but has carried out far more reforms than anyone else in Ukraine over the past 20 years, and opposed Putin. And the standard phrase that the United States supports no candidate but the principles voiced in the same interview, could not obscure the apparent fellow feelings.

The next day, on April 5 Berlin reported that in a week's time Chancellor Merkel will accept Petro Poroshenko. Since a visit of this kind had not been planned before, the support gesture seemed obvious.

We assume that the West has been guided by the following logic. Poroshenko satisfies it with his foreign policy, which has never been publicly criticized there unlike the internal one. The 14 percent gap is theoretically surmountable, as repeatedly proved in practice, for instance, in the recent election of the President of Austria. And once "Ukrainians rebelled in 2014 to become part of the West," according to a widespread Western mythologeme, the words and gestures of Western leaders can influence their sentiments.

Indeed, such logic didn't take into account the fact that, according to social studies, the voters' affinity towards the dropout candidates left Poroshenko no chances, even if the latter enjoyed the most flattering mathematical models. For example, if a third of those who voted for Vladimir Zelensky and half of the potential race leader's electorate fail to come to the vote (that is those who lean toward him among the dropout candidates' supporters). On the other hand, Poroshenko preserves all his first round electorate and potential voters. Still, the President comes in nowhere in this case as well: the gap between the candidates would have exceeded one and a half million votes.

However, Western analysts seem to have not made such virtually simple calculations. But when the first post-election sociological surveys have shown that the gap between the candidates will only increase in the second round and Poroshenko may not even gain a third of votes, the West has refined its focus.

In any case,  in Volker's video message to the Kiev security forum of April 11 the words that the United States supports no candidate but the principles no longer looked like a fig leaf covering support for Poroshenko. The State Department representative no longer gave any hint of affinity towards any of the candidates.

But cancelling the Ukrainian President's visit to Berlin would be the height of discourtesy and a play into Zelensky's hands, which Merkel could not tolerate. The practical result of the visit was Poroshenko's statement of his readiness for the Easter truce in the Donbass region starting April 18, provided that Russia supports this initiative either. Earlier, a video conference of the contact group was scheduled for this date. But before the visit of the Ukrainian President to Berlin, Kiev did not publicly comment upon this truce (unlike both OSCE and the other side of the conflict).

As for the election support, it was represented by the visit itself and Merkel's words about Ukrainian success in different areas at the final press conference (by the way, during Poroshenko's previous visits to Berlin, the parties often held briefings that did not involve any questions from journalists). But the Chancellor was not overacting as regards the support. It was about the country's achievements, not the president personally, as with Volker a week earlier.

On the other hand, it is wrong to talk about any public skirmish between the leaders on the Nord Stream-2 project. In their press conference speeches they avoided this issue and were forced to speak out only of the Süddeutsche Zeitung question - Poroshenko and Merkel presented their previously known stances, but this time in the most correct way: strategic partnership does not imply complete unanimity, and Berlin supports Ukraine's role as a transit state.

As for the rest, primarily the Donbass region situation, the Ukrainian President's speech was of greater belligerence than that of the German Chancellor, but one should not overemphasize this fact. Earlier, the search for differences in the tone of Berlin and Kiev has repeatedly led to mistaken conclusions about the Germans pushing Ukraine towards a political settlement. Much more important is the fact that Merkel twice referred to the uncontrolled Donbass region as occupied, which she never said at meetings with Poroshenko before.

But another leader of the Normandy format Emmanuel Macron met with both Zelensky and Poroshenko on April 12, the frontrunner being first. As for the meetings themselves, their participants did not talk to journalists, with the Elysee Palace's press release and the Ukrainian candidates' statements being not that informative at all.They were primarily expected to talk about the Donbass conflict. Also, Zelensky noted the French President's sense of humor.

I think their background is more interesting than the meetings themselves. Information about them appeared only on April 9. Therefore, this is how it most likely happened. Paris calculated the inevitability of Zelensky's victory and considered it necessary to start building bridges with him now. After all, the West is afraid that the new Ukrainian President will suddenly have face-to-face talks with Putin and make concessions. At the same time, Poroshenko's unexpected invitation to Berlin between the two rounds of election should reasonably arouse the following suspicions: what if Zelensky does not just take offense, but his offense will grow into distrust of the Normandy format? And the Elysee Palace decided to prevent such a scenario. But naturally it was not able to ignore Poroshenko and at the same time give cause for talking of divergence with Merkel, and decided to meet both the same day, but Zelensky being first nevertheless. However, his superiority was balanced by the fact that the press release on the French President's website only covered the meeting with Poroshenko.

Who prompted such a move to Macron? Here we need to take heed of the article by Bernard-Henri Lévy titled "The comedian vs. the hero of Ukraine" which appeared in the Wall Street Journal on April 8 (that is, the day before Zelensky's trip to Paris became known). The most prominent European intellectual and classic of modern anti-Russian xenophobia took a fancy to Poroshenko more than five years ago, and in this article he writes about it in such a refined and enthusiastic manner, that it leaves Ukrainian supporters of Poroshenko far behind. But unlike them, Henri Lévy is respectful when talking about the presidential race leader as well, whom he met on the eve of the voting day. He admits that Vladimir Zelensky is not a caricature of himself, and probably not the populist he criticized the day before when speaking at the Taras Shevchenko University.

The same publication contains the words of Zelensky: "But I admire Emmanuel Macron. Please tell him I don't mind taking a break between the two rounds and visiting the Eiffel Tower again."

And Henri Lévy, known for his public support of the French President in the 2017 election campaign and in opposing the "yellow vests", could of course tell Macron that Zelensky deserves to see not only the Eiffel Tower, like any tourist, but also the Elysee Palace's interior. As for the Ukrainian election front runner, after visiting the Palace he called the French President "leader of a United Europe", which exactly coincides with Henri-Lévy's definition of Macron.

But the French intellectual obsessed with fighting Russia and Putin, could have certainly lobbied Macron's reception of Zelensky. But only after making sure that the Ukrainian candidate undoubtedly wants to confront Moscow, and the key thing is to fasten this desire in his mind.

In fact, this is what Merkel's reception of Ukrainian President and the Volker reviews are aimed at. After all, they objectively appear as not only playing along Poroshenko, but also a signal to Zelensky: if he continues the current government's course, primarily as regards foreign policy, he will never lack support. And the obvious election winner needs to rely on the West even more than the current president. After all, his relations with the incumbent Verkhovna Rada convocation are unclear, with no regrouping of forces visible there, despite the first round outcome, and Zelensky's supportive formation comprising a single deputy. It is also unclear whether he will be able to convert the current success into the desired result in the upcoming parliamentary elections in six months.

Therefore, we can expect Zelensky to somehow change the Donbass situation only if the West suddenly wakes up and smells the coffee, deciding that the implementation of Minsk agreements requires urgent action from Kiev.

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