Ukraine’s New Foreign Minister

by Roman Kupchinsky

Petro Poroshenko, one of the richest men in Ukraine, and an ally of embattled President Viktor Yushchenko, was confirmed by the Ukrainian parliament on October 9 as the country’s new foreign minister.

In the early days of the Yushchenko administration, Poroshenko headed the National Security and Defense Council. The Council, under his leadership, was often criticized for playing the role of a surrogate Council of Ministers supporting Yushchenko in his conflict with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko by issuing decrees countermanding those issued by Tymoshenko.

The most visible dispute was, as is traditional in Ukrainian political life, over the transparency of gas supplies from Russia and Turkmenistan.

At this time Tymoshenko accused the Swiss-based company RosUkrEnergo of being a “criminal enterprise.”

Poroshenko, however, did not seem to attach any great significance to the investigation of RosUkrEnergo and never mentioned corruption in the gas business as a major concern. In an interview with the Internet publication Obkom, he downplayed the allegations of criminal connections to Eural Trans Gas and said that all he knew about the case was from media reports.

On 5 July,Poroshenko told Interfax that there were no significant problems in the gas business and that “the good relations between Presidents Yushchenko and Putin” would insure that all gas-related issues would be peacefully settled.

In late August 2005, Poroshenko announced that he would go to Moscow personally to negotiate with Gazprom on prices for gas and to arrange a long-term supply agreement. Although he was not a cabinet member and thus not legally empowered to negotiate on behalf of the government, Yushchenko did not interfere and Tymoshenko could not prevent him from going.

Poroshenko, who made his fortune in the chocolate business, has little, if any experience in foreign policy. Many Ukrainian analysts view his appointment as foreign minister as a ploy by Yushchenko to tone down Moscow’s criticism of his erratic foreign policy and seek whatever support he can scrounge in the back ally’s of the Russian policy making establishment.