Ukraine’s Independence “Depends” on the Upcoming Presidential Election

Like most Ukrainians, in the past I have always limited my participation in the Presidential elections simply by casting a vote. However, due to the war with Russia and the real threat to Ukraine’s independence, like millions of other Ukrainians, I have decided that instead of simply celebrating Independence Day, it would be more useful to get involved in the actual process of selecting the best possible President of Ukraine. This time, unlike before, I decided to become more active in shaping Ukraine’s future at this pivotal historical juncture. Specifically, I hope to unite no less than 200,000 voters, who will join me in voting for the right candidate.

In order to find the best possible presidential candidate, the Ukrainian voters need to answer the following fundamental questions:


  • Who has a realistic chance of being elected as the President of Ukraine?
  • What moral qualities, knowledge, qualifications, experience and financial standing does this candidate have?
  • How can one avoid making the mistakes in approaching the above two issues?

We can identify serious candidates, and the one who should become the next President only after we have the answers to above questions. After that, we will be able to organize mass public support for the best qualified candidate. Immediately below I summarize the approach.

Who can become the President of Ukraine? The answer is patently clear: it will be a candidate from the current administration and candidates from the opposition parties. However, I believe that in addition to the three traditional branches of power (which are quite weak) there are two other strong branches:

  1. The oligarchy. This branch is represented in Ukraine by a group of oligarchs, each with their own set of deputies, ministers, mayors, etc. There is usually a “favorite oligarch,” who always supports the President with all available resources, starting from deputies and ending with the media.
  2. External forces. The second “non-traditional” branch of power in Ukraine involves foreign powers. Before 2014, the dominant “foreign influence” was Russia. After 2014, the “foreign influence” shifted to the West (US, EU, IMF). Notwithstanding the increasing influence of the West, however, Russia still remained a powerful branch of influence in Ukraine; it has its own deputies, mayors, television channels and even a church and its armed forces, not to speak of the legions of anti-Ukrainians who number around 3 million. In comparison, the West’s influence on the current Ukrainian government is negligible. In fact, in its dealings with Ukraine, the West sometimes finds itself in a “soft opposition” to the Ukrainian government, especially when it comes to the issues of corruption-free elections and reforms.

So who in Ukraine can act as an opposition to the current political system? Surely it is not the so-called “opposition block” in the Parliament that often offers no opposition whatsoever. In fact, ordinary Ukrainians are the actual and only opposition in the upcoming Presidential Election. Unfortunately, it seems that the candidates from the opposition (ordinary Ukrainians) have no chance of victory for many reasons: there are no powerful civil institutions, no financing, no mass media (with the exception of social networks that has an influence on only 10-15% of the Ukrainian voters). Most importantly, there is no current sense of perception and, more precisely, the ability to reject false messages from populist candidates. At the same time, I am convinced that there will be one or two worthy candidates from the Ukrainian people.

The West should understand that the other external player, Russia, will support its own candidate in the Presidential Election, and this candidate’s pro-Russian party will attempt to undermine/sabotage all of pro-European candidates. First and foremost, Europeans and Americans should understand that the power and effectiveness of the external Russian influence on the political process does not only exist in Ukraine, but also in other European countries and even in the US. Also, the West must recognize that Russia’s influence in Ukraine is more powerful than the influence of the civilized West. The West plays by the rules, while Russia brutally violates them with impunity. This is why Russia’s influence continues to win.

I will not analyze the insolent methods of Russian influence on politics – they are quite notorious. I will only say that we should be prepared for even more cynical, brutal and amoral acts from Russia in both Ukraine and the US and EU. Frankly speaking, the only way for the West to overcome Russia in this race is by taking even more insolent, brutal and cynical measures against Russia. Of course, there is an alternative to such unpleasant actions for the contemporary Europe and the US. However, such alternative requires the imposition of serious sanctions against Russia for annexation of the Crimea, the partial occupation of the Donbass Region, and its interference in the internal affairs and elections in Ukraine and in other European countries and the US. In other words, the likelihood of severe sanctions in case of election fraud in Ukraine would serve as a significant deterrent against Russia’s aggressive influence in Ukraine’s presidential elections.

In order to be effective, such realistic sanctions (as opposed to those sanctions currently imposed on Russia) should be measured by actual, and not virtual, losses of tens of billions of dollars for the Russian state coffers and those business structures and owners involved in Russia’s actions. The cash and property of Putin’s friends should be not only arrested, but confiscated and expeditiously spent, for example, on the compensation of damages to Ukraine and its population and businessmen as a result of the annexation of the Crimea and a part of the Donbass Region. By my calculations, we are talking about tens of billions of dollars (currently 40-50 billion USD, but in time the sum will increase and soon reach 100-120 billion USD). Any other behavior by Europe and the US will be perceived by Russia as the West’s weakness and as an encouragement to undertake even more radical actions in the upcoming Ukrainian presidential election campaign. And remember: we are not only speaking about Ukraine…

The chances that the right candidate will be victorious in Ukraine are connected with three conditions:

  1. 1. The West and the Ukrainian people will together support one or a maximum of two acceptable candidates;
  2. 2. The West will not only provide moral, but also financial support within the limits permitted by Ukrainian legislation;
  3. 3. The Ukrainian people will finally apply their passion to constructive actions, such as the creation of a new Ukrainian government, and not post-factum with protests and revolutions, as has happened in recent Ukrainian history.

Today, the main presidential candidates are Yulia Tymoshenko, who has a current rating of approximately 12% with a tendency towards growth, and current President incumbent Petro Poroshenko, who has a current rating of approximately 8% with a tendency towards decline. However, these two politicians have an off-the-charts “anti-rating” of 75% - something they share in common.

The Ukrainian people are still waiting for their own Macron – a new technocrat reformer. Over 40% of Ukrainians want to see a new face in the political elite. Alas, they vote with their eyes, ears and hearts, but not with their heads. Therefore, there is always the danger that the new face will be introduced by Russia or the oligarchs. In light of the risks and long-term consequences, the West should not remain a passive observer or arbitrator in these elections, but take on a role of an active player.

Let’s get right to the point: by December 2018, the West must help Ukrainians identify the best presidential candidate. Then, on a practical level, the West must help such a candidate to reach the hearts and minds of the voters (for example, require the oligarchs’ TV channels to hold proper forums where candidates will discuss all relevant issues in a civilized setting). It is also vitally important to help Ukrainians counteract the enormous influence of the Kremlin during the elections.

From a financial and political perspective, helping Ukrainians choose the right President will cost the West almost 50 million dollars. This is less expensive and far more effective than multibillion dollar assistance from a corrupt president or Kremlin agents. Economic and moral support of the right presidential candidate from the West, provided that the candidate is free from “anti-ratings”, will allow a technocrat reformer to come to power, even with an initial level of recognition of 10%. Of course, the candidate should have a magnetic personality with work experience in Ukraine and in the West. In other words, the candidate should not be a couch expert.

In summary, a serious candidate for the presidency of Ukraine must be supported by serious political forces. In Ukraine, they are the oligarchs and Russia from one side and, from the other side, they are the West and the Ukrainian people. And unless we employ a new approach, whereby ordinary Ukrainians unite to support the best possible candidate, while the West puts additional pressure on Russia via serious sanctions, I believe there will be a preservation of the traditional status quo, when the candidates will be elected from the ranks of the oligarchs and/or Russia rather than from the Ukrainian people.


Frishberg & Partners 2022