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Ukraine Update: The Presidential Elections and Beyond

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My seventh interview from Ukraine, this time joined by professor Richard Sakwa, with David C. Speedie, director of the program on U.S. Global Engagement at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, first published on April 21, 2014.

DAVID SPEEDIE: I'm David Speedie, director of the program on U.S. Global Engagement at Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs. We welcome you to another of our Security Bulletins from Ukraine.

Today we are joined by two guests. Professor Nicolai Petro is, by now, an old friend. He is professor of international relations at the University of Rhode Island but is spending a year in Odessa in Southern Ukraine on a Fulbright Fellowship. We welcome Nicolai back.

We also are pleased to introduce this morning Richard Sakwa. Professor Sakwa is a professor of Russian and European politics at the University of Kent in England. He's also an associate fellow of the Russia and Eurasia program at Chatham House in London and is the author of a recent book, Putin and the Oligarchs.

Welcome, both Nicolai Petro and Richard Sakwa, from Odessa.

NICOLAI PETRO: Hello.

RICHARD SAKWA: Hello.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Obviously, Nicolai, you've been with us on this entire roller coaster since Maidan, which seems so long ago but is only a matter of weeks.

Of course, now, the latest fascinating development and potentially momentous development are the elections that brought Mr. Poroshenko to power on Sunday, with a pretty hefty vote of, in the end, something like 56 percent.

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Beginning with you, Nicolai, but then please join us in the conversation, Richard, can you give us your sense of the implication for this election, whether it will restore, ameliorate the issues that have conflicted Ukraine in the past weeks and months? What do you see as the outcome of this vote?

NICOLAI PETRO: It was a good thing that this vote took place and that it was such a decisive vote, so there's no confusion about who the victor was. Whether or not Poroshenko really has the authority now, to be able to restore law and order in the country, is the big question.

He certainly has a credit, a faith. Popular momentum, if you will is behind him, given the victory that he's achieved, but he has a fair amount of opposition to overcome in the East, where there are rebels fighting to assert their autonomy from Kiev.

There's also a group within the interim government that is probably eager to assert its own authority and to make sure that the presidency does not become too powerful in the context of the new Ukraine that they would like to build.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Richard?

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RICHARD SAKWA: There are two issues that face him. Clearly, the hefty victory, as you suggest, does give him legitimacy and indeed a base on which he could begin to shape the new agenda for the development of the vision of Ukrainian statehood as well as a whole raft of policies that are essential to try to bring the country together.

However, the tendency to externalize Ukraine's problems continues. It was reflected in the message sent by the president of the United States on the victory evening, which instead of focusing on the issues facing Ukrainian statehood, it tried to blame Russia for some of the issues on the one side.

And on the other side, excessive expectations of support, help, assistance, and shaping of agendas from the West--the United States, the European Union, and other actors.

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Nicolai N. Petro is professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island. He has served as special assistant for policy in the U.S. State Department and as civic affairs advisor to the mayor of the Russian city of Novgorod the Great. His books include: The Rebirth of Russian Democracy (Harvard,1995), Russian Foreign Policy (Longman, 1997), and (more...)
 

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