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Despite Criticism, Ukraine's Poroshenko Still Has Much Support

  • Al Pessin

Just over three months after taking office, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is facing some increased opposition based largely on controversial decisions he has made in the country’s conflict with Russia. But as the president heads to Washington and New York to seek more help in the fight, he still commands significant support at home.

It was a triumphant moment for the new president on Tuesday, when his parliament, linked by video to the European Parliament, ratified an Association Agreement guaranteeing closer ties to the European Union. That is what February’s Ukrainian revolution had been all about.

But even that moment involved some compromise.

With the Russian-backed separatist movement in control of parts of eastern Ukraine, Poroshenko agreed to delay implementation of the free trade part of the EU agreement to placate Russian concerns. And he got the parliament to approve temporary expanded local powers in the east, although the move has not satisfied the separatists, who want independence.

Mixed feelings

On Kyiv’s Independence Square, the center of the revolution where special police gunned down protesters in February, there were mixed feelings but a general willingness to support Poroshenko, at least for now.

"I didn’t vote for Poroshenko," Anna, a construction engineer stated. "But I think Poroshenko’s actions are correct enough for this moment, yes."

"To stop this, we need the most radical solutions," said Anatoliy, a retired teacher. "They’ve killed how many of our people? Hundreds. And we should take them into consideration."

The revolution spawned a new generation of aspiring politicians, many supporting the president and others fairly gently criticizing some of his policies.

“My name is Alona Shkrum. I am one of the new politicians who is going to be, probably, in the parliament after the elections," announced an optimistic candidate from an opposition party who has been in politics for about a week -- a lawyer, who wants more transparency in the talks with the rebels and is concerned about the delay in implementing the EU agreement.

"We are very much afraid that during the implementation we have heard already that there could be some changes, that there could be some amendments, maybe technical ones, maybe not," Shkrum said.

October election

The parliamentary election is set for next month. With the campaign getting under way Comparative Politics Professor Olexiy Haran of the University of Kyiv-Mohila Academy said President Poroshenko is being forced to play a diplomatic game, rather than move decisively as many voters would want.

"Definitely he will be criticized, but at the same time he is going to sell it to the Ukrainian people as ‘I am for peace.’ It could affect his rating somehow, but I don’t think it will be dramatic," said Haran.

Haran points out that the president’s party is still receiving 30-40 percent in public opinion polls, just five weeks before the parliamentary election.