How Zelensky's Presidential Rival Would Try To Defeat Putin

Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has called on the West to face down Vladimir Putin by strangling Moscow's vital exports.

In an exclusive interview from Kyiv, Poroshenko—a distant second to President Volodymyr Zelensky in 2024 presidential election polling—called for an "anti-Putin coalition" that can isolate Russia.

"All the nations of the world should understand that they are members of the anti-Putin coalition," Poroshenko told Newsweek over the phone. "Putin should be completely isolated with such great nations and great democracies as North Korea, Iran, Syria, and Belarus."

Top Ukrainian officials and politicians remain stubbornly confident of victory over Russia. Moscow's forces have seized swathes of the south and east, prompting a refugee crisis, devastating Ukrainian infrastructure, and strangling the national economy.

Here's how Poroshenko suggests Russia can be defeated in Ukraine...

Petro Poroshenko in Kyiv during Russian invasion
Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is pictured in Kyiv, Ukraine in late March, 2022, amid Russia's invasion. Mychaylo Palinchak/Office of Petro Poroshenko

Blockade Russia

Russia's blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports is particularly punishing. This week, grain began leaving the port city of Odessa for the first time in months under a new United Nations-Turkey sponsored deal.

But exports are slow and their safety is far from guaranteed, as evidenced by the Russian strike on Odessa's port just hours after the accord was signed last month.

"The United Nations said 50 to 100 million people are in danger of complete hunger because of the Russian blockade," Poroshenko told Newsweek, calling on Ukraine's international partners to begin their own blockade of Russian ports. "We need to be decisive."

"If Russia blockades Ukrainian ports, the global anti-Putin coalition can have a legal solution to blockade Russian exports," he said. "That would be a very quick reaction."

Such a move would pose myriad diplomatic, legal, and logistical problems. But, the ex-president said: "It's possible, a combination of sanctions and embargoes is definitely the shortest way to peace, if it would be accompanied with a supply of the weapons and international solidarity."

Newsweek has contacted Russia's Foreign Ministry for comment.

Ukraine's GDP has fallen more than 30 percent, inflation is heading above 30 percent, the national hryvnia currency is down 25 percent against the U.S. dollar, and the unemployment rate is about 35 percent.

Poroshenko—known as the "Chocolate King" due to his ownership of Ukraine's Roshen confectionery firm—said Kyiv should bolster the national economy by creating an "investment paradise" with fewer restrictions and penalties on Ukrainian businesses and investors.

"If we do not protect our economy, if we do not protect our investment climate, if we do not protect our employment, the negative process will deepen," he said.

'Game-Changer' Weapons

Continued and expanded supply of advanced weapons, Poroshenko said, is a key element for Ukraine's planned success. Long-range artillery systems—including the U.S.-made HIMARS—already in Ukraine should be joined by F-16 fighter jets and advanced anti-air batteries, such as the U.S.-made Patriot system, Poroshenko said.

"Imagine that the more weapons we have, the shorter the distance to peace," he said. "We definitely need to end the war before the end of the year...That's why we don't have a year to supply F-16s and two years to supply Patriots. We should talk about days."

Foreign military aid will help Ukraine push its nascent counter-attack in the south around the city of Kherson. "We're going on the counter-attack now already," Poroshenko said.

"This is not a massive counter-attack like in a Hollywood film. This is the commanders of companies, of battalions, of brigades saying: 'If you're intelligence, today go two kilometers further. If you are an assault soldier or paratrooper, go one kilometer. If you are artillery, go 500 meters to increase accuracy. But please, don't stop.' And this tactic is effective."

NATO Bid

Poroshenko, who negotiated directly with Putin to end the fighting between Ukrainian and Russian forces in the eastern Donbas region in 2014, said Ukraine needs international support in any future talks.

Vladimir Putin and Sergei Shoigu Navy Day
Russian President Vladimir Putin is pictured alongside Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu during the naval parade marking Russian Navy Day, in St. Petersburg, Russia on July 31, 2022. ALEXEY DANICHEV/Sputnik Host Photo Agency/AFP via Getty Images

"I hate the idea of bilateral negotiation with Putin," Poroshenko said. "Ukraine should be together with its partners."

Top officials in Moscow recently reiterated maximalist war goals; the removal of the Zelensky government, undefined "demilitarization," and "de-Nazification."

Russian authorities also appear set to hold phony referendums in the occupied Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions as early as September, to formalize its massive landgrab.

Russia has demanded NATO exclude Ukraine from future membership, but the alliance has publicly remained committed to its open-door policy. Ukraine's constitution retains commitments to NATO and European Union membership. More than 70 percent of Ukrainians now support joining the transatlantic alliance, according to pollsters. "Nobody can stop us," Poroshenko said.

"The only document that can guarantee our security is Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization," he added, referring to NATO's commitment to collective defense.

"Please don't don't allow Russia to blackmail the West," Poroshenko appealed to foreign leaders. "In general, please don't trust Putin, and don't be afraid of Putin. These are the two main factors to bringing peace and to winning the war."

Domestic 'Unity'

Since being defeated by Zelensky in 2019, Poroshenko has been charged with treason related to the sale of a large amount of coal that financed Russian-backed separatist forces in Donbas in 2014-15. Poroshenko maintains that the charges are politically motivated.

Poroshenko told Newsweek he established an informal truce with Zelensky's government in the hours after Russia attacked on February 24.

"We met and I said: 'Clean sheet of paper from now, from this moment. You are not the president anymore, I am not the leader of the opposition anymore. We are all soldiers.'"

"This unity surprised Putin, and surprised the world," he added. "The two weeks where the danger was really high and when, unfortunately, a significant part of the parliament and government was outside of Kyiv, we stayed here and this clean sheet of paper was strong."

Recent weeks have seen Zelensky's government dismiss top officials, citing alleged involvement with or sympathies for the Russia occupiers. Critics have suggested that Zelensky and his close circle of aides are trying to expand their personal power over the state apparatus.

Poroshenko has been twice blocked from leaving the country in recent months. Asked if he was concerned about recent developments, Poroshenko replied: "Now, there are some 'useful idiots' who want to attack, who want to play politics," using a common phrase to describe unwitting propagators of Russian disinformation.

"We definitely should do, but after the victory. I think that some of the people who were removed were 'useful idiots'."

"I think it's very positive that having this opportunity to make an attack on political opponents or attacks on Russian agents, Ukrainian authorities chose to attack Russian agents. That means that we can go further, and I keep my fingers crossed that the top priority is victory."