&l;p&g;&l;img class=&q;dam-image ap size-large wp-image-3ea8a813ba144083aaf9ea1339bcd2f1&q; src=&q;https://specials-images.forbesimg.com/dam/imageserve/3ea8a813ba144083aaf9ea1339bcd2f1/960×0.jpg?fit=scale&q; data-height=&q;640&q; data-width=&q;960&q;&g; Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, left, gestures while speaking to the media, with his wife Maryna, center, at a polling station during the presidential election in Kiev, Ukraine. He made it to the second round against the main to beat. Volodymir Zelensky, a comedic actor from the popular TV series &q;Servant of the People&q;. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky) photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Ukraine&s;s incumbent president Petro Poroshenko lauded anti-Russian sentiment in most of his country for keeping him a contender in this year&s;s presidential election.
Poroshenko beat national icon and career politician Yulia Tymoshenko to make it to the second round against the lead candidate — who is actually an actor who plays the part of a politician on TV — Volodymyr Zelensky. Zelenksy remains the man to beat in round two next month.
&a;ldquo;Today, we Ukrainians broke with Russia&s;s hoped-for scenario in the first round,&q; Poroshenko told supporters in Kiev on Sunday.&q;They wanted to see anyone there, but not Poroshenko. I promise you that we will smash their hopes in the second round, too.&a;rdquo;
Poroshenko&s;s campaign slogan was rife with swipes against the Russians. &q;Army. Language. Faith.&q; That was his slogan. His army is fighting Russian backed separatists in the Donbass region of East Ukraine. The language means Ukraine, and not Russian, which used to be an official language in government. That stopped in 2014. Lastly, faith can be seen as a jab against the Russian Orthodox Christian church seeing the Ukrainian Orthodox Christian &l;a href=&q;https://apnews.com/161466b667fe432d843e15d7527a8afd&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;church separated from its old faith-based ally last year.&l;/a&g;
&l;img class=&q;dam-image ap size-large wp-image-9bb7f84d64e4432d86dd4b961e55764f&q; src=&q;https://specials-images.forbesimg.com/dam/imageserve/9bb7f84d64e4432d86dd4b961e55764f/960×0.jpg?fit=scale&q; data-height=&q;1430&q; data-width=&q;960&q;&g; Ukrainian comedian Volodymyr Zelensky from the Servant of the People party, a party named after his TV show. He is the man to beat on April 21. (AP Photo/Dan Braun) photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS
If Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin had any horses in this race it was a distant fourth or fifth place contender named Yuriy Boyko. Boyko never had a chance. Boyko visited the Kremlin last week and got the usual overtures from Moscow, saying that if Boyko wins, Ukraine gets cheap natural gas. Ukraine has had to do away with natural gas subsidies as part of its agreement with the International Monetary Fund. The whole cheap gas play on behalf of the Russians is what started this mess in the first place. When Putin offered cheaper Gazprom natural gas in exchange for then-leader Viktor Yanukovych to give up plans to create a trade agreement with the European Union, all hell broke loose. The so-called Euromaidan protests began in late 2013 and Yanukovych was ousted by extralegal means in February 2014.&a;nbsp; He is believed to be living somewhere in Russia. Boyko worked for Yanukovych, a major strike against him which proved unbeatable in the polls today.
The first round was always expected to be between Zelenksy, Tymoshenko, and Poroshenko. The only one who didn&s;t have an ax to grind with the Russians was Zelensky, something Poroshenko is surely to make front-and-center as round two campaign season kicks off on Monday.
Poroshenko has been more than merely a caretaker president. He has kept the economy afloat and in line with IMF reforms designed to prepare Ukraine for integration into the EU economy. Corruption remains a problem, but most Ukraine watchers see this as a generational matter, not much different from Russia.
&l;strong&g;See: &l;a href=&q;https://www.fox13memphis.com/news/the-latest-ukrainians-abroad-vote-in-presidential-election/935731189&q; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;Poroshenko Sobered By Election Turnout &l;/a&g;– AP&l;/strong&g;
&l;img class=&q;dam-image ap size-large wp-image-6e5096a01f084058975b7e7a5c6072d1&q; src=&q;https://specials-images.forbesimg.com/dam/imageserve/6e5096a01f084058975b7e7a5c6072d1/960×0.jpg?fit=scale&q; data-height=&q;593&q; data-width=&q;960&q;&g; Poroshenko gestures while speaking at his headquarters after the presidential election in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, March 31, 2019.&a;nbsp; (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky) photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS
And while Poroshenko does not enjoy the support his new opponent does, he at least has the connections in Kiev and the political allies in Parliament to run a government. Zelensky does not.
Similar to his scripted TV show, where he plays a school teacher disgruntled with his nation&s;s politics who later becomes the nation&s;s president, Zelensky is a man alone. He does have a political party, but it is fledgling one at best.
Poroshenko also took a swipe at the 41-year old comedic actor today by pushing the story that billionaire Igor Kolomoisky is funding him. Ukraine wouldn&s;t be Ukraine if there was not a billionaire oligarch seeking revenge against some other billionaire oligarch, or his political opponents. Kolomoisky runs the television stations where Zelenksky&s;s show &q;Servant of the People&q; airs. He will be Poroshenko&s;s boogey man No. 2 after Putin.
&q;Fate brought me in the second round, I&s;m not afraid to say this, with a puppet of Kolomoisky,&q; Poroshenko said, setting the table for making Zelensky a make-believe candidate who needs someone to give him lines, like Kolomoisky, and as a Russian speaker who does not want to play hardball with Russia.
But if Poroshenko makes this a centerpiece in his argument of why he is the better candidate, the Ukrainian leader risks alienating those who prefer Zelensky. It&s;s not his fame that has turned them on to him.
&l;img class=&q;dam-image ap size-large wp-image-90555f8a5fa64f3394814b187a09920b&q; src=&q;https://specials-images.forbesimg.com/dam/imageserve/90555f8a5fa64f3394814b187a09920b/960×0.jpg?fit=scale&q; data-height=&q;668&q; data-width=&q;960&q;&g; Ukrainian artist Dasha Marchenko adds a chocolate wrapper to her portrait of Ukraine&s;s President and chocolate tycoon Poroshenko at her studio in Kiev. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Moreover, Russia is not the point in these elections. The electorate at the moment is interested in a better life and fighting corrupt politicians whom they see as living well while public services are being cut. This is Zelensky&s;s main call to arms. Call him the &q;fairness&q; candidate. Poroshenko, meanwhile, is an establishment candidate at a time when establishment politicians are fighting for their careers. So is Poroshenko. It may damaging to his future if he makes Russia a bigger story than it is for most voters.
&q;It is a very small percentage of people who are concerned with the conflict with Russia in the Donbass,&q; says Arkady Moshes, program director at the Finish Institute of International Affairs. &q;Most people want the normalization of Russian-Ukrainian relations,&q; he told &l;em&g;Kommersant &l;/em&g;business daily on Sunday.
Washington and Brussels have been quiet on the elections.
After the final round on April 21, Ukrainian politics will then focus on the parliamentary elections scheduled for later this year. Once those are out of the way, the new government will have to deal with the Russians on certain pragmatic issues like natural gas transit. Poroshenko said so himself last week.
There are also ongoing anti-corruption investigations that involve both Russian nationals and Ukrainians, requiring law enforcement on both sides to be on good speaking terms.
&l;p class=&q;tweet_line&q;&g;Zelensky garnered over 30% of the popular vote on Sunday, nearly double that of Poroshenko. Election rules require&a;nbsp; the top two candidates to face each other in a run-off election if one of them does not get over 50% of the vote in the first round.
&l;p class=&q;tweet_line&q;&g;If Poroshenko beats Zelensky, he&s;ll have to address his rival&s;s main concerns: corruption and economic instability. If Zelenksy wins, he&s;ll have to tend to these two issues with nearly no experience, and what may turn out to be few friends in the government willing to see it through.