More than three months after Ukraine’s president fled to Russia in the wake of months of street protests, Petro Poroshenko was sworn in Saturday as the troubled country’s new president. The billionaire, widely called “the Chocolate King” because his fortune is rooted in the candy business, faces huge challenges posed by the violent insurgency in Ukraine’s east and the country’s stumbling, corruption-plagued economy. A look at Poroshenko:
The 48-year-old, who is estimated by Forbes magazine to be worth $1.6 billion, started his rise by importing cocoa beans into the Soviet Union in 1991. The project ballooned into the immensely popular candy manufacturer Roshen, the foundation of a business empire that now includes ship-building and one of the country’s most influential TV stations.
Poroshenko began his political career in 1998 as a lawmaker in a Russia-friendly party and went on in 2001 to help found Party of Regions, the political engine behind ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. But in 2004 he threw his weight behind the Orange Revolution protests that arose after fraud-plagued presidential elections.
He served as head of national security for a few months, but stepped down after months of feuding with the prime minister and allegations of improperly trying to help one of Ukraine’s major tycoons. He later returned to serve as foreign minister, and briefly as economics minister after Yanukovych came to power in 2010. He catapulted back into the public eye by allying himself early and openly with the anti-Yanukovych protest movement that broke out in late November 2013.
Supporters regard his moving among factions as a sign of pragmatism amid Ukraine’s highly polarized politics.
Poroshenko supports signing an association agreement with the European Union, but has spoken against holding a vote on whether Ukraine should seek NATO membership. He said it’s important to mend ties with Russia quickly; relations with Moscow should be equal and should not undermine Ukrainians’ desire for closer ties with the European Union, he said.