Comparing Poroshenko’s 2017 and 2018 “Independence Day” Speeches

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


Petro Poroshenko delivered a speech on the Independence Day of Ukraine. It was abounded with military-patriotic rhetoric, accusations aimed at Moscow, and new assurances that common Ukrainian-Russian history is finished.

What wasn’t in the speech of the president is unambiguous victories. Poroshenko was more concentrated on the process than on the result. As a result of the government’s efforts, the guarantor proposed the formula “we remain standing”.

However, Poroshenko also outlined prospects. Just how achievable they are is another question. The guarantor promised to introduce in September in the Rada a law on amendments to the Constitution concerning accession to NATO and the EU – where currently nobody is waiting for Ukraine.

Also, Poroshenko’s words about Tomos, which Ukraine, according to the president, should receive almost categorically, sounded almost like an ultimatum. At the same time, the president for the first time called the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchate – ed] a “non-canonical” church – and this is despite the fact that its leader (Metropolitan Onufry) was present at the parade.

“Strana” analysed the full text of the speech of Poroshenko and traced how his rhetoric has changed in comparison with last year.

He kept silent about growth in the economy

We will begin, perhaps, with what received little attention in the speech of the president – the economy.

Even though it’s not customary to discuss this in detail at the military parade, but last year the president considered it necessary to mention that GDP had started to grow.

“We renewed GDP growth, and the further forecasts are positive. This creates opportunities for the gradual restoration of the standard of living of Ukrainians,” said Poroshenko at the 2017 parade.

But on August 24th, 2018, the economy was mentioned only in the context of “hybrid war”. Poroshenko reproached the northern neighbor for imposing sanctions on Kiev and closed commodity transit from Ukraine. This is how the president explained the crisis hole that Ukraine found itself in.

Besides this, he reminded that exports to Europe grew by 11% in recent years, and that we don’t buy Russian gas any more – according to the president, 1,000 days have passed since Russian gas was last bought.

But this time Poroshenko didn’t say anything about growth in the economy and increasing the standard of living of Ukrainians. As a reminder, Ukraine met the 2017 parade with a hryvnia-dollar exchange rate of 25, and this year the exchange rate surely approaches 28, for the first time in many years showing an increase not in the autumn, but in the middle of the summer.

A cold attitude concerning external support

The rhetoric of the president about the external partners of Ukraine also changed.

In the 2017 speech he appealed to the head of the Pentagon James Mattis, who was present at the parade, quoted Reagan, and said that Ukraine can’t remain standing without allies.

“We must look for and hold onto allies. 100 years ago we were left face to face with Russia, and only those new states that had the appropriate external support survived,” said Poroshenko in 2017.

This year the President was more sovereign and didn’t even mention Trump’s adviser John Bolton, who was standing nearby:

“We, Ukrainians, go along our own path and understand that first of all we must rely on our own forces. To use the richness of our country in the interests of the people and future generations. Ukraine must defend its national interests rigidly. External help is still important for us, but first of all we must help ourselves”.

This paragraph keeps within the logic of last year. Relations between the West and Ukraine became more cool – less and less money and more and more criticism comes from the West.

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In addition, neither the US nor Europe have stated their preferences conquering the future president of the country. This means that, first of all, they aren’t sure of Petro Poroshenko, whose governance is accompanied by corruption scandals, and whose reforms have obviously stalled.

Most likely, this is where the “grounds” of the rhetoric of the president come from, who, unlike in his last speech, gave less curtseys to his external partners.

The EU and NATO

Poroshenko also unexpectedly started talking about the main external reference points of the country – accession to the European Union and NATO – as if it was an ultimatum.

There was the impression that the president doesn’t even understand why Ukraine hasn’t been included in the EU or NATO. And at the same time it became clear that integration into these structures will become the main topic of the electoral campaign of Poroshenko.

“Since you entrusted me with the post of the President of Ukraine, the state compass surely shows to the West – to the side that is contrary to the empire [Russia – ed]. It’s arrow didn’t move even once. And I assure you that it won’t move as long as this compass is in my hands,” said the president in his 2018 speech, praising himself while commenting on the question of the EU and NATO.

Last year the mention of both organisations in his speech was purely ritual. Accession to the European Union and NATO was mentioned by Poroshenko back then only once, having declared that “we have only one road – the wide Euro-Atlantic autobahn leading to membership in the European Union and NATO”.

This time the president firstly stated that in September the process of entering new foreign policy reference points – accession to NATO and the EU – into the Constitution will start.

Secondly, Poroshenko started arguing that if Ukraine enters into these structures, it will nearly stand as equals. And in general it follows from the words of the president that without Ukraine they may simply collapse.

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“The war of Russia against Ukraine is a part of the plan of the Kremlin to dismantle the European Union and NATO. Our soldiers in the East stand for defending the security and welfare not only of Ukraine, but of all of Europe. So we aren’t going into the European Union and NATO empty-handed”. Today we heard: “You will have the opportunity to see it and you have been convinced of it for four years – one of the best armies on the continent. It will significantly strengthen the Eastern flank of NATO. And in exchange – we count on the guarantees of collective security that the Alliance gives,” stated Poroshenko in his 2018 speech.

In total the president mentioned the name of the Alliance in his 2018 speech six times, and the European Union – eight times. It should be noted that a soldier of the guard of honor fainted when Poroshenko said “We are needed by Europe”.

Nothing was said about returning Donbass peacefully

If last year Poroshenko stated that the main way of returning Donbass and Crimea is via diplomacy, then today these words were not sounded.

“We proceed from the priority of a peaceful, diplomatic, political, and legal way of returning Donbass and Crimea,” said the president a year ago.

But in his 2018 speech Poroshenko limited himself to talking about a new army that is capable of repelling an aggressor. The president didn’t say anything about solving the conflict in the East of Ukraine peacefully.

This is an important point – Poroshenko never tired of talking about an exclusively peaceful way of returning territories (even if these words were actually rhetoric aimed at western partners). But now this is gradually consigned to the past. Most likely, the president plans on the eve of elections to play the role of a “hawk” more expressively.

To what extent this will help him in elections is another question, taking into account the fact that according to opinion polls most Ukrainians consider the achievement of peace in Ukraine to be a priority task for the authorities.

Internal enemies became fewer

In his 2017 speech Petro Poroshenko paid much more attention to the internal enemies of Ukraine.

“I am also sure that we will have enough forces and minds in order to keep the political fight happening inside the country within the framework of the European standards of civilised relations between the authorities and the opposition, so that the enemy can’t undermine us from within; so that the ‘fifth column’ doesn’t even think about raising its head; so that “atamanshchina” [non-controlled armed groups – ed] doesn’t destroy the foundations of statehood. In a word, so that we don’t destroy ourselves in the political standoff,” said the president in 2017.

This time he was much more laconic. Either the issue with agents of the enemy has already been resolved, or he has more important topics:

“And the most important thing, we firmly chose our own path of development. And we have no right to deviate from it in order to please external enemies and their agents inside the country”.

As we can see, this time the president doesn’t see any threats of “atamanshchina” or of internal political fighting. Although, it is obvious that these problems didn’t disappear at all during the past year.

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Though, perhaps, for Poroshenko they were personified in the person of Mikhail Saakashvili, who was an obvious threat a year ago, and now he became a peaceful resident of Amsterdam who isn’t in a hurry to return to Ukraine.

The ultimatum on Tomos

The religious topic wasn’t touched by Petro Poroshenko last year. At the 2018 Independence Day Tomos of autocephaly became the real highlight of the program.

Moreover, the president spoke not as an applicant, but he “demanded” it. In his speech he tried to be “rigid” and verbally equated Moscow, Constantinople, and even, for some reason, the Vatican (probably because of the quite positive, in recent times, attitude of the Pope towards the Russian Orthodox Church).

“Let us today be heard in Constantinople, Moscow, and in the Vatican. We firmly intend to sever the last knot with which the empire desperately tries to attach us to itself,” stated Poroshenko.

Taking into account the fact that a decision on autocephaly isn’t made in Ukraine anyway, these words nearly sounded like an ultimatum to the Ecumenical patriarchate.

He spoke about the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Moscow Patriarchate – ed] even more rigidly, having referred to the only orthodox church in Ukraine that is recognised world-wide as “non-canonical”.

“We are full of determination to put an end to the unnatural and non-canonical stay of a considerable part of our orthodox community depending on the Russian church. A church that consecrates the hybrid war of Putin against Ukraine, which day and night prays for the Russian authorities and for the army – which is also Russian,” stated Poroshenko.

Poroshenko’s “determination”, which wasn’t present last year, is perhaps explained by the proximity of presidential elections, during which the guarantor will place a stake on receiving autocephaly. However, so far all the deadline for its alleged granting is being continually postponed – and this is already not the first time that it has happened.

Poroshenko’s speech in his main words

If to look at the keywords of the speech of the president – how many times they were seen in the text – then his main priorities revolve around Russia, the army, and war. These are the leading words in the speech of the guarantor. And this year the president said the word “war” three times more often than in the 2017 speech.

Keyword 2017 2018
“Aggression” and derivatives 4 3
“Language” 0 2
Soviet Union 0 1
“Empire” and derivatives 2 5
“Army” 9 12
“Russia” and derivatives 11 14
 “Hybrid” and derivatives  1  1
“War” 2 7
“Military” 7 5
“European Union” 1 5
NATO 2 6

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