KIEV, Ukraine -- The cast of characters would be familiar to followers of US election campaigns, but this presidential fight is seven time zones east of Washington and inside the former Soviet Union.
Western political and media advisers, led by big US companies, have been making inroads in Ukraine since the 2004 “Orange Revolution”, which ousted Viktor Yanukovich, the Moscow-backed president-elect.Five years later, Paul Manafort – a Republican strategist whose firm, Davis, Manafort and Freedman, advised several US presidents – has turned round Mr Yanukovich’s fortunes.Mr Manafort’s team provided strategic advice to Rinat Akhmetov, the country’s richest man, before Mr Akhmetov introduced them to Mr Yanukovich in 2005.They have now helped propel the humiliated loser of the fraud-marred 2004 election into pole position in the country’s first presidential vote since the Orange Revolution.AKPD Media and Message, founded by David Axelrod, President Barack Obama’s senior adviser, has been helping Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s prime minister, who came second in the first round of voting earlier this month. She is also being advised by John Anzalone, who worked on the Obama campaign.Mr Yanukovich and Ms Tymoshenko will contest the second round on February 7.Boris Kolesnikov, a lawmaker and confidant of Mr Yanukovich, says the Manafort team has made “a major impact” on the strategy and style of the rough-spoken former truck driver closely associated with Ukraine’s oligarchs.The PBN Company, another US group, failed to restore the popularity of Viktor Yushchenko, the outgoing president. Although Mr Yushchenko also received advice from Mark Penn, campaign strategist to Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state, his support plunged to about 5 per cent after his triumph in the 2004 Orange Revolution.With his chances of re-election slim to begin with, Mr Yushchenko finished fifth in the first round of the presidential election.The rules of engagement in Kiev are much less transparent than they are in Washington, with campaigns widely funded by shadowy slush funds. Election laws, which should control funding and ethics, are enforced weakly.But the market is attractive. Annual advisory contracts are worth between $2m and $4m (€2.8m, £2.5m), according to one US adviser working in Kiev. That is less than a crucial state campaign in the US would bring in, but enough to keep advisers busy during an election-less season back home. “It’s a rich country,” said the adviser.Myron Wasylyk, a vice-president of PBN and an American with Ukrainian roots, says it is an important market for all the big political firms. “It’s one of the largest countries in Europe and most of the largest parties are backed by big business, which is capable of financing professional campaigns.“There are also French and British advisers here, but the Americans get more attention.”Advisers say politicians are looking for solid strategic advice on domestic politics and on gaining legitimacy in the west.Another indicator of Kiev’s westward shift since the disputed 2004 presidential election is the lower profile of Moscow political advisers in this campaign.Mychailo Wynnyckyj, a sociology professor in Kiev, said: “The Russian advisers know how to organise a Putin-style campaign, where the administrative resources can be mobilised. In Ukraine, such tactics are not as effective any more.”