Sat, 20 Apr 2019

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has announced he will be at Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kyiv for a presidential election debate even though his challenger, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has said he will only agree to spar with Poroshenko at the stadium five days later.

Poroshenko is to face Zelenskiy in Ukraine's presidential runoff on April 21. Zelenskiy won the first round earlier this month by a large margin, and most, if not all, opinion polls put him well out in front of the incumbent ahead of the final vote.

Both candidates have agreed to hold a debate, but disagreed on the date.

Zelenskiy insists the debate take place on April 19 while Poroshenko wants it held on April 14.

The stadium has confirmed it has received requests to hold debates on both April 14 and April 19, leaving open the possibility that each candidate will show up on his preferred date and speak to supporters alone.

The campaign has been marked by theatrics on both sides, including public moves by both candidates to be tested for drugs and alcohol.

According to a statement on April 13 on the Ukrainian presidential website, press will be admitted to Olimpiyskiy Stadium in Kyiv on April 14 starting at 1 p.m. local time (1000 GMT/UTC), 15 minutes before what it says is the start of the scheduled debate. Most likely, if Zelenskiy doesn't show up, the event will turn into a Poroshenko rally.

On April 12, Poroshenko traveled to Berlin and Paris to seek international support ahead of the April 21 runoff.

Zelenskiy traveled only to Paris, where he met French President Emmanuel Macron, who separately met with Poroshenko as well.

French President Emmanuel Macron (right) and Ukrainian presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy hold talks in Paris on April 12.

In Berlin, Poroshenko met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who praised the 'very close relations' her country has built with Ukraine in recent years.

At a joint news conference, Merkel deflected a question about the impression that she favors Poroshenko in the election. She said that she was in 'permanent contact' with the incumbent.

Her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said a meeting with Zelenskiy 'is not planned at present.'

Germany, France, and Ukraine are part of the so-called Normandy Format of countries seeking a resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists are fighting against government forces.

Russia is the fourth country in the format, which has not held talks in two years.

Poroshenko said he would be prepared to hold a summit 'immediately after the election.'

He later met Macron in Paris.

Macron first hosted Zelenskiy, who told journalists that his meeting with the French president was held in a 'very nice, warm atmosphere.'

Zelenskiy won the first round by a wide margin over Poroshenko, but he did not receive enough support to avoid the runoff.

An independent poll released on April 11 suggests that Zelenskiy enjoys a commanding lead ahead of next week's runoff.

The Sociological Group 'Rating' said its polling early this month points to 51 percent popular support for sitcom star Zelenskiy, who appeared on the political scene late last year, versus 21 percent for Poroshenko.

The race was even more lopsided in Zelenskiy's favor among respondents who intend to vote in the second round of the election -- 61 percent to 24 percent.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, AP, AFP, and Reuters

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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