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Ukraine: Politician’s Arrest Galvanizes Opposition

  • Valentinas Mite

http://gdb.rferl.org/6B7B21CB-5A8D-4ACA-8EC4-C4D347CEF318_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/6B7B21CB-5A8D-4ACA-8EC4-C4D347CEF318_mw800_mh600.jpg Supporters of Viktor Yanukovych (above) are taking to the streets to defend Borys Kolesnykov Ukraine today formally charged Donetsk regional legislature head Borys Kolesnykov with racketeering. The arrest has sharpened the conflict between Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and the opposition. Former presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych has threatened mass protests and is rallying supporters against the new Ukrainian authorities. However, many observers believe the protests are likely to have little effect.

Prague, 12 April 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Ukrainian opposition supporters have pitched tents in the center of Kyiv and in the eastern city of Donetsk to protest Kolesnykov’s detention.

Serhiy Harmash, publisher of "Ostrov," an independent Internet magazine in Donetsk, said: "Yesterday, there were some 15 or 12 tents in the Lenin Square and the same number of tents in front of the city's administration [building] -- some 30 tents on the whole. The tents bear the symbols of the Party of Regions [led by Yanukovych]."

Harmash says the protest is sluggish as few people are participating.
Kolesnykov, a long-time ally of presidential candidate and former Prime Minister Yanukovych, was recently arrested on various charges, including extortion and conspiracy to commit murder. If convicted, he faces up to 12 years in jail.


Meanwhile in Kyiv, protestors have pitched tents in front of the presidential palace and near the parliament. Igor Losev, a professor at Kyiv's Mohyla Academy who has visited the tent camp, said: "There are approximately 100 people there with good quality, fixed tents. Yanukovych regularly visits them."

Losev says that other opposition politicians, not only Yanukovych, have been visiting protesters for several days. However, Losev says the protests lack the widespread support of people living in Kyiv.

Kolesnykov, a long-time ally of presidential candidate and former Prime Minister Yanukovych, was recently arrested on various charges, including extortion and conspiracy to commit murder. If convicted, he faces up to 12 years in jail.

He is a close friend and partner of Donetsk’s Rinat Akhmetov, considered to be Ukraine's wealthiest industrialist. Last year, a company jointly owned by Akhmetov, Kolesnykov, and former President Leonid Kuchma's son-in-law, Viktor Pinchuk, bought the country's largest steel mill, Kryvorizhstal.

The new Ukrainian authorities have denounced the privatization tender as being rigged.

Kolesnykov’s supporters, however, say the charges are politically motivated. Yanukovych is quoted by ITAR-TASS as saying that the recent protests are being held because of the new authorities’ "human rights violations." He said there were no grounds for Kolesnykov being detained.

Yanokovych has threatened to resort to extreme measures, including strikes and blocking traffic. The opposition leader has also said that some 20 opposition parties are ready to unite in a coalition.

But many analysts have doubts about the opposition's strength, its motivations -- and its likely effectiveness.

Losev said that political ideology is playing a very small role in the demonstrations and that fear of criminal investigation is the primary motivating factor.

"I think that this part of the opposition, which knows it has a criminal past, has begun to consolidate. This part of the opposition, motivated by a feeling of self-preservation is really consolidating now," Losev said.

Losev said it would be difficult for Yanukovych to create a strong political force on these grounds.

The Ukrainian authorities are n-o-t likely to release Kolesnykov. Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko has said that "the people who brazenly robbed our country in recent years certainly must answer for it."

In Donetsk, Harmash said the majority of people are indifferent.

"People themselves will not rise up and the heads of the factories, who are members of the Party of Regions, should organize protests. Meanwhile, the heads of the factories are brooding about their own future when they see that the authorities are really very serious about rooting out criminals," Harmash said.

Harmash said they are only likely to take to the streets on the orders of local factory directors. And they, he added, are unlikely to move against the new authorities.
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