Moscow, 19 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk dropped a political bomb last week by claiming Berezovskii, the controversial Russian billionaire in exile in London, financed Viktor Yushchenko’s 2004 presidential election campaign.
Under Ukrainian law, candidates are barred from using foreign funds to bankroll their campaign.
Yushchenko’s aides have strongly denied any contact, financial or otherwise, with the Russian magnate during the Orange Revolution that brought Yushchenko to power.
Berezovskii, in turn, has confused matters by publicly vouching for the authenticity of alleged bank transfers published on the Internet. But he declined to comment on what the money had been destined for specifically.
On 16 September, he went a step further, telling Reuters he had regularly spoken to Yushchenko on the phone during Ukraine’s presidential race. The tycoon, who is an outspoken Kremlin foe, said Yushchenko’s aides had approached him with requests to help Yushchenko become Ukraine’s president. “I was really surprised that the people who are around Yushchenko lie so much,” he said, referring to claims by the president’s team that Yushchenko had had no dealings with him.
Yushchenko’s opponents are already talking about impeachment if the accusations are substantiated. But acting Justice Minister Roman Zvarych was quick to pour cold water on their hopes.
"To all appearances, he [Berezovskii] has now made a choice and this choice is a bet on former Prime Minister Tymoshenko as the more promising figure." -- Russian analyst
"The word 'impeachment' is not a political term and the president cannot be impeached for any political action," Zvarych said. "Only a crime can be a reason for starting impeachment procedures. If you talk about corpus delicti [body of crime] that gives a reason for impeachment, please refer to a specific article of the Penal Code."
The scandal is likely to fuel Ukraine’s political crisis, which erupted after Yushchenko sacked his prime minister and former ally, Yuliya Tymoshenko, on 8 September.
Meanwhile, observers are speculating on the motives behind Berezovskii’s statements. Nikolai Petrov, a political analyst at the Carnegie Center in Moscow, suggests Berezovskii has decided to throw his weight behind Tymoshenko and is now bent on discrediting Yushchenko.
“This [statement by Berezovskii] weakens the position of Yushchenko and, accordingly, strengthens the position of Tymoshenko in the political conflict currently unfolding in Ukraine," Petrov told RFE/RL. "To all appearances, he [Berezovskii] has now made a choice and this choice is a bet on former Prime Minister Tymoshenko as the more promising figure.”
Petrov also suggested that Berezovskii’s decision could be inspired by more obscure, long-term financial considerations. “Concerning Berezovskii’s active participation in post-Soviet politics, it took place before his emigration and it continues now," he said. "This is obviously linked to the fact that Berezovskii has many political, and partly economic, interests in the post-Soviet region.”
But some political experts say Berezovskii is merely a protagonist in an artificial crisis staged by the Ukrainian government itself to minimize its responsibility for severe economic shortcomings. Aleksei Mukhin, the director of Moscow’s Center for Political Information think tank, told RFE/RL: “To a certain extent, heating up the situation around the dismissal of Tymoshenko’s government benefits all sides, including Yushchenko, as paradoxical as it may sound. The crisis justifies all of the 'orange' government’s failures on the economic front. I actually believe this crisis was created artificially.”
Berezovskii, for his part, says his ties with Yushchenko have been made public by Moscow-backed opponents eager to damage the Ukrainian president’s reputation.See also:
Yushchenko Accuses Former Prime Minister Of Misuse of Power
Ukraine's President Sacks Government, Offering More Questions Than Answers