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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: June 4, 2002

4 June 2002, Volume 4, Number 22
PRO-KUCHMA FORCES GAIN PARLIAMENTARY LEADERSHIP. On 28 May, after over a week of intrigue and interfaction squabbles, the Verkhovna Rada finally selected candidates to fill its three key positions. Aside from the 177 votes from the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine, which has been renamed United Ukraine, and 31 votes from the oligarchic Social Democratic Party of Ukraine-united (SDPU-o), the vote was carried by seven Our Ukraine deputies who were immediately expelled from that faction, as well as Communists "loaned" for the vote. A parliamentary leadership package proposed by United Ukraine and the SDPU-o was endorsed by 226 votes, the minimum number required for approval.

The election resulted in two eastern Ukrainian pro-presidential and oligarchic groups, United Ukraine and the SDPU-o, taking full control of all three chairman and deputy chairman positions. Volodymyr Lytvyn, the head of the presidential administration and United Ukraine faction, became Verkhovna Rada chairman followed by Hennadiy Vasylyev, a member of the oligarchical Labor Ukraine party, as first deputy chairman and with the post of deputy Verkhovna Rada chairman going to Oleksandr Zinchenko, the deputy head of the SDPU-o. Zinchenko was head of the SDPU-o faction in the 1998-2002 parliament and is honorary president of Inter Television, which broadcasts mainly in Russian to eastern Ukraine.

This vote brought President Leonid Kuchma one step closer to what he failed to obtain in 1996 with his Russian-style constitution, which led him to initiate an internationally unrecognized referendum in April 2000 designed to turn Ukraine into a presidential republic with a malleable Verkhovna Rada. Vasylyev's position was in gratitude to the Donetsk clan, the only region where For a United Ukraine finished first in the 31 March elections.

In the party-list vote in the March elections, For a United Ukraine finished only third with 11.81 percent, compared to Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine's with 23.65 percent. On the basis of these results, Yushchenko proposed after the election that because Our Ukraine won the elections, it should be the basis for creating a Verkhovna Rada majority. In a joint statement on 26 April, Our Ukraine, the Communists (which polled 20.4 percent), the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (7.21 percent), and Socialists (6.93 percent) said that they won the elections, which was a defeat for the authorities.

But Lytvyn and Kuchma disagreed, as did Russian President Vladimir Putin. Their shared understanding of the elections was that For a United Ukraine had won. Lytvyn based his argument on the fact that his faction had become the largest in the Verkhovna Rada after the elections by virtue of inducing or blackmailing the majority of deputies elected in majoritarian districts into its ranks. Through these tactics United Ukraine has been able to increase its faction from 102 deputies to being the largest with 182 deputies (compared to the 111 in Our Ukraine).

The hundreds of hours of tapes illicitly made in Kuchma's office by his security guard, Mykola Melnychenko, reveal how the tactics used to obtain Lytvyn's election as Verkhovna Rada chairman have been a consistent feature in what has been defined as a "blackmail state." In a recent study in "East European Constitutional Review," Yale Professor Keith Darden concludes that blackmail is used to secure political control. This is undertaken by tolerating "pervasive corruption" as "an essential element in an informal technique of presidential control" through the collection of evidence of corruption by the Security Service and the Internal Affairs Ministry.

This system is especially effective in ensuring compliance by businessmen who tend to be elected in majoritarian districts as "independents." In a taped conversation between oligarch Oleksandr Volkov and Kuchma in July 2000, Volkov was asked why he was in favor of lifting deputies' immunity. He reasoned that "there is only one immunity for deputies and that is you. Everything else is crap." Since the elections, many independent deputies have been invited to the Prosecutor-General's Office and warned that it possessed files on them. Leonid Hadyatskyy admitted that he had left the Socialist Party caucus to join United Ukraine "in order to save himself and his family."

Darden concludes that "corruption and illegality" in Ukraine are "accepted, condoned, and even encouraged by the top leadership." Volkov, for example, was given a state medal by Kuchma in February 2001 for his services to the Ukrainian economy, even though he is wanted by Belgian police on money-laundering charges and his trial in absentia is to begin next month in Brussels.

As long as businessmen continue to remain loyal to Kuchma, the files collected by the Security Service and Internal Affairs Ministry will not be used by the Prosecutor-General's Office or the Tax Administration to destroy their businesses. One month after the elections, all criminal charges of "corruption" were dropped against Yuliya Tymoshenko and her husband. Volodymyr Shcherban, one of the seven deputies expelled from Our Ukraine for voting for Lytvyn as Verkhovna Rada chairman, said after the vote that, "I did not come here today to parliament to fight with the authorities for two years." Shcherban is the leader of the Liberals, the former Donetsk "party of power," and a wealthy businessman.

The "blackmail state" places the Our Ukraine bloc in a predicament. Volkov has pointed out that it cannot join the opposition because this would lead to its businessmen and bankers being subjected to pressure from the enforcers of the "blackmail state." Although Yushchenko has deliberately never criticized Kuchma and has refrained from calling Our Ukraine an "opposition" bloc, his ability to maneuver between the pro-presidential/oligarchic and opposition forces may be coming to an end.

Earlier this month, Yushchenko warned that if Lytvyn, as leader of a defeated bloc, were to be elected Verkhovna Rada chairman that Yushchenko would take Our Ukraine into opposition. That warning was prompted by Kuchma's rejection of a compromise proposal whereby Yushchenko would become prime minister and Lytvyn Verkhovna Rada chairman, an arrangement that would have given Yushchenko an excellent base from which to be elected president in 2004.

Yushchenko had already concluded prior to the 28 May vote that "the political crisis in Ukraine has turned out to be much deeper than I had imagined." In a statement after Lytvyn's election, Our Ukraine said that he was "appointed" Verkhovna Rada chairman, not voted in, and that the entire process showed a lack of respect for deputies and voters. The "administrative resources" that were used so heavily by Kuchma in the elections to secure For a United Ukraine votes were again used inside the Verkhovna Rada, the statement continued. Our Ukraine believes that the Rada has "in effect turned into a subsection of the presidential administration."

If Our Ukraine does go into opposition, Ukraine would have a parliament dominated by two eastern Ukrainian pro-Kuchma and oligarchic groups who lost the elections, while western-central Ukraine would be in opposition to the executive. SDPU-o head Viktor Medvedchuk is unconcerned by this possible turn of events because he is convinced that a new Rada majority will be created on the basis of the United Ukraine-SDPU-o alliance to implement the president's wishes.

These steps by Kuchma and Lytvyn will only serve to make the outcome of the 2004 presidential ballot -- in which Kuchma may not seek a further term -- even more unpredictable and Ukrainians more angry. Our Ukraine's proposals for cooperation on deep political, social, and economic reforms were turned down by Kuchma's United Ukraine.

(The report was written by Dr. Taras Kuzio, a resident fellow at the Center for Russian and East European studies, University of Toronto.)

MOURNING THE LOST VOTE. Representatives of the four "non-presidential" parliamentary caucuses -- Our Ukraine, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc -- addressed the Verkhovna Rada on 29 May in connection with the previous day's vote on the parliamentary leadership. Below are translations of excerpts of their speeches as they were transcribed by the "Ukrayinska pravda" website: Oleksandr Moroz (Socialist Party):

"On 28 May, the ruling regime concluded yet another campaign toward usurping power. Contrary to the people's will, the parliamentary leadership was filled with representatives of the forces that were supported by less than one-fifth of the citizens. The victory was wrenched from the people by way of blackmail, threats, bribery, and betrayal. Now the picture of the authorities has been completed -- the branches of power are headed by people with a guilty conscience.

"The Socialist Party caucus announces it is switching over to parliamentary opposition to the majority that was formed the previous day, and appeals for cooperation to representatives of other [like-minded] caucuses."

Viktor Yushchenko (Our Ukraine):

"For ethical considerations, I must begin this address by hailing the election of the [parliamentary] presidium and congratulating the authorities, the For a Food [in original: Za Yedu -- the acronym of For a United Ukraine] bloc, and the Social Democratic Party caucus on that resolute murdering of the position, honor, and dignity of some deputies. Indeed, this was your victory. My heart is breaking to see what is going on. I am convinced that millions of Ukrainians have suffered a heartache after what happened in this hall yesterday.

"Yesterday the country was the loser. Yesterday morality was the loser. Yesterday democracy was the loser.

"On 28 May 2002, an appointment of Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada leadership took place. The procedure for the election of speaker was replaced by a forcible imposition of the three [Lytvyn, Vasylyev, Zinchenko]. The authorities managed to push their candidates into the leadership of the legislative body with pressure, blackmail, bribery, and threats.

"The administrative resources, which were cynically used in the elections campaign, were brutally applied in the parliamentary hall as well. In this way, Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada has transformed itself into a subsection of the presidential administration. Yesterday, the parliamentary leadership was filled with people who represent the outsiders of the election campaign and marginal political forces.

"An assessment of these [forces] -- despite ferocious pressure and total disinformation in the state-controlled media -- was already provided by voters in March 2002. But yesterday's developments demonstrated one more time that the authorities in Ukraine do not take into consideration the citizens' choice.

"Today, I apologize to those 6,188,000 voters for Our Ukraine's failure to defend democracy. I apologize for the fact that seven people's deputies who were elected to the parliament from the Our Ukraine list or thanks to support from our bloc in single-mandate constituencies, have proved to be unworthy of their voters. Yesterday, seven people betrayed their voters, betrayed all of us. Our Ukraine voted to expel them from the parliamentary caucus. We have cleared our ranks of unsteady people who failed to pass their first political test."

Serhiy Hmyrya (Communist Party)

"On behalf of the entire caucus, I propose [to hold] a minute of silence [to mark the fiasco of] democracy in Ukraine, and to display here a black-craped copy of the constitution until the constitutional order has been restored."

Yuliya Tymoshenko

"This is a total failure, because yesterday Ukraine got a three-in-one leadership: Kuchma the president, Kuchma the prime minister, Kuchma the Verkhovna Rada speaker. Therefore, Kuchma and his entourage now bears full responsibility for everything taking place in Ukraine -- it's impossible to call [the authorities] a team.

"The four [Our Ukraine, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc] should also bear some of the blame -- we had a chance over a span of two weeks, we should admit this. If we continue to blame the authorities for all, we will be [ridiculous]. We should shoulder our part of responsibility -- for our squabbles, quarrels, disagreement, for our two-faced politics when we tried to act on several fronts. [Editor's note: an apparent allusion to attempts by Our Ukraine and the Communist Party to strike a deal on the election of the parliamentary leadership with United Ukraine.]

"Did we not know whom we had on our [election] lists? Did we not know what methods were used by the authorities? Did we not know how they would be tormenting deputies? We did know all this! Therefore, we also bear our part of the blame."

WHY DID KYIV CHOOSE TO SEEK NATO MEMBERSHIP? Since Ukraine's declaration of independence in 1991, NATO and the West have made it clear they see Ukraine as a key element of new security structures in Europe. Although Ukraine has cooperated closely with NATO, its government has mostly avoided the issue of NATO membership because it did not want to offend Russia. Moscow strongly criticized NATO's first round of expansion in 1999 when Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined. Russian officials have also said they see no reason for NATO to expand further.

In January 2002, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma signed a raft of agreements with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Among those was a 52-point military accord that included formation of joint naval units and arms production. At the time, observers said the agreement signaled a shift for Ukraine toward Russia and away from NATO.

But on 23 May, Council of National Security and Defense Secretary Yevhen Marchuk announced that Ukraine, with Kuchma's backing, had changed policy and now wanted to join NATO. Explaining the decision, Marchuk said Ukraine's former policy of straddling Russia and the West no longer made sense. "Continuing with adhering to the policy of not belonging to a bloc, or what we called neutrality, seems to hold no [advantages]," he noted. "Furthermore, in certain circumstances, it could even be harmful."

Analysts say the reasons behind the shift may be more complex, and due in part to Ukraine's isolation by the West and the recent formation of a NATO-Russia Council that brings Russia itself closer to the alliance. Serhiy Komisarenko is the former head of Ukraine's UN delegation and a former ambassador to Britain. He now leads the Ukrainian International Institute for Peace and Democracy. Komisarenko says international criticism of Kuchma over allegations of corruption and possible involvement in the murder of a journalist led the president, initially, to tilt toward Moscow. He says this tilt, combined with Ukraine's lack of progress in its ambition to join the European Union, left the country with no clearly defined strategic course.

"It's constantly being said of the president that he has no clear-cut foreign policy, either toward Europe or Eurasia," Komisarenko told RFE/RL. "His meeting with Putin [in January] was fairly controversial because people couldn't understand which way Ukraine was heading. So possibly after the [March Ukrainian parliamentary] elections, [Kuchma] felt it was necessary to demonstrate that he did have a foreign policy."

This sense of isolation increased, says Komisarenko, as Russia itself was courted by NATO. The courtship culminated last week in a ceremony marking the creation of a NATO-Russia Council that will give Russia more direct involvement in NATO decision-making. The council has been hailed by U.S. President George W. Bush, who has forged a close relationship with Putin.

Komisarenko says the timing of Ukraine's announcement about its desire to join NATO tells much about Kuchma's motives: "Just prior to this [announcement], Bush agreed with Putin about Russia's special status in NATO and Ukraine was seemingly left nowhere," he noted.

Oleh Soskin, the director of the Institute of Society Transformation, another Kyiv-based think-tank, agrees that Ukraine's decision was prompted by Russia's actions. He says Ukraine's previous position of indefinite neutrality meant Kyiv had to wait for rapprochement between Russia and NATO.

Komisarenko believes Ukraine consulted with Russia before declaring its desire to join the alliance. He does not think Kuchma would have risked taking a step so potentially damaging to Ukrainian-Russian relations without first seeking approval of the Russian president. "Putin agreed with Kuchma that he should make this announcement," he said. "Well, not actually Kuchma, but the Defense and Security Council. But [Kuchma] is its head."

Putin's response to Ukraine's decision has been muted. However, some senior Russian politicians have criticized Ukraine. The head of the Russian State Duma's Defense Committee, Andrei Nikolaev, said Ukrainian officials were naive for not seeing what he called the potential threat from NATO.

Komisarenko expects there will be more objections from Russia if Ukraine really moves toward NATO membership. "Russia is not homogenous, there is not a convergence of ideas within the parliament or society," Komisarenko said. "There are different views, which are advocated by various powerful groups. Russia still regards Ukraine as a necessary satellite and, therefore, I think there are certain forces in Russia that are against Ukraine joining NATO."

The NATO representative in Ukraine, Michel Duray, said there is no contradiction between the mutual desire of Ukraine and Russia to move closer to NATO. "There is no opposition between a good relationship between NATO and Russia and NATO and Ukraine," Duray noted. "To the contrary, this reinforces the need for a more stable Europe and I understand that the relationship between NATO and Russia and NATO and Ukraine is itself a good paradigm for better relations between Ukraine and Russia."

Ukraine has not officially communicated to NATO its desire to join the organization, but deputy secretary of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, Ihor Kharchenko, says it will do so soon.

Duray says deepening ties with Ukraine was already on the NATO agenda. Ukrainian officials expect to discuss the terms of Ukraine's entry at the NATO summit in Prague later this year. "When we talk about deepening the relationship, it is, of course, a way to deepen security within the Euro-Atlantic zone as a whole," Duray noted. "As you must understand, NATO -- now preparing for the Prague summit -- is preparing some decisions for its own future, and of course the future security in Europe encompasses Ukraine's security as well."

Komisarenko agrees with the Ukrainian government view that actually joining NATO will be a long process involving not only a big military overhaul but reforms to match NATO standards for democracy and the economy.

He said the government may even have to hold a referendum on the issue. Previously the issue of membership has been divisive, but Komisarenko believes the attitude of ordinary people in Ukraine toward NATO has changed for the positive.

(RFE/RL correspondent Askold Krushelnycky wrote this report.)

"I'm afraid that the establishment of close relations between Russia and NATO will prompt the formation of a new system of mutual relations, especially in the post-Soviet area. Ukraine, as far as I know, has not filed any application to join NATO, but it made a statement on principle regarding the direction of its cooperation with the North Atlantic alliance. It is Ukraine's sovereign right. We will study this move by Ukraine in the most thorough way in order to make corresponding conclusions and, possibly, corresponding moves." -- Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, following talks with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Chernihiv on 29 May; quoted by Belarusian Television.

"We will conduct military exercises every year -- a large-scale one, once in three years, as Nyoman-2001, and every year a simpler one, where we will work with maps in staffs and hone the new [army] structure.... If you wish to participate in such exercises to any extent, we are ready to invite appropriate units, observers, participants, anybody you'll like -- beginning with the United States and ending with our closest neighbors -- to take part in them. Not only the countries that are signatories to the CIS Collective Security Treaty, not only CIS countries, but also representatives of NATO, including the United States. If you wish, you are welcome." -- President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to foreign military attaches observing the Berezina-2002 military exercise in Belarus on 1 June; quoted by Belarusian Television.