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Analysis: Do Ukrainian Authorities Fear A 'Georgian Scenario'?

Yanukovych allies have warned of the threat of a "chestnut revolution" Earlier this month, the coalition of parties and organizations backing the presidential bid of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych issued a statement suggesting the opposition is planning a "chestnut revolution" in the event that its candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, is defeated at the ballot box on 31 October. The statement accuses oppositionists of planning to gather half a million Yushchenko supporters near the Central Election Commission headquarters on election night to prepare for such an eventuality.

"We address the Ukrainian president with a request to take all possible measures to prevent the implementation of 'chestnut-revolution scenarios' and to ensure law and order during the election process," the statement reads, in an apparent reference to Georgia's so-called Rose Revolution, which peacefully deposed President Eduard Shevardnadze in November 2003 following a disputed parliamentary ballot.

One of the movements with a keen interest in a Yushchenko victory and a subsequent power swap in Ukraine is the youth "civic campaign" Pora (It's Time), which was reportedly modeled on Serbia's Otpor and Georgia's Khmara, the youth organizations that were instrumental in toppling Slobodan Milosevic's regime in October 2000 and the Shevardnadze regime in November 2003 in their respective countries. On 15 October, police searched the Pora offices in Kyiv and, according to the Prosecutor-General's Office, found a homemade explosive device, 2.4 kilograms of TNT, electric detonators, and a grenade. Prosecutors have opened a criminal case under articles pertaining to terrorism and the formation of illegal armed groups and arrested Yaroslav Hodunok, a founder of Pora.

According to accounts by Pora activists and lawmakers from Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc who were present during the search, the discovery of explosive devices at Pora was quite simply a police provocation. Pora activist Yevhen Zolotarev told the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( on 18 October that during the first search, which was videotaped by Pora, police found nothing. But half an hour later police officers conducted another search, with no one else present, and found the "terrorist implements and devices."
Yushchenko commented that the action against Pora testifies to "the growing hysteria among the authorities" over the prospect of him defeating Yanukovych in the presidential balloting.

The police officers also found a stock of purportedly propagandistic materials and an issue of the organization's satirical newspaper, "Pro Ya. y tse." (Its title is a pun best translated as either "About Ya. and this" or "About an Egg," -- presumably a reference to the much-publicized egg attack last month on Prime Minister Yanukovych [see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 1 October 2004]). Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko, who was also present at the search of the Pora headquarters, commented that Pora's informational materials are "even more terrible than the explosives found there."

Yushchenko commented that the action against Pora testifies to "the growing hysteria among the authorities" over the prospect of him defeating Yanukovych in the presidential balloting. In a statement published on 19 October on the website of Yushchenko political ally Yuliya Tymoshenko, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko slam the unnamed leaders of law enforcement bodies for "serving the criminal authorities" as well as intimidating and staging provocations against democratic forces and supporters of Yushchenko's presidential bid. "We will fight for human rights and will not give up," Yushchenko and Tymoshenko say on behalf of their campaign coalition, People's Power. "Also, we reserve the right to a civic protest, within the framework of the legislation in force and the Ukrainian Constitution."

The reaction of the authorities to the statement was immediate. "The Interior Ministry pledges to forestall a change of political power in the country through civil disobedience actions after the presidential election on 31 October," ITAR-TASS quoted Deputy Interior Minister Mikhail Korniyenko as saying. "There will be no Georgian scenario in Ukraine."

There were also more threatening, and simultaneously enigmatic, warnings from the Interior Ministry. "There won't be any revolutions here," the 19 October edition of the "Financial Times" quoted Kyiv police chief Oleksandr Milenin as saying. "We are ready for the unexpected. We even have our ninjas -- a recently formed subdivision -- trained in special measures. We have also new means, which for now I won't speak about. I'll only say that their use has been approved by the Health Ministry. I assure you, the health of citizens won't suffer."

Meanwhile, the police have embarked on a campaign of arrests targeting Ukrainian student activists who support Yushchenko's presidential ambitions. On 16 October, some 40,000 students from all over Ukraine turned up for a pro-Yushchenko rally in Kyiv, during which they passed a mock "no-confidence vote" in Yanukovych's cabinet. On 18 October, police arrested 15 students in Chernihiv; all of those arrested had participated in the Kyiv rally the previous day. On 19 October, a pro-Yushchenko student activist was arrested in Poltava.

The already tense atmosphere of the presidential campaign in Ukraine has become increasingly so in the wake of the 19 October disappearance of the press secretary for Yushchenko's regional campaign headquarters in Mykolayiv. The press secretary claimed via mobile phone to have been kidnapped -- apparently by plainclothes police -- after which contact with him was lost.

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