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Analysis: Kuchma Returns To Ukraine And Possible Arrest

Leonid Kuchma (file photo) Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma returned to Kyiv on 5 March after cutting short his vacation in the spa resort of Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic. He arrived the same day that some members of parliament were calling for his arrest in the investigation of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze's abduction and killing in 2000, and a suicide note by former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko was revealed in which he blames his suicide on "political intrigues" by "Kuchma and his supporters."

In a brief interview for Czech Television on 4 March, Kuchma once again insisted that he was innocent of any wrongdoing in the Gongadze case and that he did not order Kravchenko to kill Gongadze. Kravchenko was found dead on the morning of 4 March, the day he was to be interrogated, in what has been described as a suicide by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) and the Interior Ministry (see Kravchenko's Profile).

On 5 March, Interfax reported that Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko announced that Kravchenko died of two self-inflicted bullet wounds to the head; the first nonfatal shot was immediately followed by another shot that killed him. Lutsenko added that Kravchenko had left a suicide note that "named some concrete people who are under suspicion in this case." The "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( posted the alleged text of the note on 5 March, in which Kravchenko repeated his innocence of any wrongdoing but wrote a cryptic sentence saying that he was a victim of the "political intrigues of President Leonid Kuchma and his supporters."

Soon after Kravchenko's death, a number of parliamentary deputies called for Kuchma's immediate arrest. Hryhoriy Omelchenko, the head of the parliamentary commission investigating Gongadze's killing, repeated his earlier call that Kuchma, former SBU head Leonid Derkach, and others be arrested in order to protect them from possibly killing themselves or being killed.

Omelchenko also accused President Viktor Yushchenko of having "made a deal" with Kuchma prior to the election by allegedly granting him immunity from prosecution. Yushchenko has denied this in the past and Kuchma has often said that he does not need immunity since he did not engage in any illegal activities.

Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko also issued a statement demanding Kuchma's arrest.

Members of the pro-Viktor Yanukovych opposition placed the blame for Kravchenko's death on the government. Yanukovych said that the unprofessional behavior of the prosecutor-general lead to Kravchenko's suicide while former Prosecutor-General Hennadiy Vasilyev called for the removal of Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun, who replaced him in December. Vasilyev, a close political ally of Yanukovych, was blamed for stonewalling the Gongadze investigation by Yushchenko on 1 March.

If Kuchma challenges possible charges against him, this might create a dilemma for Yanukovych supporters. After the Ukrainian Supreme Court ruled in December that the second round of the presidential election was to be repeated, the Yanukovych team abandoned its earlier slogan of "continuity of the past" and adopted an anti-Kuchma stance, claiming to be reformers and against the corruption of Kuchma's old regime.

This would now make it difficult for them to intervene on Kuchma's behalf and at best, they can criticize the government on points of procedure and not on substance. At the same time, if the recordings made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko are admitted as evidence in the case, a precedent will be created that could easily be used against Yanukovych. The recordings contain conversations from 2000 with a voice resembling Yanukovych's, who was appointed by Kuchma as governor of Donetsk Oblast in 1999, in which he is heard discussing with Kuchma a number of allegedly illegal activities.