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Bombing in Kyiv Shows Fragility of Ukrainian Democracy

Prague, July 17 (RFE/RL) -- Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko yesterday survived an apparent assassination attempt in Kyiv, when a bomb exploded near his car as he headed for talks with striking miners in the Donbass region.

No major injuries were reported, although Lazarenko was reported to have been shaken. But he later flew to the city of Donetsk and attended a meeting with coal industry managers and representatives of the strikers.

The explosion damaged the prime minister's car and left a large crater on the road. Police said that the bombing seemed to be the work of professionals, and appeared to have been triggered by remote control.

Lazarenko subsequently told reporters after he returned to Kyiv that the incident might have been engineered by some "coal managers," who, he said "manipulate budget appropriations in their own interests and fail to pay wages to the workers." He went on to say that the government has launched 45 separate criminal cases against coal managers at different levels.

But analysts and politicians in Kyiv appear doubtful. Some officials (unnamed) speculated that the bombing might have been tied to Lazarenko's own business interests. He is said to be one of Ukraine's wealthiest people, with considerable holdings in alcohol industries and banks. Many groups and individuals are involved in these operations, some of which have a distinctly shadowy character.

Mykola Tomenko, an analyst at the Ukrainian Perspective Fund in Kyiv, told a western reporter that various Ukrainian financial and industrial groups have been unhappy with Lazarenko's recent attempts to increase taxes.

Other analysts say that the attempt might have been linked to sharp regional rivalries within the Ukrainian political establishment. These rivalries have centered on the growing influence of the central government currently dominated by politicians from the Dnepropetrovsk region.

Both President Leonid Kuchma and Lazarenko hail from that region. Analysts note that the regional political tension between Kyiv and the other regions has sharpened since Kuchma appointed Lazarenko two months ago. This appointment ensued a wholesale reshuffle of personnel in various government agencies promoting officials from Dnepropetrovsk region.

This move appeared to have been directed against supporters of former Prime Minister Yevhen Marchuk, who was ousted by Kuchma in May, along with those from the southeastern region of Donetsk.

Political scientist Vyacheslav Pikhovshek told a western reporter yesterday that those personnel changes "raised a lot of anger" among various groups. "You have to have an effective, balanced policy on regions," he said.

All analysts agree that the incident threatens the country's political stability. "It is a terrible sign for Ukrainian politics, " lawmaker Miroslav Horbatyuk of the nationalist Rukh party told western correspondents. He added that he and his political colleagues "deeply hope it will not lead to even more instability."

Political violence has been rare in Ukraine since the country declared its independence five years ago. Occasional bombings and violent assaults have been largely limited to rivalries among organized criminal groups.

The attempt at Lazarenko's life may signal a beginning of a new, violent chapter in politics. Were this indeed the case, it could seriously endanger Ukraine's nascent democracy.

The country is in the process of adopting a new constitution. But its basic political institutions, both legislative and judiciary as well as the executive branch of the government, are very fragile. The democratic process still presents a relative novelty to the population as a whole.

Ukraine has suffered during recent years from a major economic downturn. This has crippled both its industry and agriculture, producing a sharp decline in the standard of living. The resulting social tension contributes to political volatility.

Anything that adversely affects this situation may exacerbate even further the already precarious conditions. Yesterday's bombing in Kyiv makes this quite apparent to all.