Prague, 24 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - On the afternoon of June 19, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma issued a decree naming First Deputy Prime Minister Vasyl Durdynets acting head of the government due in place of Pavlo Lazarenko. That same day Lazarenko was taken to Kyiv's Feofania clinic. The first prognosis was that he suffered from extreme exhaustion.
The "temporary" removal of Lazarenko is seen by many in Kyiv as a permanent one. With Lazarenko out, Kuchma is said to stand a far better chance of convincing Western financial institutions that he is sincere in the anti-corruption drive as well as in his reform program.
The day before Lazarenko's dismissal, the Council for National Security and Defense chaired by Volodymyr Horbulin recommended that Kuchma remove Lazarenko from his post of prime minister. Horbulin said that "the Prime Minister has to be responsible for promises he did not keep."
Last week NDPU parliamentary deputy Oleksander Karpov said in the Verkhovna Rada (the parliament) that NDPU members who had called for Lazarenko's removal were getting threatening phone calls. That same day Karpov repeated charges that the Prime Minister had illegally privatized his government dacha. This has been one of many corruption charges leveled against Lazarenko this year.
Still earlier, on June 7, the Congress of the National Democratic Party of Ukraine (NDPU) was held in Kiev. The congress appealed to the president to dissolve the cabinet and, above all, to remove the Prime Minister. This was significant because the NDPU leadership consists of many ranking members of Kuchma's administration and includes a number of prominent and influential business people.
Pavlo Lazarenko was appointed Prime Minister by Kuchma in May 1996, replacing Evhen Marchuk. Prior to this appointment Lazarenko had been Representative of the President for Dnipropetrovsk Oblast and head of the Oblast Rada and the Dnipropetrovsk oblast State Administration.
Lazarenko began his career in the "Star of Communism" Collective Farm. He eventually became head of the farm and held various positions at the rayon and oblast levels. His association with Leonid Kuchma goes back to when Kuchma himself worked in Dnipropetrovsk as director of the Yuhmaz missile factory.
After becoming Prime Minister, Lazarenko was immediately faced with growing discontent among coal miners in the Donetsk region who had not been paid wages for a number of months. In July 1996, on his way to Donetsk to mediate this crisis he was the target of a bomb placed by the side of the road. It exploded but Lazarenko escaped injury. Soon afterwards Kuchma removed Volodymyr Shcherban from his position as Presidential Representative in Donetsk. At that time there were rumors that Shcherban had ties to business clans in Donetsk and that these clans were might have been behind the attempt on Lazarenko's life.
Soon afterwards Evhen Shcherban (unrelated to Volodymyr) a deputy of the Verkhovna Rada and a powerful businessman from Donetsk, was shot and killed while leaving his plane in Donetsk. Those responsible for both incidents have not been found.
This year allegations of widespread corruption in the Ukrainian government began circulating more frequently. In March the U.S. telecommunications firm Motorola announced that it was leaving Ukraine owing to "officials constantly changing the rules of the game." Articles in the press have begun linking Lazarenko to the Motorola pullout, hinting that he owned a significant portion of Kiev Star, a newly-formed telecommunications company which was awarded a tender by the Ukrainian government for installing a mobile phone network in Ukraine which Motorola felt it had the rights to. Lazarenko denied these and similar charges in a letter to the "New York Times," but allegations have only increased.
In June, Lazarenko left for an official visit to Canada to arrange for economic cooperation between Canada and Ukraine. Upon his return he was removed.
It is clear that during recent weeks Lazarenko has become a liability to Kuchma. Allegations that Kuchma and Lazarenko might have been cooperating together in illegal deals have surfaced. Lazarenko had to go.
With crucial parliamentary elections coming up in 1998 Kuchma is said to have decided in May to bring in a new, "clean" Deputy Prime Minister, Serhiy Tyhipko, the young (34 years old) head of Privatbank from Dnipropetrovsk. Many in Kyiv see Tyhipko as a future prime minister.
(Roman Kupchinsky is the director of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Broadcast Service.)