End Note: WHO'S BEHIND 'KUCHMA-GATE?'
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CLAIMS TO BE UNFAZED BY 'MOROZ'S TAPE.' Leonid Kuchma on 6 December said on Ukrainian Television that "recent statements about my involvement in the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze are an attack on stability in Ukrainian society," the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported. Kuchma said such an attack will not succeed. "I have nothing to explain, and these actions will not change my political direction," Kuchma noted, referring to Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz's allegation that he was involved in Gongadze's disappearance (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 5 December 2000). According to Kuchma, the allegation was motivated by those who want to "initiate an early election." Meanwhile, Moroz has handed over to the prosecutor-general an audio recording of Kuchma's alleged conversations with his ministers about Gongadze, Interfax reported. Lawmaker Yuriy Karmazin said Moroz has more audio recordings of Kuchma's conversations (see also "End Note" below). JM
KYIV REPORTS 12.6 PERCENT INDUSTRIAL GROWTH. Presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn told Interfax on 6 December that Ukraine's industrial growth in JanuaryNovember 2000 was 12.6 percent, compared with the same period last year. Lytvyn said the figure well exceeds the Ministry of Economics' expectations, adding that the government's reforms are the main reason for industrial growth. JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT ACCEPTS EBRD LOAN TO BUY FUEL. The parliament on 7 December approved a $100 million loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to buy fuel for thermal power plants in Ukraine, Reuters reported. According to Ukrainian law, all international loan agreements must be ratified by the legislature. The EBRD board decided in October on the loan, which is seen as vital for ensuring power supplies once the Chornobyl nuclear power plant is decommissioned on 15 December. Meanwhile, the Chornobyl plant's only reactor had to be shut down on 6 December owing to a steam leak. JM
WHO'S BEHIND 'KUCHMA-GATE?'
On 16 September, 31-year-old Heorhiy Gongadze, a leading journalist and editor of "Ukrayinska pravda," went missing on his way home in Kyiv. "Ukrayinska pravda" had published insider material dealing with corruption at the highest level of the Ukrainian state. In early November, a farmer found a decapitated and mutilated body, believed to be that of Gongadze, in a village south of Kyiv.
Some three weeks later, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, who is a bitter opponent of President Leonid Kuchma, told the Central European Initiative summit in Budapest that he had been given taped conversations conducted between Kuchma, head of the presidential administration Volodymyr Lytvyn, and Internal Affairs Minister Yuriy Kravchenko during the two months prior to Gongadze's disappearance. During those conversations, the officials discussed how to get rid of Gongadze, Moroz said. The Socialist leader repeated that claim in the Ukrainian parliament four days later.
Moroz said that the tapes were given to him by an employee of the government Communications Department of the Security Service who has since requested political asylum abroad for both himself and his family. "The president was worried by [Gongadze's] activities, gave instructions, and controlled their implementation," Moroz told a stunned parliament. He added that he believes the recorded conversations "show that the president ordered his interior minister to have Gongadze kidnapped." Kuchma and his head of staff, Lytvyn, have protested their innocence, and Lytvyn has launched a libel action against Moroz. Most deputies believe the tapes are genuine, a viewpoint that is likely to become more widespread.
The plot is likely to embrace other leading figures, besides Kuchma. As "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported, only Ukraine's oligarchs (whom the newspaper identifies and whose assets it enumerates in its 6 December issue) would not be afraid to organize the tapping of the president's private conversations. The Ukrainian media has long documented a growing dissatisfaction with President Kuchma among those oligarchs who financed his election campaign; in particular, they feel betrayed by Kuchma's toleration of Viktor Yushchenko's government.
Ukraine's first reformist government is supported by 100 center-right deputies of the 250 non-leftist majority that controls the parliament. It is making great strides toward structural reform, privatization and increased transparency and has also paid all pension, social security and wages arrears. Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshchenko is cleaning up the energy sector by replacing barter schemes with cash payments, taking measures to prevent the theft of Russian gas, reducing Ukraine's debt for Russian energy supplies, and holding open tenders for the privatization of gas distribution companies.
Tymoshenko is well suited to undertake the reform of the highly corrupt energy sector because she herself was held positions in that sector for a long time. Hence, she is also the target of so much criticism from media controlled by Ukraine's oligarchs. But despite Ukraine's energy indebtedness and the theft of Russian gas, the current situation benefits Russia and its own corrupt oligarchs since it means Ukraine is closely bound to Russia. Ukraine's oligarchs have long attempted to block plans to export Caspian oil through the not-yet-completed Odesa oil terminal, a project backed by the GUUAM (Georgia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and Moldova) regional group and the Yushchenko government.
These reforms, particularly in the energy sector, are eroding the corrupt economic base of leading oligarchs, such as Oleksandr Volkov, Viktor Medvedchuk, and Hryhoriy Surkis (the tapes include anti-Semitic insults against Surkis). Medvedchuk, who is first deputy parliamentary speaker and head of the United Social Democrats, has set his sights on the post of prime minister and is the presidential hopeful of the oligarchs in 2004. Four years of successful governmental reforms and a growing economy would make Yushchenko a strong presidential challenger to Medvedchuk, whose financial base would have been badly weakened by 2004 if the planned reforms are carried out.
The Ukrainian and Russian media have speculated that Russia is likely to be a strong supporter of the alleged Ukrainian oligarchs' plot because, as in the case of Belarus, Russia's priority is geopolitics, not reform. Greater devotion to domestic reform will lead to Ukraine's integration with the West. Kuchma hinted at this during the Minsk CIS summit when he said that the tapes were "a provocation, possibly with the participation of foreign special services," by which he presumably meant Russia.
It is no coincidence that the Russian prosecutor-general has opened a new case against Deputy Prime Minister Tymoshenko for allegedly bribing a Russian deputy defense minister four years ago, when she headed the United Energy Systems. The question inevitably arises as to why the case was opened only now.
The tapes will damage Ukraine's international reputation. The episode will taint Kuchma as Ukraine's version of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. "Turning Ukraine into another Belarus is the right way for Russia to establish long-term political and economic control over our country," "Tzerkalo Tyzhden/Nedeli" lamented. Aid from international financial institutions, which was suspended after a disinformation campaign against Yushchenko earlier in the year that claimed he allegedly misled the IMF, may be halted once more, just when the IMF, the EBRD, and World Bank have begun to praise the government's performance and reform program.
What is more, the tapes represent the gravest threat to Kuchma personally since he began his first term as president in July 1994. The manner in which this information has been disclosed suggests that those who arranged the taping of the conversations are interested not in affirming the rule of law, press freedom, or reforms but in bringing down the proreform and pro-Western government of Yushchenko and closely aligning Ukraine with Russia.
NIS EXCHANGES AND TRAINING PROGRAMS. The U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and the Office of Citizen Exchanges is offering a grant opportunity for U.S. organizations to conduct exchanges and training programs in collaboration with partner organizations for the New Independent States. For more information see the website at: e.usia.gov/education/citizens/nis/ The RFP is at e.usia.gov/education/rfps/. Proposals should focus on exchange programs in: Media Internships (Ukraine or Belarus/Ukraine, Russia, Caucasus, Central Asia Regional); Women's Leadership Programs (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- single country and regional); Public Advocacy Training for NGOs and associations (Russia, Belarus/Russia, Belarus/cross-border); Prevention of Trafficking in Women and Girls (Russia, Belarus, and Moldova -- single and multicountry). The deadline for proposals is 19 December. (Center for Civil Society International, 28 November)
POLITICIAN SAYS PRESIDENT INVOLVED IN JOURNALIST'S DISAPPEARANCE... Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz told the parliament on 28 November that President Leonid Kuchma ordered that independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze be "gotten rid of" and "systematically monitored" the implementation of his order, Interfax reported. According to Moroz, Gongadze's disappearance was planned and carried out by Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, with the participation of presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn. "It is necessary to put an end to the country's sliding into the darkness of criminality and banditism," Moroz noted. He added that the parliament and courts should "draw conclusions" from what he says. Gongadze, a 31-year-old editor of the Internet newsletter "Ukrayinska pravda," disappeared on 16 September. Many in Ukraine believe that Gongadze, who was highly critical of the government, was the victim of a politically motivated attack. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November)
...PRESENTS AUDIO RECORDING TO SUPPORT HIS CLAIM... Following his address to the parliament, Moroz played journalists an audio recording that he said he believes to be taped conversations between Kuchma, Kravchenko, and Lytvyn about Gongadze. According to Moroz, the recording testifies to the fact that Kuchma "personally gave instructions" with regard to the Gongadze case and monitored how those instructions were implemented. Moroz said the tape was provided to him by an unnamed officer from Ukraine's Security Service. Moroz added that the officer is ready to testify in court if a trial is opened in connection with the Gongadze case. Moroz also noted that unspecified foreign experts have said the recording is authentic. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November)
...AS UKRAINIAN INTERNET NEWSLETTER PUBLISHES 'MOROZ'S TAPE.' The Internet newsletter "Ukrayinska pravda" (http://www.pravda.com.ua) on 28 November published a transcribed version of the recording that Moroz had made available earlier the same day. Nine "episodes" of conversations between unidentified interlocutors are presented; those people discuss Georgian-born Gongadze and ways to get rid of him. The options included deportation to Georgia and kidnapping by Chechens for ransom. The conversations are in a Ukrainian-Russian linguistic mix (popularly called "surzhyk" in Ukraine) and include ample use of four-letter words and other obscenities. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November)
PARLIAMENT TO EVALUATE 'MOROZ TAPE.' The parliamentary special commission investigating the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze is to evaluate the audio recording that was made public by Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz on 28 November, Interfax and the "Eastern Economic Daily" reported the next day. Moroz believes the tape proves that President Leonid Kuchma was involved in Gongadze's disappearance. A group of officers from Ukraine's Security Service said in a statement on 29 November that it is "impossible" to eavesdrop on the head of state's communications links or offices. Meanwhile, fragments of the recording have been placed on the web in real audio format at http://www.volkskrant.com/real/buitenland/koetsjma.html. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November)
SOCIALIST LEADER SUED FOR SLANDER. Presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn has sued Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz in a Kyiv district court for slander, Interfax reported on 30 November. According to Lytvyn, Moroz committed slander by publicly alleging that Lytvyn, along with President Leonid Kuchma and Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, are responsible for the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Meanwhile, the state printing house "Presa Ukrayiny" has refused to print an issue of the "Tovarysh" newspaper, the Socialist Party's press organ, containing the materials produced by Moroz alleging the involvement of Kuchma, Kravchenko, and Lytvyn in Gongadze's disappearance. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December)
PRESIDENT DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN JOURNALIST'S DISAPPEARANCE. Leonid Kuchma has denied his complicity in the disappearance of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, as alleged by Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz. In a conversation with Georgian President Shevardnadze in Minsk on 1 December, Kuchma said both Moroz's allegation and the tape the latter provided to support his claim constitute "a provocation, possibly, with the participation of foreign special services," Interfax reported. Kuchma noted that it is necessary "to find out" which special services were involved. Shevardnadze remarked that, alternatively, Kyiv could simply "guess" which countries' special services took part. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)
UKRAINIAN POLITICIAN SAYS PRESIDENT SHOULD RESIGN OVER JOURNALIST'S DISAPPEARANCE. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz has said President Leonid Kuchma should resign in connection with the latter's alleged involvement in the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 5 December, citing UNIAN. According to Moroz, Kuchma's resignation should be demanded by "the people, public and political organizations, [or] at least the Supreme Council." Ukraine's legislation does not provide for a procedure to impeach the president. Moroz said he is certain of the authenticity of the audio recording he made public to support his claim of Kuchma's complicity in Gongadze's disappearance. Meanwhile, lawmaker Oleksandr Holub told UNIAN that "Moroz's tape" was first offered by 10 exservicemen of Ukraine's Security Service to Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, but the latter refused to publicize it. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 5 December)
CHORNOBYL VICTIMS DEMAND MORE SOCIAL SUPPORT. Some 10,000 people affected by the Chornobyl nuclear accident in 1986, including participants in the Chornobyl cleanup operations, marched in Kyiv on 3 December to demand more government spending on social care and increased support for them, AP reported. More than 2.2 million Ukrainians are eligible for benefits related to the consequences of the Chornobyl accident. Meanwhile, the only remaining Chornobyl reactor was restarted on 1 December after a shutdown caused by an electricity supply failure last week. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 4 December)