IS MOSCOW BEHIND UKRAINIAN POLITICAL SCANDAL? The scandal swirling around Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who has been accused of being involved in the disappearance and death of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, may have originated in Moscow, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 13 December. The paper noted that the timing of the scandal works to Moscow's advantage since it comes precisely when Moscow is trying to become the pre-eminent energy supplier to Western Europe. Moscow can achieve that goal via pipelines through Ukraine or around it, although the second option is preferrable as it can force Kyiv to return to the Russian fold, the newspaper suggests. To do that, the paper continues, Moscow must first force Kuchma from office and then prevent pro-Western Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko from succeeding him. The Kremlin has its own candidate: Ukrainian Security Service chief and KGB veteran Leonid Derkach. Meanwhile, "Zavtra," no. 50, reported that the destabilization of Kuchma began almost immediately after Kyiv signed military-technical accords with Turkey.

CHIEF MILITARY FINANCIAL OFFICER INVESTIGATED. Chief Military Prosecutor Mikhail Kislitsyn announced on 13 December that he has opened a criminal case against Colonel-General Georgi Oleinik, the head of the Defense Ministry's Main Administration for Military Budget and Finances, ORT television reported. Kislitsyn said that he has asked the defense minister, Igor Sergeev, to dismiss Oleinik for "abuse of office." Oleinik and his colleagues are suspected of misappropriating $450 million of military funds in their dealings with Ukrainian officials. Among these partners, prosecutors said, is Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, who also heads UES of Ukraine.

DEMONSTRATORS IN KYIV DEMAND PRESIDENT'S OUSTER. Some 500 people held a rally on Independence Square in Kyiv on 15 December, demanding an independent investigation into the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze and the resignation of President Leonid Kuchma, Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, and Security Service chief Leonid Derkach, Interfax reported. A group of demonstrators later pitched a tent on the square to continue the protest, which was launched by several political parties, including the Socialists and nationalists, under the slogan "Ukraine Without Kuchma." The organizers are appealing to Kyiv residents to take part in a protest march on 19 December. The recently publicized audio and video tapes in Ukraine blame Kuchma and his power ministers for the disappearance of Gongadze and for other illegal actions with regard to independent media and opposition politicians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 2000). JM

UKRAINE CLOSES CHORNOBYL FOR GOOD. At noon on 15 December, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma gave the order by means of a television link-up between Kyiv and the Chornobyl nuclear power plant to close the plant for good, AP reported. A Chornobyl operator pushed a switch activating the automatic safety system of the plant's only working reactor and shutting down the reactor, more than 14 years after the world's worst nuclear accident. "The world will become a safer place. People will sleep in peace," Kuchma said during a ceremony to commemorate the shutdown. The previous day, the parliament adopted a communist-sponsored non-binding resolution urging the government to postpone the shutdown at least until April. Kuchma dismissed the step as constituting "political games." JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CHARGED WITH BOMBING OPPONENT, FALSIFYING VOTES. Ukraine's scandal implicating President Leonid Kuchma and several top officials in criminal conspiracies took on even larger proportions on 14 December, when lawmakers in the parliament were shown a second videotape featuring former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 December 2000). Melnychenko accused Kuchma of organizing a grenade attack on Natalya Vitrenko on 2 October 1999 to prevent her from running in last year's presidential ballot (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 5 October 1999). Melnychenko also alleged that Kuchma ordered the falsification of the results of last year's presidential elections and this year's constitutional referendum. Melnychenko confirmed his previous allegation that journalist Heorhiy Gongadze was kidnapped by an Interior Ministry special task force, on Kuchma's instruction to Interior Ministry Yuriy Kravchenko. Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko, for his part, told the parliament that the tapes featuring the interviews with Melnychenko are fabrications. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT REQUESTS KUCHMA TO SACK SECURITY, CUSTOMS CHIEFS. The parliament on 14 December passed a resolution recommending that the president fire Security Service chief Leonid Derkach and Customs Service chief Yuriy Solovkov. The resolution, which was voted down the previous day, was proposed in connection with the search at Kyiv airport of the three deputies who brought the video tapes of Melnychenko's confession into the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 December 2000). The lawmakers blame Derkach and Solovkov for ordering the search and violating the deputies' immunity. Kuchma commented the same day that he will decide whether to dismiss Derkach and Solovkov after Prosecutor-General Potebenko investigates the airport incident. Asked to comment on Melnychenko's allegations on the second video tape, Kuchma said that "in the life of a president, every day [brings] ordeals." JM