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TATAR NATIONALISTS PROTEST CENSUS PLANS. The presidium of the moderate nationalist group Tatar Public Center has sent an appeal to the Tatar people in protest against the recent decision to divide ethnic Tatars into six separate groups in the countrywide census to be conducted next year, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 13 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 December 2001). According to the appeal, census organizers are attempting to "divide the [Tatar] nation." The previous day, former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk told RFE/RL's TatarBashkir Service that he does not believe it is possible for Tatarstan to become a "classic" independent state, and suggests that Tatarstan officials should instead seek more rights, freedoms, and broader national autonomy as part of the Russian Federation. Kravchuk also recalled that during negotiations for a new union treaty in 1991, Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev had a more "progressive, more democratic" point of view than the leaders of other autonomous republics, many of whom were trying to preserve the Soviet Union. JAC
END NOTE: UKRAINE'S OLIGARCHIC SOCIAL DEMOCRATS SUFFER SETBACK
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES 2002 BUDGET REVENUES, DEFICIT... The parliament on 13 December voted 241 to 121, with 17 abstentions, to approve three articles of the draft budget bill for 2002 on second reading, Interfax reported. The articles were opposed by the Communist Party caucus, while the Socialist Party abstained and the Fatherland and Reforms-Congress caucuses refused to participate in the vote. The passed section of the bill sets budget revenues for 2002 at 44.3 billion hryvni ($8.36 billion), and the maximum budget deficit at 4.27 billion hryvni. The remaining 40 articles of the bill are to be considered on third reading. JM
...AND ANOTHER BILL ON LOCAL ELECTIONS. The same day, the parliament adopted a bill on local legislative elections, UNIAN reported. Under the bill, deputies to rural, raion, oblast, and raionlevel city councils are to be elected under a majority system, while those to councils in oblast-level cities as well as in Kyiv and Sevastopol will be elected under a mixed system: 50 percent of deputies under a proportional system from party lists, and 50 percent in one-seat constituencies. Local elections are to be held simultaneously with parliamentary elections. JM
UKRAINIAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS ATTEND JOINT ECONOMIC FORUM. Leonid Kuchma and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin met in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, at a forum of some 600 Ukrainian and Russian business executives on 14 December. Kuchma told the forum that the potential of Ukrainian-Russian economic cooperation is not being used to its full capacity, UNIAN reported. Putin said Russia and Ukraine should jointly strive to become members of the World Trade Organization. "We want to see Ukraine rich and flourishing, because this is advantageous for Russia," Putin declared. JM
UKRAINE'S OLIGARCHIC SOCIAL DEMOCRATS SUFFER SETBACK
On 13 December, 234 members of the Ukrainian parliament (Rada) voted to dismiss Deputy Chairman Viktor Medvedchuk from his position. Medvedchuk is also the chairman of one of Ukraine's most important, but least liked, oligarchic political parties -- the Social Democratic Party (United) (SDPU-O). Medvedchuk achieved notoriety during the Soviet era when he helped send well-known Ukrainian dissident poet Vasyl Stus to the Gulag, where he died in 1986. In the 1990s, Medvedchuk's rise to fame was meteoric, and he recently set his sights on the post-Kuchma presidency.
The factions that gathered the 150 signatures to place the motion of dismissal to a vote came from the two Rukh parties (36 members), Reforms-Congress (14), Yulia Tymoshenko's Fatherland (25), Solidarity (21), and the newly created Unity (15) led by popular Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko. The remaining votes came from the Socialists and Communists, who together command 130 members. Those two factions blame Medvedchuk for the adoption by the Rada last month of the land reform bill.
It has been increasingly evident that both the SDPU-O and Oleksandr Volkov's Democratic Union have been out of favor with President Leonid Kuchma. Volkov, a businessman who is reputed to have ties to organized crime and is wanted by Belgian police on moneylaundering charges, was presented with a medal by President Kuchma in February in honor of his "selfless work and personal merits in promoting Ukraine's socioeconomic development." But since then his star has also waned.
A new party of power, Regions of Ukraine, was created by the head of the State Tax Administration, Mykola Azarov, earlier this year in the Donbas, and many deputies from Volkov's parliament faction joined it. The final indication that Volkov had fallen out of favor with Kuchma and was no longer needed as an "adviser" was his replacement as head of the Democratic Union by Kuchma's long-time personal friend, Volodymyr Horbulin, who was Yevhen Marchuk's predecessor as secretary of the National Security and Defense Council.
Four factors have led to Medvedchuk's decline. First, Omelchenko's Unity faction dislikes the SDPU-O because of its control of many of Kyiv's prize assets, including the Dynamo Kyiv soccer team. Azarov's rival Regions of Ukraine has supported recent draft legislation to tax payments made on the transfers of soccer players from which the USDPU inordinately gained. Omelchenko also dislikes Hryhorii Surkis, Medvedchuk's ally and president of Kyiv Dynamo and the Football Federation of Ukraine, who was his rival in the bitterly contested 2000 Kyiv mayoral elections. Omelchenko is the president of the Hockey Federation of Ukraine.
Second, the SDPU-O feared that as in the 1998 elections, they would again fail to garner the minimum 4 percent of the vote to secure seats for the candidates on its party list. The SDPU-O needed therefore to gain votes in Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine because its main base of support in Western and Central Ukraine was less reliable. The party sought to capitalize on the language question by collecting 140,000 signatures demanding that a new "Law on Languages" be adopted to replace the 1989 law. The new law would elevate Russian to the status of an "official language" while keeping Ukrainian as the "state" language. It is unclear to all concerned what the difference between "official" and "state" languages is, a distinction first introduced by Kuchma during his 1994 election campaign but then shelved after his election. On 30 November, the Rada began to debate the replacement of the 1989 law, which ensured that the national democrats would target Medvedchuk as the person behind this move to place it on the Rada agenda only three months before the elections. Rada Chairman Ivan Plyushch has spoken out against discussing the language question on the eve of the elections.
Third, the SDPU-O is suspected of being one of the most likely culprits behind security service officer Mykola Melnychenko, whose bugging of Kuchma's office led to the "Kuchmagate" scandal. There are rumors that in mid-2000 the SDPU-O made a proposal to Kuchma that he hand over power to Medvedchuk in a manner similar to the transfer by former Russian President Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin. But Kuchma refused to do so. The SDPU-O was also angry that Kuchma tolerated Tymoshenko's presence in Yushchenko's government. The SDPU-O argued that Tymoshenko and former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko made a lot of money from insider energy deals and therefore knew how to undercut this source of corrupt funds to the oligarchs. Melnychenko has always spoken highly of Marchuk, his former boss as chairman of the Security Service, and the Melnychenko tapes include no conversations between Kuchma and either Medvedchuk, Surkis, or Marchuk.
Finally, the other oligarchic parties could not have abstained in the vote of no confidence to dismiss Medvedchuk without a nod of approval from the presidential administration. Kuchma's blessing for Medvedchuk's fall from grace allows For a United Ukraine to become the main pro-Kuchma election bloc. Led by presidential administration head Volodymyr Lytvyn, a trusted friend and the only surviving member of Kuchma's 1994 election team, it includes five parties of power -- Regions of Ukraine (Donbas), Labor Ukraine (Dnipropetrovsk), People's Democrats (Kharkiv and southern Ukraine), Agrarians (Galicia and Volhynia), and Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh's Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. Each of these can draw upon "administrative resources" in the election campaign in the regions and institutions they control.
The rise and fall of the SDPU-O is characteristic of Ukrainian politics insofar as oligarchic parties lack any ideology and exist only at the whim of the executive. Although the oligarchs and the executive need each other, neither side trusts the other.