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FOREIGN MINISTRY IRKED OVER KUCHMA'S TREATMENT OF SHAIMIEV. Kazan's "Zvezda Povolzhya" recently reported that the Russian Foreign Ministry was irked by protocol that put Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev side-by-side with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma at Odesa airport, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 25 March. Shaimiev took part at the recent summit of presidents of Russia, Ukraine, and Moldova in that city. Shaimiev was invited to discuss how Tatarstan's experience could be used in resolving the Transdniester issue. Kuchma demonstrated that he considers Shaimiev a state president, the paper commented, while the Russian Foreign Ministry views Shaimiev as the head of a federation entity. The ministry ordered all television channels to cut a scene of Putin's arrival at the airport, according to the paper. JAC

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UKRAINIAN ELECTION WATCHDOG WARNS AGAINST VOTE FALSIFICATION. The Committee of Voters of Ukraine (KVU) has estimated that up to 4 percent of voters included in voting rolls are dead but are still registered, UNIAN reported on 28 March. Yevhen Poberezhnyy from the KVU told journalists that these "dead souls" may be used for rigging the parliamentary election. Poberezhnyy also noted that up to 5 percent of Ukrainian voters are currently working abroad illegally and will not be able to participate in the 31 March ballot. According to Poberezhnyy, their exact number could be derived from data of the national census conducted last year. He added, however, that the authorities are still keeping the census data secret. Poberezhnyy said many of those illegal workers are on voters' lists, adding that such a situation also provides "some ground" for vote rigging. JM

UKRAINIAN WEBSITE PUBLISHES ELECTION 'PROGNOSES.' The "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 27 March published "prognoses" by the Ukrainian Institute of Social Studies (in cooperation with the Social Monitoring Center) and SOCIS regarding election support in the 31 March parliamentary ballot. The website argued that even though Ukraine's election law bans polling agencies from publicizing their surveys later than two weeks before the election date, it does not forbid publishing "prognoses." These prognoses are as follows (figures in parentheses are percentages of the vote, as predicted by the Ukrainian Institute of Social Studies and SOCIS, respectively): Our Ukraine (23-25; 31-33), the Communist Party (17-19; 17-19), For a Unite Ukraine (11-13; 5-6), Social Democratic Party (10-12; 7-8), the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (5.5-7; 3-4), Women for the Future (4.5-5; 4-5), Greens (4.5-5; 5-6), the Socialist Party (3.5-4.5; 2-3), and the Nataliya Vitrenko Bloc (3-4; 2-3). JM

UKRAINIAN SOCIALIST LEADER PREDICTS TROUBLES FOR KUCHMA AFTER ELECTION. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz told journalists in Kharkiv on 27 March that a new Verkhovna Rada is likely to launch an impeachment procedure against President Leonid Kuchma, rather than amend the constitution to make it possible for him to run for a third presidential term, UNIAN reported. Moroz argued than even those candidates who win parliamentary mandates thanks to support from the authorities will be interested in ousting Kuchma, since, Moroz added, the authorities have collected "kompromat" on every candidate they support. Moroz added that even if Kuchma succeeds in forming a pro-presidential majority in the future parliament, this majority would be unlikely to amend the constitution in line with the results of the April 2000 referendum, which approved giving the president more powers. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT REPORTEDLY FACES CHARGES ON ARMS SALES TO IRAQ. The "Financial Times" reported on 28 March that Oleksandr Zhyr, the head of the parliamentary commission investigating the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, has announced that he will "soon" release a recording of President Kuchma discussing a $100 million illegal shipment of arms to Iraq with Valeriy Malev, the chief of Ukraine's arms export company. Malev died in an automobile accident earlier this month. Meanwhile, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz said in Kharkiv on 27 March that former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko will soon make a statement including "direct evidence of the involvement of Ukraine's top leadership in arms trade," UNIAN reported. JM

UKRAINIAN TV CHANNEL CANCELS DEBATE ON CONTROVERSIAL DOCUMENTARY. The private 1+1 Television on 27 March aired the controversial documentary "Piar" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2002) but canceled a formerly scheduled live debate on it after the airing, Ukrainian media reported. A 1+1 Television presenter apologized to viewers and said that the channel decided to cancel the debate to avoid imminent confrontation in journalistic circles after a group of respected Ukrainian journalists declined an invitation to the debate. They reasoned in a statement that the film is biased and aimed at compromising certain political forces in the run-up to the parliamentary election. UNIAN reported that the journalists who signed the statement -- Yuliya Mostovaya and Serhiy Rakhmanin ("Zerkalo Nedeli"), Maryna Pyrozhuk (Radio Liberty), and Natalya Lihachova -- said the film is "an example of low-standard journalism in which facts are deliberately presented to fit only one -- controversial -- version of events." The documentary, written by former "Financial Times" correspondent in Kyiv, Charles Clover, suggests that the U.S. took advantage of the tape scandal in Ukraine to exert pressure on President Kuchma in an effort to depose him and install Premier Viktor Yushchenko. JM

CLARIFICATION: The Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) mentioned in "RFE/RL Newsline" on 27 March 2002 was registered by the Ukrainian Justice Ministry in 1993 under the legal name of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists in Ukraine. It should not be associated with the OUN founded in 1929. JM

POLISH ARCHBISHOP RESIGNS IN WAKE OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT ALLEGATIONS. Archbishop Juliusz Paetz has resigned from his post of metropolitan archbishop of Poznan, PAP reported on 28 March. "To live and to develop, the [Roman Catholic] Church in Poznan needs unity and peace. And that is why, having in regard the good of this church, I have addressed the Holy Father with a request that he accept my resignation from the post of archbishop, and the Holy Father has accepted my resignation," Archbishop Paetz said during a mass in the Poznan cathedral. "Rzeczpospolita" wrote on 23 February that the archbishop has been accused by "numerous" clerics of sexual harassment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2002). The daily claimed that Paetz's homosexual inclinations have been known in the Poznan Archdiocese for at least two years. Earlier this month, Paetz denied the sexual molestation allegations, saying they resulted from "a misinterpretation of my words and behavior" (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 19 March 2002). JM


President Leonid Kuchma on 22 March termed "unprecedented" the 20 March resolution by the U.S. House of Representatives urging the government of Ukraine to ensure a democratic, transparent, and fair parliamentary election on 31 March. "Are we a nation, or are we a football playing field for strategic partners?" Kuchma asked indignantly.

Last week, Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin was quoted as saying that Russia is with those parties and election blocs in Ukraine that call for the development and deepening of relations between the two countries. He suggested that some constituent forces of Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc do not pursue such a goal, adding that this "cannot but worry us."

Other Russian officials and politicians were not so elusive about Moscow's political preferences in the Ukrainian ballot. Russian presidential administration chief Aleksandr Voloshin said that For a United Ukraine, the Social Democratic Party (United) of Ukraine, and the Communist Party of Ukraine are the forces that promote strengthening Russian-Ukrainian relations. "Unfortunately, [Our Ukraine] includes political forces that have overtly anti-Russian positions," he added. And Dmitrii Rogozin, the head of the Russian State Duma's International Relations Committee, noted that if "nationalist forces" win the upcoming parliamentary election in Ukraine, Moscow and Kyiv may face problems in bilateral relations.

U.S. officials are extremely reserved about openly declaring with whom their political sympathies are in Ukraine, but it is no secret to anyone that Washington would like to see the pro-Western and pro-reform Yushchenko emerge as the winner of the 31 March vote. This position is widely shared in Europe. While not seeing Ukraine as ready for integration with Europe right now, European politicians seek to make the country a friendly buffer zone separating the expanding NATO and EU from Russia. "Ukraine has a European history, European life, and European civilization," OSCE Parliamentary Assembly head Adrian Severin asserted in Kyiv earlier this month. But many in Ukraine, among both the electorate and politicians, have remained unimpressed.

Despite the fact that as many as 33 parties and blocs are vying for mandates in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada, the current election seems to have polarized the Ukrainian electorate into two camps -- one of the "Western option" (supporters of Our Ukraine) and the other of the "pro-Russian option" (supporters of For a United Ukraine, the Communist Party, and the Social Democratic Party) -- to a much greater extent than any previous election campaign in the country. Polls by several independent polling centers concurrently suggested over the past few months that Our Ukraine may obtain up to 50 percent of the vote in western Ukraine and definitely less than 10 percent in eastern Ukraine, while the pro-government For a United Ukraine and the Communists may count on substantial support primarily in eastern and southern regions.

Confronted with the unpleasantly high popularity of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine among voters in western Ukraine, For a United Ukraine campaign planners have resolved to mobilize as yet undecided voters by appealing to anti-U.S. sentiments in the country. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine, along with the vociferously antipresidential Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and Socialist Party, has been accused of preparing a U.S.-sponsored "Yugoslav-scenario" coup in Ukraine. According to this sinister plan, the opposition is allegedly going to declare the official results of the 31 March election falsified and create a separate parliament based on an alternative vote calculation. An important role in this plan is to be allegedly played by U.S.-trained sociologists from the Razumkov Center of Political and Economic Studies.

Moreover, a documentary broadcast three times by ICTV Television and 1+1 Television this month unambiguously suggested that Ukraine's infamous tape scandal -- which implicates Kuchma and other top officials in the murder of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze -- was used by Washington to exert pressure on Kuchma in order to depose him and install Yushchenko. For many observers of Ukrainian politics, the documentary was primarily intended to sow distrust in Yushchenko by suggesting to Ukrainians that he is plotting behind the scenes with Americans to the detriment of his native country.

To polarize voters even more, Communist lawmakers questioned the legality of the registration in 1992 of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Kyiv Patriarchate) and accused it of appropriating property from the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate). It is hardly possible to imagine a more improbable defender of "canonical Orthodoxy" than the Communist Party, but this issue was publicized by the Ukrainian Communists on purpose. The Communists know that the faithful under the Kyiv Patriarchate are more likely to support pro-Western Yushchenko in the election, so they have tried to curry favor with those under the Moscow Patriarchate in order to win their votes or at least to inflame the religious antagonism and deepen Ukraine's "west-east split" for the duration of the election campaign.

It is no wonder that Ukrainian voters, bombarded with these "strategic football" issues in the state-controlled media and a cacophony of accusations and counteraccusations of foul play, are actually not paying much attention to what the competing parties and blocs propose in socioeconomic portions of their election programs. Our Ukraine -- with a moderately reformist economic program --may eventually obtain some 100 seats in the Verkhovna Rada as many polls have predicted, but it seems that the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine -- by using administrative levers, intimidation of voters, and massive advertising in the media -- will get no fewer. And this will almost certainly mean that a new government will be very similar to the one Ukraine has at present.

The current election campaign is not an exception to the string of election campaigns that independent Ukraine has already faced: stakes are very high and the play is habitually foul, but when it comes to summing up postelection gains and losses, it turns out that the preservation of the status quo is the only unquestionable consequence of all the preceding political commotion. The best prospect for Ukraine after 31 March would be to see a parliament that could prevent Kuchma from amending the constitution and staying in his office for a third term. What Ukraine primarily and urgently needs is to embrace a positive and efficient economic program, not a civilizational or geostrategic choice between the West and the East, or between Washington and Moscow. This is what all Ukrainians, including those from "nationalist" Galicia and "socialist" Donbas, would apparently accept without reservations and animosities. Unfortunately, Ukraine's political elites are still incapable of offering and/or agreeing on such a program.