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UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT UNDERGOES EMERGENCY SURGERY AFTER YELTSIN VISIT. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma was hospitalized on 17 November and later the same day underwent surgery to remove what was described as an "acute lower-intestinal obstruction," Ukrainian news agencies reported on 18 November, quoting presidential spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska. Kuchma's condition is reportedly "satisfactory." At his residence in Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast on 15 November, Kuchma met with former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who was vacationing in Ukraine. "This was a meeting of old friends," ITAR-TASS quoted Yeltsin's protocol chief, Vladimir Shevchenko, as saying. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT APPOINTS PROSECUTOR-GENERAL, DEPUTY SPEAKER. The Verkhovna Rada on 18 November approved the nomination of former deputy speaker Hennadiy Vasilyev as the country's new prosecutor-general, Ukrainian news agencies reported. The nomination was supported by deputies from the pro-presidential majority and the Communist Party, with 284 of the 409 lawmakers registered for the session backing the appointment. Deputies from Our Ukraine, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc did not take part in the vote. In what appeared to be a deal between the pro-presidential majority and the Communists, 291 lawmakers subsequently voted to appoint Communist deputy Adam Martyniuk as deputy speaker, a post recently vacated by Vasilyev. Prior to the votes, lawmakers from the pro-presidential majority blocked access to the parliamentary rostrum, thus preventing the opposition -- Our Ukraine, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc -- from doing the same and disrupting the session, as the latter has done during several recent sittings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2003). JM

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT PRESENTS PLAN FOR MOLDOVA'S FEDERALIZATION. Russian President Vladimir Putin told journalists on 17 November that at his initiative the Russian Foreign Ministry has drafted its own plan for setting up a federal state in Moldova, ITAR-TASS and Infotag reported. Putin said the plan was prepared under the guidance of deputy presidential administration head Dmitrii Kozak, who has been in contact with Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and the OSCE. The plan has been given to the authorities in Transdniester and the other two outside mediators, the OSCE and Ukraine, for examination. It envisages the setting up of a Federal Republic of Moldova as an "asymmetrical federation" whose two subjects would be Moldova and Transdniester. The federation would have a have unified defense, customs, and finance systems and a single currency. Under the plan -- which makes no mention of the withdrawal of Russian troops -- the federation would be a neutral and demilitarized state. Its president would be elected by popular vote. The plan envisages a bicameral parliament, composed of a 71-seat chamber of deputies and a 26-seat senate. The upper house would include 13 Moldovan, nine Transdniester, and four Gagauz-Yeri representatives. Transdniester and Gagauz-Yeri representatives would also be included in the federal government at the deputy-premier level. The country's state language would be Moldovan, but Russian would have official-language status throughout the federation. MS


Recent contradictory events in Ukraine force us to choose between two conclusions. The first is that President Leonid Kuchma is no longer in control of political life in Ukraine and has become a puppet of presidential administration head Viktor Medvedchuk, who is chairman of the oligarchic Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-u). Medvedchuk reportedly relishes playing the same behind-the-scenes role that former Russian oligarch Boris Berezovskii did in that country in the last years of Boris Yeltsin's presidency.

The second option is to conclude that Kuchma remains in charge of daily political life in Ukraine, but is simply playing a game of deception in league with Medvedchuk. Under this scenario, Kuchma is saying one thing to the EU, NATO, and foreign diplomats while simultaneously ordering Medvedchuk to do the opposite. Analysts believe this conclusion is more likely to be true.

In February, then-National Security and Defense Council Secretary Yevhen Marchuk said at a Kyiv conference that "the time for declarations and the elaboration of intentions has passed" with regard to Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration. Marchuk became defense minister in June and is known to be a strong supporter of cooperation with, and integration into, NATO. Kuchma also complained on the eve of the annual EU-Ukraine summit in October that he is tired of waiting for the EU to offer Ukraine a timetable for membership.

Marchuk's problem is that the left opposition -- the Communists and Socialists -- are hostile to NATO membership, which has strong support only from the opposition National Democrats. There is broader political support for joining the EU, but membership of that organization is seen as far more unrealistic than of NATO.

The pro-presidential center is either ambivalent or -- in the case of Medvedchuk -- even hostile to NATO membership, something that gives him added incentive to undermine Ukraine's drive toward NATO. Support for NATO membership is low within the pro-presidential oligarchic parties.

The shared preoccupation of Kuchma and the pro-presidential center with blocking a victory by Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko in the 2004 presidential election could present another obstacle to Ukraine's NATO aspirations. A repeat of Ukraine's democratic 1994 election process, which resulted in a smooth transfer of power from Leonid Kravchuk to Kuchma, seems unlikely. The crucial difference between 1994 and 2004, however, is that the issue of presidential immunity and the fate of the oligarchs and their assets has only recently become an issue. In 1994 there were no oligarchs, as economic reform had yet to begin. The issue of immunity from prosecution for Kravchuk simply never came up.

On 10 November, a joint meeting of three parliamentary committees was held to discuss alleged violations of the law by the security forces and the Interior Ministry in Donetsk on 31 October, when Yushchenko's party was prevented from holding a regional congress. At that meeting, leading SDPU-u member Nestor Shufrych told opposition deputies, "You are struggling for power, but nobody will transfer this to you."

It is widely believed that Medvedchuk and the SDP-u have the most to lose from a Yushchenko victory -- as they did during the 1999-2001 Yushchenko government. Medvedchuk therefore sees his role as twofold. First, he must maintain Kuchma in office beyond next year's elections, either through a third term or by amending the constitution. Medvedchuk is opposed to either Yushchenko or Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych becoming president. Secondly, he must block the emergence of any alliances between the pro-presidential clans and Yushchenko's Our Ukraine.

Yushchenko took with him to Donetsk a large group of EU ambassadors so that they could witness firsthand the tactics employed against the opposition by the presidential administration. After Donetsk, he met with 11 Western ambassadors and showed them a 15-minute film about the Donetsk events. German Ambassador to Ukraine Dietmar Studemann was aghast at the Donetsk events, and he told the online newspaper "Glavred," that they were "completely inadmissible...from the point of view of civilized European countries." Studemann said the Donetsk events showed a "well-thought-out action developing in line with someone's scenario."

Hanne Severinsen, head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's monitoring committee on Ukraine, said last week that "if there is no possibility of enjoying freedom of assembly, then we cannot expect there to be fair and free elections" in Ukraine. The EU troika issued a "demarche" to the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry on 7 November, the same day that the largest faction in the European parliament, the center-right European Peoples Party, condemned the Donetsk events. Visiting Kyiv on 10 November, EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten also warned Kuchma that the EU will closely monitor the election campaign.

The United States and other NATO countries repeated these condemnations. U.S. Ambassador John Herbst said that after Donetsk he understood that a "normal election campaign" is impossible in Ukraine. Such presidential tactics would harm Ukraine's bilateral relations with the United States and Ukraine's efforts at integration into NATO, he said. At a Kyiv conference on Euro-Atlantic integration, ambassadors from NATO member states made clear that Ukraine's chances of joining the alliance are contingent on its holding democratic elections.

If Medvedchuk's tactics against the opposition continue unchanged in the year preceding the 2004 election, their impact on Ukraine's efforts toward Euro-Atlantic integration will be disastrous. After Donetsk, Our Ukraine continued to face similar problems that prevented the holding of regional congresses in Sumy, Lutsk, and the Crimea.

On 11 November, Kuchma issued a secret decree calling upon the security forces to investigate the blocking of Our Ukraine congresses around Ukraine. This is ironic as leaked internal documents signed by the deputy head of the presidential administration prove that the executive branch is actually behind these very tactics against the opposition, tactics that the EU, Council of Europe and NATO have condemned.

At the same time, Kuchma reportedly assured Herbst in a recent private conversation that next year's elections in Ukraine will be free and fair. A November poll by the Ukrainian Democratic Circle on behalf of the Institute of Politics revealed public doubts, with a staggering 72 percent of Ukrainians not believing that next year's elections will be free and fair and only 6 percent thinking otherwise.