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END NOTE: POISONING IMPAIRS UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION CANDIDATE'S ELECTION
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SACKS DEFENSE MINISTER. President Leonid Kuchma said in Pavlovhrad on 22 September that he has accepted the resignation of Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk, Ukrainian news agencies reported. Kuchma made the announcement during a visit to a local chemical plant, one of three plants in Ukraine capable of recycling ammunition. Kuchma suggested that Marchuk has failed to deal properly with the large stores of Soviet-era ammunition that threaten the country's security. "Today I accepted the resignation of Marchuk because everything that is being done here [at the Pavlovhrad plant] is not being done in a way that is acceptable for the state," Interfax quoted Kuchma as saying. Parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn commented the same day that he was completely surprised by Marchuk's resignation. "Today Marchuk was presenting a bill [in the Verkhovna Rada] and nothing has heralded [his] decision [to step down]," Lytvyn told journalists. JM
UKRAINIAN SECURITY SERVICE PROBES YUSHCHENKO'S ALLEGED POISONING. Prosecutor-General Hennadiy Vasylyev told journalists on 22 September that the recently opened criminal investigation into the alleged attempt on opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko's life has been transferred to the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), Interfax reported. "The SBU is conducting an investigation," Vasylyev said. "It is necessary to be patient and wait." Vasylyev added that investigators have established contacts with Austrian doctors who examined Yushchenko and are trying to gain the doctors' cooperation in the investigation. Last week, Yushchenko's campaign manager, Oleksandr Zinchenko, suggested Yushchenko's recent health crisis might have been caused by deliberate poisoning (see End Note). The same day, Yuriy Kostenko, leader of the Ukrainian Popular Party in Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc, told Channel 5 television that Yushchenko was poisoned with ricin. "We know when and how this [poisoning] happened and who is behind it," Kostenko said. "All this operation to poison presidential candidate Yushchenko was carried out not by foreign spies, but by our [compatriots] from the Ukrainian corridors of powers." JM
UKRAINE'S TOP PROSECUTOR SAYS 'MELNYCHENKO TAPES' WERE DOCTORED. Prosecutor-General Vasylyev told journalists on 22 September that his office has opened an investigation into the fabrication of evidence -- the so-called "Melnychenko tapes" -- in the case of slain journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, Interfax reported. Vasylyev referred to a recent government-sponsored examination of Melnychenko's recordings, which implicate President Kuchma and other top officials in Gongadze's killing. That examination established that the tapes had been altered and the voices recorded on them cannot be identified (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2004). Vasylyev said investigators do not know who manipulated the Melnychenko tapes -- which were given to the Prosecutor-General's Office by Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz -- and he confirmed the official position that they cannot be accepted as evidence in the Gongadze case. JM
ROMANIA SETS UP WATCH GROUP ON BORDER AREA WITH UKRAINE... According to a Romanian government press release, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase decided on 22 September to set up a watch group made up of representatives of the Interior, Foreign, and Environment ministries to constantly monitor events in the Danube Delta area where Ukraine is building the controversial Bystraya deep-water shipping canal, Rompres and Mediafax reported. Nastase also called on government officials to urgently begin setting up the Romanian-Ukrainian joint border commission, in line with the bilateral treaty on state borders. He also asked for a thorough report on the situation in the Danube area, in order to decide on measures to "restore legality." Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana warned his Ukrainian counterpart Kostyantyn Hryshchenko on 21 September that Romania will remove the buoys placed on the Romanian side of the Danube, if Ukraine does not do so itself (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 September 2004). ZsM
VORONIN: MOLDOVA'S EUROPEAN INTEGRATION IS 'ABSOLUTE PRIORITY' During a 21 September meeting in Chisinau, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin told visiting German parliamentarian Claudia Nolte that Moldova's European integration is an "absolute priority" for the government, BASA-Press reported on 22 September, citing a Moldovan presidential office press release. Voronin said Moldova is to sign an action plan with the EU and is currently negotiating the draft of a Moldovan-EU trade agreement. He emphasized the importance of EU members' support in achieving Moldova's aspirations, also calling on the EU to consider Moldova's integration separately from that of Belarus and Ukraine. Meeting with Reintegration Minister Vasilii Sova, Nolte called for the EU's direct involvement in settling the Transdniester conflict, adding that the EU "should not rely exclusively on the OSCE in the settlement process." ZsM
POISONING IMPAIRS UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION CANDIDATE'S ELECTION CAMPAIGN
Two weeks ago, leading opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko stopped his election tour of Ukrainian regions and "disappeared" from the political arena in Ukraine. The first news as to what happened to the Our Ukraine leader came a week later, when his personal website (http://www.yuschenko.com.ua/) announced on 13 September that Yushchenko had recovered from a bout of "acute poisoning" and was getting ready to continue his election campaign trips. Yushchenko's spokeswoman, Iryna Herashchenko, was quoted as saying that Yushchenko was in good physical condition.
Oleksandr Zinchenko, Yushchenko's campaign manager, caused a sensation on 17 September by announcing that Yushchenko's recent health disorder may have resulted from an intentional attempt on his life. Zinchenko quoted doctors from a clinic in Vienna, who examined Yushchenko, as saying that Yushchenko's disease was caused by "a viral infection and chemical substances that usually are not contained in foodstuffs." Since the examination in Vienna was made six days after the poisoning, Zinchenko added, it proved impossible for the doctors to identify what "chemical substances" might have been involved.
Ukrainian independent media have since somewhat elucidated the circumstances of Yushchenko's unexpected and mysterious ailment. Yushchenko fell ill on 6 September, suffering from an acute headache and pains in his abdomen, chest, and face the following day. His facial nerves were paralyzed. Ukrainian doctors diagnosed his illness as gastric flu and prescribed relevant treatment. Yushchenko's physical condition deteriorated, however, and his election staff decided to send him for an examination to the Rudolferhaus clinic in Vienna, where he arrived on the evening of 9 September. Austrian doctors diagnosed Yushchenko's illness as acute pancreatitis -- inflammation of the gland that secretes digestive enzymes as well as the hormones insulin and glucagon to the stomach -- and concluded that it could not be caused by food poisoning alone. Ukrainian surgeon Mykola Korpan, who works in Rudolferhaus, told the "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 20 September that Yushchenko's condition had been "stabilized" by Rudolferhaus doctors. Korpan added that the disease posed a direct danger to Yushchenko's life.
Yushchenko returned to Kyiv on 18 September to take part in a large rally organized by his election staff under the motto "Come and Listen." The Kyiv rally was broadcast by Channel 5, the only television channel in Ukraine backing Yushchenko's presidential bid, and transmitted live to big screens in a number of Ukrainian cities where Yushchenko's supporters gathered for local "Come and Listen" meetings. People were reportedly shocked or at least embarrassed to see Yushchenko looking so deathly ill, with a visibly swollen and half-paralyzed face. In addition, he had difficulties reading his text and frequently resorted to using his handkerchief because of excessive salivation. What was planned as a triumphant return of Yushchenko to the election campaign, apparently turned into a grave advertising miscalculation. Rumors, kindled by the government-controlled media, have begun to circulate in Ukraine to the effect that Yushchenko has suffered an apoplectic stroke or a heart attack that may have lasting consequences for his physical and mental abilities. Instead of a feeling of compassion for Yushchenko as a potential victim of poisoning by his political adversaries, people may have developed the suspicion that their candidate is unfit for the post he aspires to.
According to some commentators, Yushchenko's election staff made a serious mistake by publicizing the allegations about a deliberate attempt on his life too late, just a day before the rally in Kyiv. Besides, instead of clearly delineating who might be interested in liquidating Yushchenko, his campaign manager, Zinchenko, resorted to publicizing physiological aspects of the candidate's illness, thus baffling rather than enlightening ordinary voters. What's more, Zinchenko supplied the government-controlled media with ammunition to present Yushchenko's alleged poisoning as a farcical incident rather than a potentially lethal one.
A majority of Ukrainians remained ignorant about Yushchenko's real condition on 18 September, when state-run and oligarchic media began to issue sarcastic reports suggesting that Yushchenko suffered from poisoning from some exotic food or just alcohol. "I would recommend checking food before consumption in order to avoid stomach problems," Vasyl Baziv, deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, told journalists on 17 September, thus establishing the tone of official comments on Yushchenko's condition. "Let Zinchenko taste the food first, before Yushchenko begins to eat it.... That's what rulers did in the Middle Ages," Baziv added.
It is perhaps characteristic of the atmosphere of the presidential election campaign in Ukraine that none of Yushchenko's 25 rival candidates has expressed public sympathy with Yushchenko or wished him a quick recovery. Instead, the general mood among Yushchenko's adversaries seems to have been defined by marginal presidential candidate Yuriy Zbitnev, who publicly advised that Yushchenko should request that a paramedic give him an enema in order to overcome his health problems.
Yushchenko's staff apparently understood their mistake -- and potential damaging effects of this mistake to Yushchenko's standing as a presidential candidate -- on 21 September. On this day Our Ukraine's lawmakers demanded that the Verkhovna Rada form a special commission to investigate the reasons behind Yushchenko's health crisis. More than 400 lawmakers in the 450-seat legislature supported this measure. And the message that Yushchenko sent to his electorate on 21 September was unambiguously clear. "I am not a gourmand relishing in Eastern or Western cuisines," Yushchenko said in the Verkhovna Rada. "I eat the same borsch, potatoes, and pork fat as you, as 47 million people in Ukraine.... What happened to me is not linked to a food problem. What happened to me is a problem linked to the political regime in Ukraine."
On the other hand, the Prosecutor-General's Office on 20 September begun a separate inquiry into the public allegations that Yushchenko's recent ailment may have been caused by deliberate poisoning. For the next several weeks, the problem of Yushchenko's health is set to dominate the presidential election agenda in Ukraine. It remains to be seen who will win this propagandistic duel -- Yushchenko or his main rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.
It is already evident, however, that Yushchenko has irrevocably lost two weeks of campaigning, which may gravely impair his presidential bid. Because of the blockade of positive information about Yushchenko in state-controlled and oligarchic media, his election campaign was built on regional tours and direct meetings with voters. The schedule of these meetings has now been seriously disorganized, and Yushchenko's election staff seems presently to be at a loss how to proceed. Moreover, it is not clear whether Yushchenko's health will allow him to continue his election trips. The doctors said they have "stabilized" his condition, but they did not say that they have ensured his recovery.
RUSSIANS INDIFFERENT TO UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. A survey of 1,500 Russia citizens by ROMIR Monitoring found that only 12 percent can identify at least one candidate running in Ukraine's presidential election, scheduled for 31 October, newsru.com reported. In the survey, which was conducted from 12 to 17 August, 27 percent said they didn't think a win by any of the candidates would benefit Russia. Seven percent said a win by Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the heir-apparent to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, would benefit Russia the most (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 31 August 2004). JAC
TURKMENISTAN PUTS 2004 CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTS AT $4.5 BILLION. Turkmenistan concluded $4.5 billion in construction contracts with 76 foreign firms from January to July 2004, turkmenistan.ru reported on 22 September. Turkey led the list, with 27 Turkish firms receiving $1.7 billion in contracts. Ukrainian construction companies received $876 million, French companies $458 million, and German companies $343 million. Other contracts were given to companies from Iran, China, and Russia. DK