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END NOTE: GONGADZE CASE COULD OPEN PANDORA'S BOX IN UKRAINE xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL CONFIRMS ARREST OF GONGADZE'S KILLERS... Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun confirmed at a news conference in Kyiv on 2 March that the authorities have detained two suspected killers of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2005), Ukrainian and international media reported. Piskun refused to name the detainees, but suggested that the abduction and assassination of Gongadze was a well-organized operation by Interior Ministry servicemen. "They had followed him and waited until he was alone, worked out a special operation, drove up in a car that he [Gongadze] thought was a taxi," Piskun said. "As soon as he got in the back seat of the car, three policemen jumped into the car. They took him outside Kyiv, beating him on the way. They brought him to the place [where they killed him], they tied his hands. In short, they killed him, poured gasoline on his body, and set it on fire." JM
...AND WANTS MELNYCHENKO TAPES AS EVIDENCE IN GONGADZE CASE. Prosecutor-General Piskun assured journalists on 2 March that he is ready to pursue the Gongadze case's political ties and implications, Ukrainian and international media reported. "I call on [former presidential bodyguard Mykola] Melnychenko to come to Ukraine to testify and also to hand over the originals of the recordings [of former President Leonid Kuchma's conversations] and the [recording] devices to representatives of the State Security Service, the Prosecutor-General's Office, and the special parliamentary commission for examination by international phonoscopic experts, with his participation," Piskun said. "The results of this examination will be used, in accordance with Ukrainian procedural law, as evidence in the criminal case." Piskun announced that he has closed a criminal case against Melnychenko for illegal eavesdropping on Kuchma. The Melnychenko tapes, among other revelations, implicate Kuchma and former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko in the abduction of Gongadze. Piskun said Kravchenko will be interrogated in the Gongadze case on 4 March. JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT SUSPENDS 12 LAWMAKERS WORKING IN GOVERNMENT. The Verkhovna Rada on 3 March approved the requests of 12 lawmakers to suspend their parliamentary powers in connection with their assumption of jobs in the executive branch following the installation of Viktor Yushchenko as Ukraine's new president, Interfax reported. Under Ukrainian law, a person cannot simultaneously work in the parliament and the government. In total, some 40 lawmakers have switched to the government under President Yushchenko. JM
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT PLAYS DOWN ANTI-RUSSIAN INTENTIONS OF MOLDOVA VISIT... Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili arrived in Chisinau on 2 March for a one-day official visit at the invitation of his Moldovan counterpart Vladimir Voronin, Moldovan and Georgian news agencies reported. Saakashvili said his visit to Moldova is not about forming an anti-Russian alliance including Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, but about establishing normal relations between European countries, Moldpress reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2005). Saakashvili and Voronin signed a joint declaration against separatism. "We are obliged to ensure the territorial integrity of our countries, and we will be only grateful to Russia for assistance in settling these problems," Voronin said, adding, however, that "we should not be kept within the framework of a nonexistent USSR." Voronin and Saakashvili also discussed the upcoming summit of GUUAM states -- Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova -- in Chisinau on 22 April. UB
GONGADZE CASE COULD OPEN PANDORA'S BOX IN UKRAINE
Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun's press conference in Kyiv on 2 March revealed a number of new developments in the rapidly widening investigation of the slaying of online journalist Heorhiy Gongadze.
Piskun began by announcing that secret recordings made by former presidential security guard Mykola Melnychenko in former President Leonid Kuchma's office from the summer of 1999 to September 2000 will be allowed as evidence in the investigation if their authenticity is established by an international commission.
Piskun then invited Melnychenko, who has been granted refugee status in the United States, to return to Kyiv with his original tapes and recording equipment to take part in the authentication process. To pave the way for Melnychenko's return, Piskun said his safety would be guaranteed and said that charges against Melnychenko pertaining to the revelation of state secrets would be dropped.
Furthermore, Piskun announced that former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko has been summoned to appear at the Prosecutor-General's Office on 4 March for questioning in connection with the case.
The decision to interrogate Kravchenko and the possible inclusion of Melnychenko's recordings as evidence is a dramatic escalation in the search for who ordered the killing of Gongadze in September 2000. If the recordings are found be genuine, they could open a Pandora's box and have a far-reaching impact.
Melnychenko's tapes contain hundreds of hours of conversations that were recorded on digital audio files, most of which have not been transcribed due to poor audio quality and lack of funds to enhance the quality of the recordings. While the tapes were determined to be fakes by the Prosecutor-General's Office under Kuchma, they are widely believed in Ukraine to be genuine, and the pending reevaluation will be conducted under vastly more transparent circumstances. In the United States, a private audio-verification laboratory hired by Melnychenko, Bek Tek, has already examined excerpts of the recordings and found them to be genuine and untampered with.
If purported conversations between Kuchma and Kravchenko on the tapes are introduced as evidence, both men could be subject to arrest on criminal charges as accomplices to either kidnapping or murder. In addition, the scope of the Gongadze case could widen to include other people whose voices were allegedly captured on Melnychenko's tapes. Former Security Service head Leonid Derkach and parliament speaker Yuriy Lytvyn, who at the time headed Kuchma's administration, feature prominently among those who could face charges.
Another important factor is that by introducing the tapes as evidence in the Gongadze case, a precedent will have been set and the recordings could play a critical role in other, as yet unopened, criminal cases. This increases the probability that charges of obstruction of justice could be filed against two former prosecutors-general, Mykola Potebenko and Hennadiy Vasilyev.
Other cases based on the recordings that would likely be opened if Melnychenko's recordings are authenticated are: unsanctioned electronic surveillance of elected officials by the Security Service and its former head Derkach; illegal arms sales; fraudulent use of state funds for Kuchma's 1999 presidential campaign; alleged conversations with then Donetsk Governor Viktor Yanukovych about illegally removing independent judges; among others. In all these cases, Kuchma is allegedly recorded in Melnychenko's tapes giving illegal orders to his subordinates or approving their illegal initiatives.
The dilemma facing Yushchenko is how far the new government is willing to go in prosecuting the misdeeds of the Kuchma administration? During the Orange Revolution, Yushchenko supporters demanded that criminality be punished -- and Yushchenko himself is on record pledging to punish those responsible for crime and corruption in the past.
If the tapes are found to be genuine, and all indications are that they will be, a vast network of former officials allegedly involved in state-sponsored criminality could be liable for prosecution.
Others in Kyiv fear that the process could be undermined if, for example, certain members of the present government were to hear their own voices on the recordings.
Another important consideration is that a house cleaning on the basis of the tapes would be a serious blow to the pro-Kuchma and pro-Yanukovych forces prior to the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2006. A series of trials with their leaders in the dock accused of corruption and other crimes would badly damage their chances for gaining a majority in parliament.
The pro-Putin youth movement Walking Together announced on 1 March that it has created a new youth movement called Nashi (Ours). According to a press release published on pravda.ru, which quotes Walking Together founder Vasilii Yakemenko, the goal of the new "anti-fascist" movement is to put an end to the "anti-Fatherland union of oligarchs, anti-Semites, Nazis, and liberals." Several Moscow-based newspapers reported the goal of the new group is actually a bit more specific: to eventually replace the party of power, Unified Russia.
The movement's rallying cry is preventing the introduction of foreign control in Russia. "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 24 February reported that it obtained documents outlining a "grandiose plan for the creation of a new youth movement" whose goal is to save the motherland from colonization by the United States. The daily quotes Walking Together leader Yakemenko as saying that "organizations in Russia are growing, on the basis of which the United States will create groups analogous to Serbia's Otpor, Georgia's Kmara, or Ukraine's Pora. These groups are Eduard Limonov's National Bolshevik Party and the Avant-garde Red Youth."
Yakemenko, 33, initially denied in interviews with Ekho Moskvy and "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 February that a new youth movement was in the works. However, later reports detailed Yakemenko's speeches at meetings in cities across Russia, including Kursk, Orel, and St. Petersburg. According to "Moskovskii komsomolets," Yakemenko told students in Kursk that "Europe long ago asked itself the question: Who will be working at European gas stations, Turks or Ukrainians? This question now has been decided in favor of the Ukrainians. In the final analysis, for practically its entire history, Ukraine has been a colony. It's just that previously it was a Russian colony and now it is an American colony."
On 26-27 February, Yakemenko spoke to about 200 assembled youths at the Senezh sanatorium in Moscow Oblast for what some news reports called Nashi's "founding congress" and what Yakemenko described as a conference called "Russia's new intellectual elite." According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 28 February, the meeting was held in a building owned by the presidential administration. The daily's correspondent, Oleg Kashin, and the leader of Yabloko's youth movement Ilya Yashin managed to sneak into the meeting, since only first names were used at the conference and no identification was required to check in. However, when the two men were recognized, Yakemenko ordered security guards to throw them out. Yashin told TV-Tsentr on 28 February that they were driven out of town, where he was thrown headfirst into a snow bank and kicked in the stomach several times. Yakemenko initially denied that he ever saw Yashin at the meeting. Later he said that security guards did remove Yashin from the conference hall. but only after he kept trying to enter the proceedings to which he was not invited.
In an interview with "Vremya novostei" on 1 March, Yabloko's Yashin suggested that "one of the tasks of the 'Nashisti' is to intimidate the opposition youth so that they are afraid to attend public demonstrations." He said that in the last couple of months there have been several clashes between the members of the political opposition and unaffiliated people. Yashin told gazeta.ru that former members of Walking Together and skinheads in athletic clothing were the main attendees at the Nashi congress. "Kommersant-Daily's" Kashin described the participants, who were allegedly attending a conference on "Russia's New Intellectual Elite," as "very simple folk," who "when they are riding in elevators, laugh when they go up and down."
According to the Moscow-based newspapers, the real architect of Nashi is not Yakemenko but deputy presidential-administration head Vladislav Surkov. Surkov reportedly met with some 35-40 youths in St. Petersburg along with Yakemenko on 17 February to talk about setting up Nashi, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 February. RosBalt confirmed that Surkov was indeed in St. Petersburg on 17 February; however, Yakemenko denied everything. Surkov was widely credited with masterminding Unified Russia's victory in the 2003 State Duma elections. He has now reportedly become disillusioned with his old creation, as well as with Motherland, which was originally created to take votes away from the Communist Party. If Surkov is indeed seeking an alternative to Unified Russia, then that might explain the secrecy surrounding Nashi's creation. The presidential administration still needs obedience from Unified Russia members in the State Duma and elsewhere, who may be less forthcoming if they believe their political careers are about to be cut short.
In an interview with kreml.org on 1 March, Viktor Militarev, vice president of the National Strategy Institute, said he thinks Walking Together faltered as an organization because it was held together only by money and not by an ideology. Similarly, Unified Russia could have been a "powerful pro-presidential party that served as a repository of the people's hopes for the president and hostility for the thieves, oligarchs, and corrupt bureaucrats. Instead of this, we have a parody," he concluded. However, with Nashi, Yakemenko has recently been taking a smarter approach, according to Militarev. "For example, Yakemenko has given lectures to youth activists in which he described the American authorities as our geopolitical opponent and said that Russia needs to defend itself." According to Militarev, this is a more effective doctrine than "Putin is our president and he is always right."
Writing in politcom.ru on 22 February, Tatyana Stanovaya suggests that the Kremlin's presidential campaign in 2008 might assume the features of Yeltsin's 1996 race when Yeltsin managed to come from behind because of the "Red threat." "In 2008, the Kremlin might also motivate citizens to vote not 'for' [an unpopular president] but 'against' [this time against the Orange threat] and the 'geopolitical appetites of the West' and 'the powerful subversive network within the country.'" However, if INDEM foundation analyst Yurii Korgunyuk is correct, then Nashi proponents are not just pursuing a cynical election ploy. He told "The Moscow Times" on 25 February that the "Kremlin has a paranoid fear of what happened in Ukraine happening here."
March: President Vladimir Putin to visit Ukraine