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FORMER UKRAINIAN PREMIER CONFIRMS HER DESIRE TO LEAD CABINET. Yuliya Tymoshenko, head of the eponymous political bloc, said on a television channel on 27 February that she harbors no "presidential ambitions," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www.pravda.com.ua) reported. "Under the new constitution [that came into effect on 1 January], the president has practically lost all of his powers," Tymoshenko added. She stressed that she would like to return to the post of prime minister, from which she was dismissed by President Viktor Yushchenko in September 2005. Speaking about her attitude to the current cabinet of Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, Tymoshenko said she is "close to being in opposition" to it. "I cannot say that I am in opposition, but I don't approve of much of what the government is doing," she said. According to a poll held by the Sotsiovymir Sociological and Political Research Center from 19-24 February, Tymoshenko is the most trusted politician in Ukraine, with 22.4 percent of respondents declaring confidence in her and 22.1 percent distrusting her. JM
RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
A Survey of Developments in Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team.
IS UKRAINE'S RICHEST MAN ALSO ITS FUTURE PREMIER? In mid-February, 40-year-old Rynat Akhmetov -- one of Ukraine's richest men by virtue of his 90-percent stake in the Donetsk-based System Capital Management Corporation (SCM) -- was interviewed on his nationwide television station, TRK Ukrayina.
The interview was conducted by Raisa Bohatyrova, a leading member of the Party of Regions led by Viktor Yanukovych, President Viktor Yushchenko's main rival in the 2004 presidential election. Bohatyrova was elected to parliament in 2002 after Akhmetov, who had been considered a likely candidate, stepped aside, saying he did not wish to run for public office.
Things appear to have changed. The TRK interview was, for many Ukrainians, the first
opportunity to hear the usually reclusive billionaire describe his stance on a variety of subjects. The interview was widely watched throughout Ukraine, and established Akhmetov as a man with his own vision regarding the country's future.
Akhmetov's name is seventh on the Party of Regions' electoral list for the 26 March legislative vote. But the fact that his interview was televised nationally, rather than just in Ahmetov's native Donbas region, led some viewers to conclude Akhmetov sounded more like a candidate for prime minister than a man merely seeking a parliamentary seat.
Akhmetov denies he is seeking the premiership. But some of his comments during the interview could indicate otherwise.
"We need to form a government that cares about economic growth," Akhmetov told Bohatyrova. "What does that mean? It means a government of professionals, a government which will take not only power, but responsibility, into its hands."
Akhmetov went on to define a strong Ukraine as one where the country is dependent upon neither Russia, the United States, nor the European Union. He was going into politics, he added, "in order to see Ukraine enrich itself, in order that there be no poor people in Ukraine. I want Ukraine to hold in its hands the trophy for being the best country in Europe."
Akhmetov, an ethnic Tatar and practicing Muslim, was born in Donetsk in 1966. His father was a coal miner, and the family often lived in poverty. Akhmetov graduated from Donetsk State University with a degree in economics.
In 1996, Akhmetov took over the presidency of the Shakhtar football club in Donetsk after the murder of its owner, criminal boss Oleksandr Brahin. Around that time, he founded Donetsk City Bank, DonGorBank, and remains its majority shareholder.
In 2000 Akhmetov founded SCM, which rapidly became a very aggressive player in acquiring companies in the Donetsk region. Over the next few years, it took control of over 90 companies concentrated in the iron ore, coal, steel, and energy generation sectors. SCM also has interests in insurance and banking, food and beverage services, and hotels and hospitality.
Akhmetov's assets and personal fortune are sure to make him a major player in Ukrainian politics for years to come -- regardless of whether he becomes prime minister.
But his repeated assertions that a future Ukrainian government must be run by "professionals" and promote "economic growth" have only intensified speculation that the head of SCM -- one of Ukraine's largest corporations -- might be persuaded to head up the country's new government.
In the past year SCM has gone to extraordinary lengths to polish its image as a responsible, European-style corporation and overcome past rumors about reputed links to organized crime and unorthodox business methods.
In the summer of 2005, SCM launched a massive advertising campaign aimed at promoting the stature in Europe of Ukrainian businesses. Ads were featured in publications including the "Wall Street Journal Europe," "The Economist," the "Financial Times," and on television networks like CNN, EuroNews, and BBC World.
In order for Akhmetov to succeed in extending his popularity beyond the Donetsk region, many observers believe he will ultimately need to break ties with Party of Regions leader Yanukovych, his old friend and political ally.
This could be relatively simple. Yanukovych has no financial support base of his own, and relies on SCM and the Industrial Union of the Donbas for funding. Moreover, Yanukovych is seen by many Ukrainians as a former convict -- as a young man he was twice convicted of assault and battery -- and not fit to run for public office.
President Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc has reportedly discussed a possible coalition with the Party of Regions, but says it will not agree to Yanukovych becoming prime minister. It has, however, avoided such a categorical refusal regarding a similar deal with Akhmetov. (Roman Kupchinsky)
"RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report" is prepared by Jan Maksymiuk on the basis of a variety of sources including reporting by "RFE/RL Newsline" and RFE/RL's broadcast services. It is distributed every Tuesday.