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RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
A Survey of Developments in Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team
PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION AS STRATEGIC 'FOOTBALL.' President Leonid Kuchma on 22 March termed as "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.
The stage effect of this pronouncement would have been quite impressive had it not been spoiled by Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin a day earlier when he asked, "Why could Ukraine not make a statement to the effect that [people] in the U.S. elected one president but are ruled by another?" Chernomyrdin suggested a response to the U.S. resolution, adding that Washington appears to "dictate" what Kyiv should be doing. Kuchma followed Chernomyrdin's suggestion, though not literally.
Last week, Chernomyrdin was also 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 all previous election campaigns 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. Ukraine's "west-east split" was somewhat blurred in the 1999 presidential election, when Kuchma ("pro-Western option" for the electorate at that time) not only beat Petro Symonenko ("pro-Russian option") in western Ukraine but also fared fairly well in eastern oblasts. This year the split among voters seems to have been restored and even deepened by deliberate efforts of the authorities, which are busily working toward securing the best possible result for the For a United Ukraine bloc.
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 played by U.S.-trained sociologists from the Razumkov Center of Political and Economic Studies. This immediately calls to mind the widely publicized "White Stork" operation in Belarus -- an invention of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on the eve of the 9 September presidential election alleging that his opponents were planning to overthrow him with the help of U.S., German, and British intelligence forces under a similar scenario (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 September 2002).
Moreover, a documentary broadcast twice by ICTV Television earlier 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. Kuchma, who appeared in the documentary, commented that the crisis connected with the tape scandal was effectively over when Yushchenko was sacked as prime minister by the parliament in April 2001.
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-run media and a cacophony of accusations and counteraccusations of foul play, are actually not paying (or even not bothering themselves to pay) 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 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.
OUR UKRAINE AS TRANSFORMATION OF RUKH. The Ukrainian Movement for Perestroika (commonly referred to as Rukh) was established in 1988-89 as a popular front comprising former prisoners of conscience from the Ukrainian Helsinki Group and members of the cultural intelligentsia. Rukh became a catalyst for other opposition parties and civic groups that came onto the scene during the last few years of Soviet rule.
During the 1990s, however, Rukh became progressively marginalized within Ukraine's evolving multiparty political system. In 1992, the movement divided into two wings, one led by Vyacheslav Chornovil who stood in "constructive opposition" to President Leonid Kravchuk, and another that supported Kravchuk and created the Congress of National Democratic Forces (KNDS).
In the second half of the 1990s, Chornovil's Rukh had better relations with President Kuchma because of Kuchma's support for reform in 1994-96 and his pro-Western orientation between 1995-99. By 1998-99, though, relations were beginning to sour as Rukh became disillusioned with the type of regime emerging in Ukraine, the rampant corruption, and the widening gap between rhetoric and policies. After the death of Chornovil in a suspicious car accident in March 1999, Rukh again split into two wings. One wing, led by former Foreign Minister Hennadiy Udovenko, maintained good relations with the government, while the other, led by Yuriy Kostenko, leaned toward the opposition and kept close ties with Yuliya Tymoshenko's Fatherland party.
Former Prime Minister Yushchenko has transformed the splintered Rukh into Rukh-2 (Our Ukraine) for the current elections. That transformation has been so thorough that the only similarity left between the old Rukh-1 and Our Ukraine is that pop singer Taras Petrenenko continues to close all of Our Ukraine's rallies with Rukh's unofficial anthem "Ukraine, Ukraine!"
Our Ukraine is more popular than Rukh-1 for a number of reasons. Unlike Rukh-1, Our Ukraine has a socioeconomic program, and about two-thirds of Yushchenko's typical campaign stump speech is devoted to laying out this program. The Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) and the oligarchs voted no confidence in Yushchenko's government in April 2001, despite his record as prime minister in 1999-2001, when he paid back wages and pensions and presided over Ukraine's first period of economic growth in a decade. This track record seems to be working in Our Ukraine's favor.
In Yushchenko, Our Ukraine has a charismatic leader who is able to bridge the gap between citizens and rulers, a gap that was already large during the Soviet era and which grew wider in the 1990s. Our Ukraine has managed to reunite the two wings of Rukh and the successor to the KNDS, the Christian Republican Party. Our Ukraine now consists of 25 political parties, including liberal, patriotic, and Christian-democratic factions, as well as the Federation of Trade Unions. It has also broadened Rukh-1's old social base by incorporating pragmatic bankers and others from the financial sector, as well as representatives of business and state officials. Roman Bezsmertnyy, political coordinator of Our Ukraine, is still the president's representative in parliament and is a former member of the Republican Party and of the People's Democrats (NDP). Bezsmertnyy resigned from the NDP after he joined Our Ukraine, while the NDP aligned with For a United Ukraine (ZYU).
Pragmatists have been attracted to Our Ukraine because it defines itself as an alternative -- rather than an opposition -- in a country where optimism for a better future has all but evaporated. If Rukh-1 could be described as romantic, Rukh-2/Our Ukraine is purely pragmatic -- Ukraine's first real alternative to either a sort of return to the past, as envisioned by the KPU, or continued muddling along with no clear strategy, as favored by the oligarchs.
It was always a mistake for Western and Russian commentators to categorize post-1992 Rukh-1 as "nationalist," a holdover from the Soviet era, when a "Ukrainian nationalist" was by definition from western Ukraine, spoke Ukrainian, and supported center-right parties. It is also a mistake to define Our Ukraine as "nationalist." Our Ukraine supports the Jewish former mayor of Odesa, Eduard Hurvits, who is now running on the Our Ukraine party list. In mid-March, Our Ukraine condemned anti-Semitic leaflets that were circulated against Hurvits. Our Ukraine's party list also includes Crimean Tatars and ethnic Russians. Volodymyr Hrynyov, a Kharkiv-based former head of the Russophile Social-Liberal alliance during the 1998 elections, is now supporting Our Ukraine. The hard-line national-democratic and nationalist parties have joined Tymoshenko's bloc, not Our Ukraine.
A comparison of public opinion polls conducted by several organizations in mid-March by the Internet publication "Ukrayinska pravda" gave Our Ukraine a popularity rating of between 24 and 33 percent, far higher than pro-presidential blocs or the KPU, and an increase from 18.8 percent a month earlier. The Center of Economic and Political Studies predicts that this could reach as high as 29.3 percent, due primarily to Yushchenko's personal popularity. Unlike Rukh-1, Our Ukraine's more pragmatic program has generated support in eastern and southern Ukraine, albeit far less than in western Ukraine where polls give it 50 percent support.
Yushchenko has refrained from criticizing the government, and his only criticism is directed at oligarchic groups such as the Social Democratic Party Ukraine (United) (SDPU-O) and former Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko's NDP, which is one of five parties that make up ZYU. "The SDPU-O is as likely to evolve into social democrats as sea lions into lions," Yushchenko tells his supporters at rallies. Yushchenko has also ridiculed the claim that the 1997-99 Pustovoytenko government laid the foundation for Ukraine's economic revival, claiming that Ukraine was on the verge of bankruptcy when Yushchenko himself became prime minister in December 1999.
It is also wrong to consider Our Ukraine "nationalist" because its support for radical economic and political reforms and for Ukraine's integration into European and trans-Atlantic structures are hardly traditionally nationalist positions. Our Ukraine simply seeks to take back from the oligarchs the control of a country that was propelled to independence by Rukh-1 in 1989-1991. That is what Yushchenko means when he tells supporters at rallies, "This is your Ukraine! This is your Ukraine!"
Our Ukraine argues that the national revolution successfully launched by Rukh-1 needs to be completed now by a democratic revolution led by Rukh-2. One of the priorities for Ukraine is to overcome its "crisis of power" and change its "momentocracy" for a medium- to long-term plan. "Over the last 10 years, no system has been created that would guarantee Ukrainian democracy," Yushchenko wrote in the weekly "Zerkalo nedeli/Dzerkalo tyzhnya."
Our Ukraine has entered Ukraine's political arena during a generational change similar to that experienced by Russia in the late 1990s. Our Ukraine is a young bloc, with an average age of 40 among its candidates. The generation represented by former President Boris Yeltsin in Russia and Kravchuk and Kuchma in Ukraine will go into retirement in two years' time. The generation following them, represented by Vladimir Putin in Russia and Yushchenko in Ukraine, are now taking their places. If Our Ukraine does well in the elections, it could serve as a powerful launch pad should Yushchenko decide to run for the presidency in 2004.
"I think that today it is necessary to appeal to our believers. Since [the Orthodox] Lent began on Monday [18 March], they should in no way vote for the 'food' that was prepared on Bankova Street [the presidential administration] to nourish our believers, particularly Orthodox ones. [I mean] Za YedU and Our Ukraine. One should not commit that big a sin during Lent." -- Petro Symonenko, the first secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine; quoted by the "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 22 March. The Ukrainian acronym Za YedU stands for the For a United Ukraine election bloc and may also be translated as "For Food."
"On the faces of those campaigning in the [For a United Ukraine] bloc you won't see any intellect, spirituality, or morality." -- Former Ukrainian Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko to a crowd in Simferopol on 23 March; quoted by the "Ukrayinska pravda" website.
"Ukraine is being torn to pieces by global interests -- Chernomyrdin and Putin on one side, the U.S. Congress and Bush on the other." -- Yuliya Tymoshenko at a news conference in Simferopol on 23 March; quoted by Interfax.
"[The coming to power] of pro-American [Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine] might speed up the separation of forces in Ukraine and the emergence on the political arena of healthy pro-Russian forces.... Fallacious reforms conducted by Yushchenko could speed up the clarification of Ukraine's political structures and bring everything to a logical end -- possibly, to a split of Ukraine. Then Ukraine's eastern and southern parts, with a majority of the Russian-speaking population, would become oriented toward Russia." -- Russian State Duma deputy speaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky, explaining his statement that a victory of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine in the 31 March election could in the long run be advantageous to Russia.
"RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine 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.
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 Odessa 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. The weekly asserted that 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
END NOTE: UKRAINE'S WINTER CROP GENERATION: FIRST OLIGARCH-BACKED
FOR A UNITED UKRAINE EXPECTS ELECTION VICTORY. "Speaking about the future of the [For a United Ukraine] bloc, I can say only one thing -- it is clear that the bloc will have the largest number of seats in the parliament," For a United Ukraine leader Volodymyr Lytvyn told Reuters on 25 March. Lytvyn added that his bloc will form a pro-government parliamentary majority and maintain stability in the country. Commenting on opinion polls that gave his bloc voters' support not exceeding 7 percent, Lytvyn said the bloc's popularity is increasing as voting day approaches. Lytvyn dismissed allegations of widespread violations of the election legislation during the campaign. "Parties and blocs are organizing the election, their representatives make up electoral commissions. The authorities, actually, have not taken part in it," he said. JM
UKRAINIAN POLITICIAN ACCUSES AUTHORITIES OF 'TOTALITARIAN TERROR'... Yuriy Kostenko, the leader of the Ukrainian Popular Rukh (a constituent of the Our Ukraine bloc) has said the administrative pressure by the authorities has been transformed into "totalitarian terror" in the final phase of the election campaign, UNIAN reported on 26 March. Kostenko said the authorities force employees of regional state institutions into writing letters of resignation, and are threatening that those requests will be immediately acted up in the event the pro-government For a United bloc does not obtain the "necessary" election results. Kostenko added that the authorities also intimidate voters by asserting that it is possible to find out who they voted for. JM
...AND OF 'DOUBLE STANDARD' IN ASSESSING U.S., RUSSIAN STATEMENTS. Kostenko also accused the authorities of applying a "double standard" to statements by U.S. and Russian politicians regarding the election campaign in Ukraine. He pointed out that the recent U.S. congressional resolution urging a fair and democratic election in Ukraine was treated by official Kyiv as "interference in domestic affairs." Kostenko went on to say that, on the other hand, Kyiv has not reacted to statements by those Russian politicians who openly named the forces they would like to see in Ukraine's new parliament (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 26 March 2002). JM
UKRAINIAN TAX POLICE ACCUSE YULIYA TYMOSHENKO BLOC OF FINANCIAL MACHINATION. The State Tax Authority has accused the antipresidential Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc of using "shadow" financial resources in its parliamentary campaign, Ukrainian media reported on 25 March. The administration said a publishing company controlled by the bloc is involved in money laundering, adding that prices for the bloc's printed campaign materials were kept artificially low. "This conscious lie is made for only one reason -- to withdraw the bloc from the elections, or to issue compromising materials taking into account that we have no time to tell the truth," AP quoted Oleksandr Turchynov of the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc as saying. JM
UKRAINIAN LEFTIST RADICAL WANTS AMBASSADOR EXPELLED OVER U.S. 'INTERFERENCE.' Progressive Socialist Party leader Nataliya Vitrenko said on 25 March that the U.S. pressure on this year's election campaign in Ukraine is the strongest in the contemporary history of the country, STB Television reported. She likened the scale of Washington's "unprecedented" interference in Ukrainian affairs to U.S. actions in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. "We think it is necessary to demand the expulsion of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Carlos Pascual from the territory of our country. We believe that this interference that the U.S. has allowed itself tramples upon our national self-respect and Ukraine's sovereignty," Vitrenko said. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ihor Dolhov commented on 26 March that the U.S. congressional resolution does not constitute grounds for Pascual's expulsion. JM
COURT REINSTATES TWO UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS AS ELECTION CANDIDATES. The Supreme Court has reinstated former Soviet dissident Stepan Khmara from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc as an election candidate, UNIAN reported on 25 March. The court also reinstated Viktar Chayka, a leader of the right-wing populist Yabluko Party, as an election candidate. The Central Election Commission disqualified Khmara and Chayka last week, saying they submitted false declarations on their income and possessions. JM
NEARLY 600 NONEXISTENT VOTERS LISTED IN KYIV CONSTITUENCY. The electoral commission of constituency No. 90 in Kyiv has found out that the number of voters on a list supplied by the district authorities exceeds the actual number of voters living in the constituency by 561 persons, the Our Ukraine press service reported on 26 March. Our Ukraine campaign coordinator Roman Bezsmertnyy warned that listing nonexistent voters may be one of the methods used by the authorities to rig the 31 March ballot. JM
...WHICH WAS OPENED BY ROMANIAN LEADERS. Opening the summit on 25 March, Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said his country will concentrate its efforts ahead of the Prague summit on economic reforms, the struggle against corruption, and the protection of classified data, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. President Ion Iliescu told the opening ceremony that NATO should not be "too prudent" in delaying expansion. He said NATO and EU expansion are "the natural and rational" way of uniting the continent. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski urged current NATO members to rally behind the U.S.-led struggle against international terrorism, saying that one must not forget that it is U.S. soldiers who "often pay with their lives" for defending liberty. Turkish Premier Bulent Ecevit said the alliance is in the process of adapting to post-Cold War realities by focusing on new security threats and cooperating with former enemies, such as Russia and Ukraine. MS
TRANSDNIESTER REFUSES TO SIGN DOCUMENT ON JOINT CUSTOMS CONTROLS. A representative of the Transdniester customs services refused to sign an agreement in Chisinau on 22 March on joint customs controls reached by representatives of Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine, ITAR-TASS reported. The separatist representatives demanded that Tiraspol be allowed to export commodities without clearance from Moldovan customs, as was the case before September 2001. The request was turned down. The agreement on the joint controls was reached at the recent Odessa summit by presidents Voronin, Leonid Kuchma, and Vladimir Putin, and is aimed at combating contraband. MS
The center-right has traditionally been dominated in Ukraine, as it has in other non-Russian republics of the former USSR, by parties such as Rukh that combined national and democratic demands. The reasons why cosmopolitan civic center-right parties are likely to fail are fourfold.
First, mobilization by civil society in Ukraine is only able to take place when both the national and democratic questions are united. Cosmopolitan reformist movements cannot mobilize the masses either in Ukraine, or elsewhere, because an ethnocultural basis is required in addition to democratic demands for societal mobilization.
Second, Ukraine has not gone far enough in democratization and market reform to create a large enough middle class that could underpin purely reformist or center-right parties.
Third, the liberal area of Ukraine's party system has been captured by the oligarchs. The Liberals were one of Ukraine's first postcommunist "parties of power" in the Donbas and today are members of Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc. The Inter-Regional Bloc of Reforms (MRBR), an ally of Leonid Kuchma in the 1994 election campaign, joined the Popular Democratic Party (NDP), Ukraine's first "party of power," last year.
Fourth, cosmopolitan center-right parties have not been successful in developed democracies and therefore Ukraine will not be an exception. Western center-right parties such as the Republicans in the U.S. or the Conservatives in Great Britain are also traditionally "national-democratic" in that their ideology combines patriotism, opposition to multiculturalism, and support for a market economy.
Attempts to create cosmopolitan reformist parties in Ukraine began to be seriously made in the 1998 parliamentary elections. The Social-Liberal Alliance (SLON) was created by the MRBR and the Constitutional Democrats (KDP). As a cosmopolitan reformist bloc, it campaigned in defense of "the Russian language and culture." But its election bid failed miserably and won only 0.9 percent of votes for the party list, far less than national democratic parties.
In the 2002 elections, another attempt has been made to create a center-right cosmopolitan alternative called the Winter Crop Generation (KOP). The KOP includes four parties -- KDP again, the Liberal Democrats, the Party of Private Property, and the Peasant Democrats. Of these, only the national democratic Peasant Democrats has a long background in Ukraine and some social base. The other three parties within KOP have little support or are new and unknown.
The KOP is using the same public relations specialists from Moscow who molded Russia's Union of Rightist Forces (SPS). In the 1999 Russian elections, the SPS led by former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko, Yegor Gaidar (Russia's Choice leader), and Boris Nemtsov fared well with 8.5 percent of the vote. Nemtsov, leader of the SPS, sent a statement of support to the KOP on 1 March.
Despite the support of its Russian colleagues, the KOP will not obtain the same support as the SPS obtained in Russia. Unlike the SPS, or center-right parties in the West and elsewhere, the KOP is cosmopolitan and hence does not combine traditional center-right patriotism with support for a free market. As with SLON in 1998, the KOP therefore has less than 1 percent support in all Ukrainian polls conducted since late 2001 and is highly unlikely to make it through the 4 percent barrier for party lists. Nevertheless, last week its campaign got a noticeable support boost from Labor Ukraine and the authorities.
Another problem for the KOP is that it is funded by Kuchma's son-in-law, oligarch Viktor Pinchuk, who has links to the Dnipropetrovsk-based Labor Ukraine oligarch party and parliamentary faction. Labor Ukraine is one of the five parties that make up the "party of power" -- the For a United Ukraine (ZYU) election bloc. In an attempt to woo voters away from Our Ukraine, the oligarchs are funding both the KOP and the extreme right Popular Movement for Unity. Unlike Our Ukraine, the Socialists, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the KOP is suspiciously being given blanket coverage on the main television stations controlled by oligarchs.
The KOP is the culmination of the oligarch takeover of the political center in Ukraine. Valeriy Khoroshkovskyy, the 32-year-old leader of the KOP, was an adviser to former NDP leader Valeriy Pustovoytenko, Ukraine's prime minister between 1997-1999.
However, the KOP's association with Pinchuk and, by default, the executive, has reduced its support with pro-business, younger generation supporters now provided with a nonoligarch alternative, Yabluko. Other younger generation business interests prefer to use the Green Party as their political "krysha" (roof). The KOP is therefore squeezed by Yabluko and the Greens on its liberal left and the popular Our Ukraine on its center-right. Not surprisingly, given its oligarch funding, the KOP refuses to describe itself as an opposition party, unlike Yabluko, and is critical of "social populists" and "oligarch-socialists" on its left and "conservative nationalists" on its right.
The KOP bills itself as a pro-market alternative of the younger generation and its members and election candidates are all in their 30s and 40s. Nevertheless, the KOP has been unsuccessful in targeting the youth vote. A February poll by Democratic Initiatives found that 70 percent of 18-29 year olds planned to vote in the elections, a 10 percent increase over the 1998 elections. Of those polled, 20 percent would vote for Our Ukraine, 12 percent for the Greens, 8 percent for the Social Democrats United, 6 percent for Women of the Future, and 5 percent for Yabluko. Support for the KOP was too low to record.
Perhaps the clearest indication of the artificiality of the KOP and its links to oligarchs are its foreign policy views. All center-right parties in European postcommunist states support their country's full integration into trans-Atlantic and European structures. In Ukraine this orientation is supported by national democratic parties and, therefore, by Our Ukraine. In contrast, the KOP supports the foreign policy orientation favored by oligarchic parties; namely that Ukraine should join Europe together with Russia. By linking Ukraine's European fate to Russia's, the KOP therefore supports a foreign policy orientation that consigns Ukraine indefinitely to Eurasia.Taras Kuzio is a research associate at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.
RUSSIA-UKRAINE TO BOOST ECONOMIC RELATIONS (17 MARCH) Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma agreed at a summit on 17 March to strengthen economic ties and boost trade to forge a new post-Soviet financial power to compete on European and world markets, Reuters reported. Putin said trade in energy, defense, and technology would be stepped up in what was seen as a boost for Kuchma ahead of a parliamentary election scheduled for 31 March. Putin said: "We will be able to strongly influence the development of Europe's economy, we will be taken more seriously and our own economies will be more stable." Kuchma said, "Weakness is not liked by Europe, but strength is. We can only become strong by ourselves, no one else is going to do that for us." (JMR)