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END NOTE: IS UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER IN LINE TO BECOME
PARLIAMENTARY MAJORITY CLAIMS IT HAS THE VOTES TO AMEND UKRAINE'S CONSTITUTION. Stepan Havrysh, coordinator of the pro-government majority in the Verkovna Rada, told the Inter television channel on 15 January that his bloc controls the 300 votes needed to pass a constitutional-reform bill stipulating that the legislature elect the president in 2006. "The Ukrainian nation is currently expecting this reform. I am absolutely convinced of this," Havrysh said. Meanwhile, Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko told journalists the same day that the parliamentary opposition will do everything possible to prevent constitutional changes envisaging the parliamentary election of the president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2004). JM
IS UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER IN LINE TO BECOME TRANSITIONAL STRONGMAN?
Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk plans to run in Ukraine's presidential election in October, "Ukrayinska pravda" reported on 6 January, citing fellow opposition newspaper "Postup," which claimed it was leaked this information by senior Defense Ministry officers.
As a presidential candidate, Marchuk could serve to ally outgoing President Leonid Kuchma's and oligarchs' fears regarding their fate in the post-Kuchma era. Marchuk, who is seen by Western governments and international organizations as pro-Western and pro-NATO, would also have a better image than leading pro-Kuchma politicians, such as Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who hails from the pro-Russian Donbas and is tied to Ukraine's wealthiest oligarch, Renat Akhmetov.
Marchuk's career has spanned Ukraine's entire post-Soviet history. In 1991-94 he was chairman of the Security Service (SBU), a position he inherited because of his long background in Soviet Ukraine's KGB. Marchuk was prime minister in 1995-96 but was sacked after falling afoul of President Leonid Kuchma.
In the 1998 parliamentary elections, Marchuk was among the first five candidates on the Social Democratic Party-united's (SDPU-o) list, alongside former President Leonid Kravchuk and party leader Viktor Medvedchuk. It was not until the following year's presidential election that the SDPU-o aligned with Kuchma.
During the 1999 presidential elections, Marchuk played a spoiler role similar to that played by the late General Aleksandr Lebed in the 1996 Russian presidential ballot. Marchuk's rhetoric, political niche, and allies were similar to those later espoused by populist nationalist Yuliya Tymoshenko, first in the National Salvation Front and then in the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc.
Marchuk was co-opted in the second round of the 1999 elections and named secretary of the National Security and Defense Council (NRBO), a position he held until 2003. In this position he was not trusted by Kuchma, and because of this Kuchma did not permit the NRBO to play the same kind of significant role in Ukrainian politics and security affairs that it had under Kuchma's trusted ally, Volodymyr Horbulin, from 1995-99.
The reasons for Kuchma's distrust were twofold. First, Marchuk's anti-Kuchma rhetoric in the 1999 elections was as radical as that emanating from Ukraine's most radical oppositionist, Tymoshenko. Second, a conflict emerged between Marchuk and the clan of Leonid Derkach, who headed the SBU in 1997-2001. Dekach's son Andrei is a leading businessman in the Dnipropetrovsk-based Labor Ukraine clan. As secretary of the NRBO, Marchuk accused the Derkachs of involvement in the illegal-arms trade.
Marchuk represented an "opposition" wing within the SBU to the officers grouped around Derkach until Derkach was forced to resign during the height of the Kuchmagate scandal in February 2001. It is this role that has led some Western observers and some members of the Ukrainian ruling elite to suspect that Marchuk either knew of but did nothing, or directed through intermediaries, the bugging of Kuchma's office in 1999-2000 by presidential security officer Mykola Melnychenko.
Like his predecessor at the NRBO, Marchuk has always been a staunch advocate of Ukraine's membership of NATO. As deputy prime minister in charge of national security in 1994-95, he earned a reputation in Moscow of being a tough operator vis-a-vis Crimean separatists and with Russia in negotiations over the Black Sea Fleet. The NRBO's decision in May 2002 to announce publicly Ukraine's goal of NATO membership was Marchuk's initiative.
There are a handful of scenarios that could explain why Marchuk would seek the presidency this year. First, his candidacy could be a sign of desperation by the authorities because they have failed to find a neutral candidate who can stand above Ukraine's three main clans and is popular enough to win the elections. Kuchma's distrust of Marchuk might be less significant now than the latter's potential usefulness in Ukraine's transition to the post-Kuchma era. It is in the interests of presidential administration head Medvedchuk to convince President Kuchma of Marchuk's newfound usefulness.
The pro-presidential parliamentary majority will be focusing its efforts on adopting constitutional changes before the elections. Marchuk has privately stated that an unspecified "radical step" will be taken in March. Marchuk could either be the authorities' sole neutral candidate, or he could run alongside a second candidate, Prime Minister Yanukovych. The SDPU-o would not view as a positive step the election as president of either Yanukovych or popular reformer Viktor Yushchenko.
Second, constitutional changes might be adopted that provide for presidential elections this year, but for parliament to elect future presidents after a new legislature is elected in 2006. These are the constitutional changes favored by the Communists, whose 59 votes are needed by the pro-presidential majority to effect the changes.
Any president elected this year would therefore automatically become a transitional president whose term in office would only last from November 2004-March 2006. Marchuk could be positioning himself as a potential interim president who would take Ukraine into the post-Kuchma era until a new president is elected by parliament. This role would seek to assuage fears by Kuchma and his oligarchic allies (particularly Medvedchuk) of their possible fate if Yushchenko were to win the election without constitutional changes, in which case he would inherit Kuchma's extensive range of powers.
Third, given that Marchuk would have little possibility of winning the election, he could play the role of a "spoiler" candidate and take votes from others. In the 1999 elections Marchuk took votes from Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz that deprived the latter of the chance to enter the second round, where Kuchma -- had he faced Moroz rather than Communist leader Petro Symonenko -- might have lost.
Marchuk's pro-NATO orientation would be beneficial to the authorities insofar as the West would perceive him as less of a stark alternative to Yushchenko. In addition, as defense minister and through his links to the SBU, Marchuk would attract the votes of the 1 million voters in the various security forces, as well as again take votes from the Socialists and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc. And in a second round, Marchuk would be in a position to transfer his support to another candidate from the authorities, just as he did in the 1999 elections.