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UKRAINE MARKS INDEPENDENCE DAY WITH MILITARY PARADE. Some 5,000 troops, without military hardware, took part in a military parade in Kyiv on 24 August to celebrate Ukraine's 13th anniversary of independence, Ukrainian media reported. Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk, who opened the parade with a speech, praised the contribution of Ukrainian troops to peacekeeping all over the world. "Our country is convincingly demonstrating its aspiration to be an influential participant in the global system of collective security," Marchuk said. "Over 22,000 Ukrainian servicemen have taken part in peacekeeping operations since independence. More than 3,000 servicemen are serving with dignity on peacekeeping missions in five countries of the world." JM
POLL SAYS YUSHCHENKO, YANUKOVYCH CONTINUE TO LEAD UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE. According to a poll held by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KMIS) from 7-15 August, 30 percent of respondents intend to vote for Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko and 25 percent for Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in the 31 October presidential elections, Interfax reported on 25 August. A similar KMIS poll one month earlier recorded the same level of support for Yushchenko and Yanukovych. JM
U.S. 'CONCERNED' ABOUT UKRAINIAN CANAL IN DANUBE DELTA. U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said on 24 August that the United States expressed concern over the Bystraya Canal project in May and remains concerned "about the environmental impact" of the Danube Delta canal "and by the lack of action by the government of Ukraine to be responsive to its treaty obligations and to the positions stated by other countries and the international organizations," AFP and AP reported. Ereli said that the United States "continue[s] to urge" Ukraine "to ensure that this...ecologically sensitive resource be fully protected and preserved." On 23 August, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana asked the UN to appoint an international commission to investigate the canal's environmental impact, Mediafax reported. On 24 August, over 200 demonstrators picketed the Ukrainian Embassy in Bucharest protesting the construction of the canal. The same day, Ukraine sent Bucharest a report on the project's likely environmental impact, but the Romanian Environment Ministry said the report was incomplete and did not refer to effects on the Danube Delta's fauna. MS
RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
A Survey of Developments in Belarus and Ukraine by the Regional Specialists of RFE/RL's Newsline Team
KUCHMA LEAVES HIS POLITICAL BEQUEST. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma delivered an important speech at a gala meeting in Kyiv on 23 August, the eve of the 13th anniversary of Ukraine's independence.
Taking into account that Ukraine is expected to see a new president in the next three months, this was probably the last major occasion for the incumbent to sum up the decade of his rule. Kuchma took full advantage of this opportunity to highlight what he considers to be the most important achievements of his two-term presidency. Simultaneously, he made a sort of political bequest, speculating on how "Ukraine without Kuchma" should develop over the next 10 years.
Kuchma stressed at the beginning of his speech that after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine's historic challenge was the "most unique" among all post-Soviet and Eastern European countries. According to him, Ukraine's transformation in the early years of independence resembled a "wandering in the wilderness." Consequently, Kuchma credited himself with setting the determined course -- after his first election in 1994 -- to build Ukrainian statehood, introduce a market economy, form a democratic civil society, and make the Ukrainians a "self-contained political nation."
Kuchma noted that Ukraine will need a "few decades more" to reach these four ambitious goals. Therefore, he called on his successor to continue the same political course. "The length of the process of Ukraine's transformation objectively requires that we ensure continuity in the political course," Kuchma said. "The next decade must be -- and I am convinced that it will be -- a continuation and not a change, not a rejection of the decade that is ending. I repeat, not a rejection and not a change, but a continuation."
It is no secret that Kuchma sees such a continuation in a Viktor Yanukovych presidency, rather than in that of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko or any other hopeful challenging Prime Minister Yanukovych's presidential bid. Indeed, Kuchma denigrated the Ukrainian opposition in his speech as "political pygmies," jeering that it is striving to come to power under the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" slogan, which was adopted by the opposition for a string of anti-Kuchma rallies in 2000-02. "They expose themselves to ridicule, as a minimum because the incumbent president is not participating in the elections," Kuchma said. "But I can assure all of my compatriots on one point -- there will never be Kuchma without Ukraine."
As on many earlier occasions, Kuchma credited himself with laying the basis for Ukraine's European integration. "Europeization has already become a national idea [in Ukraine]," he emphasized. He upbraided the EU for proposing the European Neighborhood Policy rather than associate membership for Ukraine. "The status of a geographical neighbor of unified Europe -- which is persistently proposed to us by some Europeans -- contradicts our interests," Kuchma said. "I am deeply convinced that the development of our relations under the principles of association [with the EU] will meet both Ukrainian and EU interests."
In this European context, Kuchma defended his policy of developing a strategic partnership with Russia. "The stable relations with our strategic partner Russia -- which are built on friendly, partner-like principles -- are not a minus in our relations with Europe, as we are reproached by our opposition from the right wing; but a big plus, and its real meaning, I am convinced, will soon be realized by politicians not only in Kyiv, but also in Brussels and Washington," Kuchma said.
Traditionally, Kuchma has praised his government for achieving and maintaining impressive economic growth. Kuchma said the country's GDP increased by 13.5 percent in the first seven months of 2004 compared with the same period in 2003, which entailed a 15 percent increase in the real incomes of the population. According to Kuchma, the average monthly wage in Ukraine stands at 600 hryvnyas ($113) versus 181 hryvnyas in 2000, while the average monthly pension is equal to 220 hryvnyas (66 hryvnyas in 2000).
Many, if not all, of Kuchma's self-gratulatory assertions in his 23 August address have been or are being questioned by the Ukrainian opposition and independent Ukrainian observers as well as ordinary Ukrainians.
As regards the country's economic boom, it is necessary to mention the opinion of Yushchenko, former prime minister and head of the National Bank. According to Yushchenko, the 13.5 percent growth in 2004 has not translated into rising living standards in Ukraine -- during the first seven months budget revenues rose only by 1.8 percent. Yushchenko admits that Ukrainians are experiencing some improvement in their financial situation but adds that this has been achieved primarily due to the 2003 budget's "hidden revenues" that are now being spent by the government as a "bribe" to voters for their support for Yanukovych's presidential bid.
Yushchenko also questions Kuchma's claim that Ukraine has already laid a basis for a viable democratic system. "The choice facing voters this fall is very clear," Yushchenko wrote in an international edition of "The Wall Street Journal" on 24 August. "On the one hand, my vision for Ukraine proposes a system founded on democratic European values, which will enable each citizen to realize their socioeconomic potential in a country governed by the rule of law. On the other hand, those from the ruling regime propose preserving the current autocracy, which rules over competing financial-industrial groups. Their corrupt government bureaucrats implement unpopular policies with no respect for individual liberties and basic human rights."
Moreover, a recent poll by the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies found that nearly half of Ukrainians -- 48.7 percent -- believe that their country is not independent, while only 38.1 percent think it is. Further casting doubts on Kuchma's picture of Ukraine under his rule, 50 percent of respondents said the country's level of economic development has declined since 1991. An even larger number of respondents, 61.5 percent, claimed that living standards in Ukraine have worsened during the 13 years of independence.
In other words, a majority of Ukrainians may not desire the political continuity Kuchma spoke of in his Independence Day speech. But it is anybody's guess as to whether they will identify Yanukovych as an agent of such continuity and Yushchenko as a new, better start for Ukraine on 31 October when they go to the polls. (Jan Maksymiuk)
"In my original profession [as manager of a rocket-building plant], I
used to launch the most sophisticated products of human genius into
outer space. But it [also] has fallen to my lot to feel the greatest
happiness that can be bestowed upon a man -- to launch my native
country into a circumterrestrial orbit of modern civilization when,
following a call of history, the imperishable genes of great and
proud ancestors resounded suddenly in the Russified heart of the son
of a soldier from the Chernihiv region. Even today I am not
indifferent to how the decade of my presidency will be recorded in
history." -- Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in a speech in Kyiv on
23 August to mark the 13th anniversary of Ukraine's independence;
quoted by Kuchma's official website
"We have raised our state from ruins, we have raised our people from their knees. It was a back-breaking task, but it has elevated us, the first Ukrainian state-builders." -- Kuchma, ibid.
"RFE/RL 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.