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FORMER NTV JOURNALIST TAKES HIS SHOW ON THE ROAD. Savik Shuster, the former host of the popular NTV political talk show "Freedom of Speech," which was cancelled last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2004), has accepted an invitation from the Ukrainian channel ICTV to launch a similar program in Kyiv, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 22 March. Shuster was quoted as saying that he is moving to Ukraine because "there is more freedom there than in other CIS countries." He added that his program will be launched in the fall and will be devoted solely to Ukrainian issues. An ICTV spokesman told Interfax on 22 March that the channel extended the invitation to Shuster in order to raise its informational programming to Western journalistic standards. VY
OPPOSITION FIGURES SET UP RUSSIAN 'SOLIDARNOSC.' Another coordinating council for the joint actions of opposition political forces and public organizations has been established in Moscow, ITAR-TASS and RIA-Novosti reported on 21 March. State Duma deputies Sergei Glazev (Motherland), Oleg Shein (Motherland), and Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent) are organizing the new group. Shein told reporters that the organization "will be a progressive Russian analogue to the Polish Solidarnosc," referring to the Polish trade-union organization that coordinated anti-communist activity in that country in the 1980s. Glazev, a former leader of Motherland and presidential candidate, heads the For a Decent Life party. Ryzhkov is co-chairman of the Committee-2008. Also taking part are representatives of the For Human Rights movement, the Movement in Support of the Army, and the Chornobyl Union. Ryzhkov said the organizations taking part in the new council will direct the thrust of their criticism against the benefits reforms, the new Housing Code, and the reforms of the housing and public-utilities sector. He added that all methods, including street protests, will be used: "We are not afraid of the specter of an 'orange revolution,'" Ryzhkov said. JAC
UKRAINE CONTINUES ANTICORRUPTION DRIVE. Hennadiy Moskal, the deputy head of Ukraine's Interior Ministry, the MVS, announced that criminal charges have been filed against 12 former deputy heads of oblast administrations and 58 heads of raion administrations. All of the suspects are accused of bribe taking and "exceeding their authority," Interfax reported on 22 March. Moskal also stated that the head of former President Leonid Kuchma's property office, Ihor Bakay, who is believed to be in hiding, has been indicted on seven criminal charges, among them defrauding the state. The "Ukrayinska Pravda" website on 23 March posted a listing of his allegedly fraudulent dealings, which included transferring ownership of a state-owned multimillion dollar dwelling used by Kuchma as his winter dacha to an offshore company after Viktor Yushchenko won the presidential election. RK
DEFENSE COUNCIL CHIEF DEFENDS DECISION TO SACK KYIV SECURITY OFFICIAL. Petro Poroshenko, the head of the National Security and Defense Council, said President Yushchenko had "good reasons" for removing the deputy head of the country's Security Service, the SBU, Oleksander Skybynetsky, Interfax reported on 22 March. Skybynetsky was appointed by Yushchenko to be first deputy of the SBU in February. Poroshenko went on to say that if anyone disagrees with Yushchenko's decision, that person can resign. This remark was made apparently in reference to Oleksander Turchinov, the head of the SBU, who complained he had not been informed of the decision. Poroshenko told Interfax cryptically that "anyone with access to state secrets should be able to analyze the reasons for [Skybynetsky's] removal." RK
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
CLEANING UP UKRAINE. President Viktor Yushchenko's point men in the promised battle against crime and corruption in the administration of former President Leonid Kuchma have switched into high gear. On 16 March, investigations were opened in a number of cases that could result in the arrests of many of Kuchma's top managers.
On 16 March, Interfax reported that Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko revealed a list of state-owned companies that will be "thoroughly investigated for gray schemes." First on the list is Naftohaz Ukrayiny and three of its subsidiary companies. Naftohaz has long been suspected of engaging in dubious gas transportation schemes from Turkmenistan, which resulted in huge losses for the Ukrainian economy. In early March, Yuriy Boyko, appointed by Kuchma to head the state oil and gas monopoly, was fired and replaced by Oleksiy Ivchenko, a member of parliament. The investigations will be conducted by the Interior Ministry and the Security Service (SBU), along with investigators from the state Tax Administration.
Tymoshenko also named UkrSpetzExport, the state arms sales company. UkrSpetzExport has been accused of selling the Kolchuga radar system to Iraq on Kuchma's instructions and of selling cruise missiles to Iran. On 18 March, Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun admitted the cruise missiles had, in fact, been sold to China and Iran -- but without nuclear warheads.
The Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 18 March that it had questioned a number of former high officials in the Kuchma administration, including Leonid Derkach, the former head of the SBU, who is suspected of complicity in the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000 and in a range of offenses, from unauthorized wiretaps of members of parliament to illegal arms sales. Also brought in for questioning was Viktor Medvedchuk, the former head of Kuchma's administration, and Viktor Kivalov, the former head of the Central Electoral Commission. According to the Ukrainian Service of RFE/RL, both men are suspected of complicity in rigging the second round of presidential elections in 2004. Volodymyr Lytvyn, the speaker of parliament, was also questioned in conjunction with the Gongadze case, in which he is suspected of complicity in kidnapping.
Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko announced on 16 March that an arrest warrant has been issued for Russian businessman Maksim Kurochkin on charges of complicity in a massive scheme to defraud the state, the Ukrainian Service of RFE/RL reported. The case concerns the illegal transfer from state ownership of a number of properties by Ihor Bakay, the former head of Naftohaz, who, in his role as head of Kuchma's presidential property office, is alleged to have illegally transferred millions of dollars worth of property to Kurochkin prior to the election campaign of 2004. Kurochkin was the deputy head of the so-called Russian Club in Kyiv, established by Russian political consultant Gleb Pavlovskii, which lobbied on behalf of former prime minister and presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych. Kurochkin, according to Lutsenko, is also wanted on unspecified criminal charges. Sources in Kyiv believe these might be related to Yushchenko's dioxin poisoning. On 17 March, Kurochkin denied these charges and called them "politically motivated." Pavlovskii also has been accused of plotting the poisoning but also denies any involvement.
Ihor Bakay, who was under investigation in the past for a variety of offenses, among them defrauding the Russian gas company Itera of millions of dollars and of using Naftohaz funds to help pay for Kuchma's 1999 election campaign, is said to have fled to Russia. The earlier investigation was headed by then Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun who at the time never completed his investigation of Bakay.
On 15 March, the Gongadze case picked up momentum, and the head of the SBU, Oleksander Turchynov, announced that Kuchma might be prosecuted. Turchynov also stated that Mykola Melnychenko -- one of Kuchma's former bodyguards who said he made secret tapes implicating Kuchma in Gongadze's murder -- has been given assurances of his personal safety by President Viktor Yushchenko when he returns to Ukraine to testify in the case, but that he first has to turn over to the government all of his recordings, as well as the devices used to record the conversations. After these are authenticated, they will be introduced as evidence.
Viktor Pynzenyk, the minister of finance, announced on 15 March that Yanukovych's former government must say how it spent $3.2 billion, which remains unaccounted for from last year's budget. The funds missing include money earmarked for the construction of a new bridge over the Dnipro River, the construction of a new highway from Kyiv to Odessa, and a line of credit to the Pivdenmash enterprise in Dnipropetrovsk.
A new investigation by the Interior Ministry has shown that former Railways Minister Heorhiy Kirpa might have been responsible for embezzling tens of millions of dollars earmarked for the new bridge, construction on which stopped months ago. Kirpa, who committed suicide after the election, is believed to have funneled ministry money to the Yanukovych campaign.
As these events were unfolding, Kuchma gave an interview on 16 March to the Russian newspaper "Vremya novostei," in which he again claimed that the Melnychenko tapes are fake and were part of a plot to depose him. He criticized the government for dropping charges against Melnychenko in return for his cooperation in the investigation. Kuchma gave a somewhat contradictory explanation when he stated that, "[Melnychenko] committed an illegal act by taping the office, and he should be held responsible for this." (Roman Kupchinsky)
"When I was considering the appointment of a prime minister, I quarreled with anyone I could, with anyone I met on the street...I proposed that some comrades, realistic candidates [for the premiership], outline three conceptions for forming the government and other [power] institutions with [their] leaders. I myself set to working out these three conceptions. It took me nearly two weeks. Subsequently, there was a final part. I set the following conditions to some candidates: You have 24 hours and two sheets of blank paper. Please write down how you see your role if the prime minister is someone else, not you. I had in mind the harmonization of the system. I had in mind the leadership of the government, the parliament, and the [National Security and] Defense Council. When on the following day none of them presented such a paper to me, I said: 'Under such circumstances, I'm going to make a personal decision.' And before we flew to Moscow [on 24 January], I said I did not want the Ukrainian nation to have an impression that I was going to Moscow to get agreement on a prime minister. Therefore, I made the decision on [Yuliya] Tymoshenko as prime minister in the airport, to demonstrate [that the decision was made transparently and locally]." -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on his appointment of Tymoshenko as prime minister, in an interview with the Moscow-based "Kommersant-Daily" on 18 March.
"I made my decision at the very start: There can be no talk of a third [presidential] term [for me]. I'm a realist. I did not want to place Ukraine in the situation of a pariah in the democratic world...I and [Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka] are in different weight categories. The market for Belarusian goods is basically in Russia. But they have problems anyway. Ukraine's production cannot be 'digested' by Russia, which can take no more than 30 percent of what we produce. Therefore, we cannot find ourselves in economic isolation." -- Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in an interview with the Moscow-based "Vremya novostei" on 16 March.
"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.