Ukraine's Political Crisis
His Excellency Boris Tarasyuk
Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine
The September 2000 disappearance of the preeminent critic of the Ukrainian regime, journalist Georgiy Gougadze, and the November 2000 disclosure of cassette tapes that alluded to the involvement of President Kouchma and his law-enforcement chief in Gougadze's disappearance, stirred up great indignation in our society. Protests by the people led to the most serious crisis in Ukraine's political system in the 10 years of its independent development. The Gougadze case and the tape scandal are only some of the symptoms of the sickness that has seriously affected power in Ukraine.
This sickness, or crisis, has a systemic and complex character, and it is important to distinguish between power in the administration and power in the government.
- Within the executive arena there has been constant criticism by President Kouchma throughout 16 months of the most successful government in Ukraine's history.
- Within the legislative arena there has been a disruption of the fragile non-left majority that appeared in January 2000. The voting on April 26, 2001, resulted in the end of this majority and the emergence of the new one, composed of communists and oligarchs.
- There is tension between the executive and the legislative power, which the voting demonstrated clearly.
- There is tension between the power base and society, as shown by the peaceful protests and demands for truth that were met with the ruthless use of force against the protesters, with a lack of professionalism, and with a reluctance to talk with the opposition.
THE YUSHCHENKO GOVERNMENT
On 26 April 2001, Verkhovua Rada expressed its lack of confidence by 263 votes, which were mainly cast by communists and oligarchs. This was done despite the obvious successes and achievements of the government of Victor Yushchenko. Under Yushchenko, for the first time in our contemporary history, Ukraine witnessed real economic growth: the GDP grew by 6% and for four months of the year grew by 8%, and industrial output grew by 12.9%. The government of Victor Yushchenko also paid all back-pension monies owed and started regular payments to government employees, including those in the armed forces. A gradual reduction of the arrears accumulated by previous governments was started as well. Mr. Yushchenko's government successfully restructured foreign debt and in 2000 reduced it by more than $2.5 billion. It also started conceptual and structural reform of the energy sector and introduced transparency into the privatization process as well as considerably reduced barter operations.
In the wake of parliamentary hearings, national democratic parties organized public campaigns in support of Victor Yushchenko and collected 3.6 million signatures from throughout Ukraine in less than a month. Public opinion polls showed 63% in support of Yushchenko as Prime Minister. Why, then, was this government ousted? It was ousted because its policy was contrary to the basic interests of both communists and oligarchs. The successes of the government undermined the ability of the communists to speculate on hardships and threatened their popularity among their supporters (around 20% of the electors). Its policy destroyed the oligarchs' ability to profit by doing nothing and from gaining from the shadow economy. The president did nothing to prevent a no-confidence vote through parties controlled by him because of the growing popularity of Victor Yushchenko. If presidential elections were held in Ukraine now, 27.5% of the votes would be cast in favor of Victor Yushchenko, 12.9% for P. Simovenko (the leader of the communists), and only 7.7% for Kouchma. Yushchenko received .6 of the votes (out of 1.0) as the most popular politician and Kouchma received .07!
CONTINUING ISSUES IN UKRAINE
The opposition in Ukraine is very weak and dispersed, with different, even opposing, ideological platforms. Protest campaigns that peaked in February and March of 2001 (the Forum of National Salvation, the "Ukraine without Kouchma" movement, and the "Ukraine for Truth" movement) had no serious effect on the administration. We continue to see serious problems throughout the country:
- There are obvious deficiencies in our political structure.
- An unstructured society produced an unstructured parliament.
- The rule of law is weak.
- Public apathy is widespread (only 1% of those polled would join active protests).
- Freedom of the press is under constant pressure; the environment is hostile to the mass media. I believe that nothing will change until after the March 2002 parliamentary elections. Then a new government will be created. A new democratic coalition is currently being formed, one that will be led by Victor Yushchenko and has a good chance of ensuring that the elections will be fair and not pervaded by mass fraud, as was the case in previous presidential elections. This democratic coalition will be able to hold a majority of the parliament and counterbalance the unconstitutional deeds of the president.
INTERNATIONAL EFFECTS OF UKRAINE'S INTERNAL POLITICAL CRISIS
Ukraine's relationships with major international institutions has deteriorated as never before. The EU and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) have expressed strong criticism, and PACE has threatened to exclude Ukrainian delegations from its membership and even from membership in the Council of Europe. The EU has also expressed serious concern. In addition, the IMF is still debating whether to resume the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) program to Ukraine. NATO seemingly has no problems with its relationship with Ukraine.
As to the relationship between Ukraine and Russia, in the midst of Ukraine's crisis, Russia is demanding concessions in exchange for its political support. The Russian presence is becoming more visible: special interests and efforts are being devoted to oil refineries, oil pipelines, a gas transportation network, metallurgical enterprises, the energy sector, and the mass media. The aluminum industry is already controlled by Russian companies. There have also been political and military concessions- change in Euro-Atlantic orientation, military activity in relation to the EU, pressure against the Pope's visit, an aggressive mass media campaign against Victor Yushchenko. Russia's attempts to influence Ukraine directly rather than through financial and political groups of influence in Ukraine are even more visible. GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova) might be one of the victims of our internal crisis because of pressure from Russia.