Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 144

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has authorized the dismissal of Crimean Premier Serhy Kunitsyn, who was voted out of the office by Crimean legislature on July 18. Appointed in May 1998, Kunitsyn was the longest-serving head of the Crimean executive. Under him, the Crimea saw a decrease in crime rate and a reversal of negative economic trends, ethnic tension between local Russians and Crimean Tatars returning from a half-century exile somewhat relieved, and Crimea’s pro-Russian movement tamed. The dismissal of Kunitsyn, who is head of the Crimean branch of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), is a consequence of the waning clout of this one-time “party of power” across Ukraine. There are fears that situation in Crimea may again destabilize.

For several years, Crimea has been governed by a duo–Kunitsyn and the leader of Crimea’s Communists, local parliament speaker Leonid Hrach. This reflected a delicate balance of power between pro-Kuchma forces and the Communists, who control about half of the local parliament. Hrach being the stronger of the two, Kuchma on several occasions had to intervene to defend Kunitsyn from Communist attempts to dismiss him. According to the constitution, the legislature of the Crimean Autonomous Republic cannot dismiss the premier without consent from the Ukrainian president.

Before the Communists formed a stable majority in Crimea’s parliament, Kunitsyn’s position was propped up by the pro-Kyiv forces in it, which included the PDP. After Valery Pustovoytenko was dismissed as Ukrainian premier in late 1999, however, the PDP lost its former influence. In May of 2000, Crimea’s parliament voted no confidence in Kunitsyn. Only a threat from Kyiv to dissolve the Crimean legislature saved him from dismissal.

On June 20 of this year, the Crimean parliament again voted no confidence in Kunitsyn. On July 18, the same fifty-five MPs in the 100-seat body voted for his dismissal. Kunitsyn refused to resign. But this time Kyiv did not intervene. On July 23, Kuchma’s spokesman Oleksandr Martynenko explained that the time had come to end the squabbles between the Crimean government and parliament. The reality of the situation, however, is more complicated: Another pro-Kyiv group has taken the upper hand in Crimea’s power wrangling.

Kyiv will certainly not cede the Crimean executive to the Communists. In sanctioning Kunitsyn’s dismissal, Kuchma was opting to back what he apparently believes to be now the strongest non-Communist party in Crimea, Labor Ukraine. It was the twelve Labor Ukraine ballots in the no-confidence vote that decided Kunitsyn’s fate. Kuchma backed the nomination of Labor Ukraine’s Valery Horbatov to the post of Crimean prime minister. On July 25, Horbatov was elected as Crimea’s new premier by a 92-1 vote. Horbatov, 46, is seasoned in Crimean politics, having served as presidential representative to Crimea in 1994-1996 and as chairman of the Crimean Property Fund in 1997.

Labor Ukraine’s prominent role in sacking Kunitsyn will without doubt spoil relations between it and the PDP. The two parties had announced plans to go to the Ukrainian elections of March 2002 in a single bloc. On July 18, the PDP press service issued a statement accusing Kunitsyn’s opponents, including Labor Ukraine’s representatives, of destabilizing the situation in Crimea to redistribute property and power there with an eye to the elections (New Channel TV, June 20, July 25; UNIAN, July 18-19; Ukrainska Pravda, July 23; Den, July 25).

The Monitor is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation. It is researched and written under the direction of senior analysts Jonas Bernstein, Vladimir Socor, Stephen Foye, and analysts Ilya Malyakin, Oleg Varfolomeyev and Ilias Bogatyrev. If you have any questions regarding the content of the Monitor, please contact the foundation. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at, by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4516 43rd Street NW, Washington DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of the Monitor is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation Site Maintenance by Johnny Flash Productions