The legitimacy of Viktor Yushchenko’s victory in the Ukrainian presidential election last December has been called into question by reports suggesting that Russian maverick tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who lives in self-imposed exile in London, financed Yushchenko’s election campaign. The allegations have even led to calls for impeachment. Yushchenko, who was on a visit to the United States when the scandal erupted, flatly denied the charges. But his and his team’s reputations have been seriously tarnished. This may complicate for them the task of winning the March 2006 parliamentary polls that are expected to bring stiff competition between Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine coalition and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc. Yushchenko’s allies suspect collusion between Tymoshenko and Berezovsky.
The scandal was triggered by Ukraine’s first president Leonid Kravchuk, a leader of the fiercely anti-Yushchenko Social Democratic Party United (SDPUo), who announced on September 14 that Berezovsky had confirmed to him that funds from his companies’ accounts were transferred to Yushchenko’s entourage last year. Kravchuk told a press conference that he had called Berezovsky in London after seeing on the Internet-Reporter website (rep-ua.com) copies of documents indicating transfers amounting to $15 million from Berezovsky “to finance the triumph of democracy in Ukraine.” Berezovsky admitted that the transfers took place. Kravchuk called on parliament to impeach Yushchenko if it is confirmed that Berezovsky financed his election.
Yushchenko’s close allies denied the charge and hurried to accuse Tymoshenko, who Yushchenko sacked on September 8, of plotting against him. The leader of the Our Ukraine faction in parliament, Mykola Martynenko, warned against “an anti-presidential pool that is being formed” by Tymoshenko, Berezovsky, and SDPUo leader Viktor Medvedchuk. Emergencies Minister Davyd Zhvaniya, however, claimed that Berezovsky had financed not Yushchenko, but Tymoshenko. Reaction from Yushchenko, because of the time difference, did not reach Ukraine until September 15. “I did not discuss funding my election campaign either with Ukrainian, Russian, or any other businessmen,” Yushchenko told journalists in New York.
Berezovsky was immediately available for comment to Ukrainian and foreign news outlets. He confirmed what he had told Kravchuk by phone. Berezovsky’s numerous interviews, which he gave over September 14-16, can be summed up as follows:
Yushchenko personally and his trusted men Zhvaniya, Oleksandr Tretyakov (now Yushchenko’s first aide), and Roman Bezsmertny (now deputy prime minister) asked Berezovsky for help in 2003-2004.
The transfer of $15 million did take place, period. Berezovsky would not say more until he learns Yushchenko’s and his team’s reaction.
Berezovsky “supported” the Orange Revolution, but he neither confirms nor denies that his support was financial.
The information about the transfer was leaked to the web by Russian special services.
Zhvaniya told Berezovsky that Tymoshenko would be sidelined after the Orange Revolution.
Tymoshenko’s dismissal as prime minister was masterminded by Russia and was bad for Ukraine.
Tymoshenko never asked Berezovsky for help, and he never gave money to her.
Berezovsky has never concealed his support for the Orange Revolution and his lively interest in Ukrainian affairs. But it is not clear what motivates this particular interest. Berezovsky himself has said on several occasions that the Orange Revolution’s success in Ukraine would help trigger a regime change in Russia, so by supporting the Orange Revolution he is helping Russia get rid of Vladimir Putin. But the analytical Ukrainian weekly Zerkalo nedeli has suggested that Berezovsky invested in the Orange Revolution expecting dividends. As nobody rewarded him with stakes in lucrative Ukrainian enterprises in return for his support, Berezovsky organized the leak on the web about the transfer of money to people from Yushchenko’s team, but abstained from openly admitting that he financed Yushchenko’s victory in a hope that he still might be rewarded, according to Zerkalo nedeli. If this is the case, it amounts to blackmail.
The scandal around financing the Orange Revolution coincided with two serious attacks on Yushchenko’s team by Tymoshenko’s most faithful allies. On September 14, former member of parliament Mykhaylo Brodsky claimed, in an interview to Inter TV, that Zhvaniya had prepared an attempt on Tymoshenko’s life at the final stage of the Orange Revolution in order to prevent her from becoming prime minister. Brodsky claimed that Berezovsky was aware of this, yet Berezovsky denied it. On September 15, Tymoshenko’s right-hand man Oleksandr Turchynov, who resigned as Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) chief after Tymoshenko’s dismissal, leveled fresh accusations of corruption against Yushchenko and his team. He accused Yushchenko’s people, including Tretyakov and former National Security and Defense Council Secretary Petro Poroshenko, of pressure on courts, extortion, and lobbying for middlemen in buying natural gas from Turkmenistan. Turchynov also accused Yushchenko of stalling the investigation into his own poisoning a year ago by refusing to undergo tests. Yushchenko, Tretyakov, and Poroshenko flatly denied the charges, and accused Turchynov of abusing his stint in the SBU in order to further his political goals.
(Interfax-Ukraine, Channel 5, Inter TV, September 14; Ukrayinska pravda, September 14, 15; Segodnya, Kommersant-Ukraina, Ukraina TV, September 15; Holos Ukrainy, ICTV, September 16; Zerkalo nedeli, September 17)