Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 57

On March 15, Ukrainian parliamentary deputy Oleksandr Yelyashkevych called a press conference to say that the country’s governing elite may be resorting to dirty tactics to win in the upcoming Verkhovna Rada elections. An employee of President Leonid Kuchma’s administration, who preferred to remain anonymous, he said, supplied him with a copy of a letter that constituted evidence of this. The letter, allegedly written by Agriculture Minister Ivan Kyrylenko, head of the For United Ukraine [FUU] bloc headquarters, was addressed to the chief of Kuchma’s office, Volodymyr Lytvyn, head of the FUU. A supplement to the letter, Yelyashkevych claimed, contained detailed instructions on the March 31 election rigging.

Yelyashkevych did make a point of saying that he could not guarantee the papers’ authenticity. But as a chairman of the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) ad-hoc commission monitoring the elections, he thought it was his duty to make it public. According to the supplement, secret agreements with financiers of former Premier Viktor Yushchenko’s front-running Our Ukraine bloc were the means of fragmenting the bloc in the future Rada to make Yushchenko “more controllable and predictable.” The Central Electoral Commission (CEC) and local administrations were to be instructed, among other things, to complicate registration at polling stations for “observers from destructive forces” and disrupt the electronic vote count for several hours “to check the results.” The CEC, the law enforcement agencies and national television were to use “kompromat” against radical oppositionists Oleksandr Moroz and Yulia Tymoshenko and try to cancel their registrations. The tax authorities and the CEC were to work together to cancel the registration of other oppositionists. To forestall any accusations of bias, the CEC was also to disqualify several unimportant candidates running on the lists of pro-government parties.

Yelyashkevych’s allegations–virtually ignored by central media and newspapers and denied, with ostentatious indignation, by both Lytvyn and CEC chairman Mykhaylo Ryabets–were probably designed as a preventive measure. But, less than a week later, they look more like a futile attempt to prevent the inevitable. Critics of the government have interpreted certain events as an all-out offensive against opposition candidates.

On March 16, ICTV, which is controlled by Kuchma’s son-in-law Viktor Pinchuk, broadcast a documentary on the tape scandal early last year alleging that Yushchenko stood to benefit from the scandal implicating Kuchma in criminal activities. It was also alleged that the protests were sponsored by the United States. The film was directed by Charles Clover, a journalist who ran a series of reports critical of Yushchenko in the Financial Times when Yushchenko was prime minister. After the broadcast, Yushchenko threatened to sue the film producers. Volodymyr Chemerys, one of the protest leaders, who had been interviewed by Clover for the film, said that Clover had misinterpreted his statements on U.S. connections. He also threatened a lawsuit.

Also on March 16, the Kyiv city prosecutor’s office charged two judges of the Pechersky district court, Mykola Zamkovenko and Olga Pervushyna, of abuse of office. The judges were paying the price for their rulings in Yulia Tymoshenko’s favor. Zamkovenko, who is now running as an opposition candidate from a single-seat constituency in Kyiv, ruled void the fraud charges against Tymoshenko by the Prosecutor General’s Office and released her from prison a year ago. More recently, Pervushyna canceled the ban on travel that the prosecution had imposed on Tymoshenko. Released from prison and free to travel, Tymoshenko seized the opportunity, and her bloc’s ratings began to grow.

Kiev prosecutors also accused Yevhen Chervonenko, who is believed to be one of Yushchenko’s campaign financiers, of failure to obey a court ruling to stop grain sales at artificially low prices at a time when he chaired the State Reserve in the Yushchenko government. Last weekend, propresidential television channels also reported a rumor that Chervonenko had an Israeli passport. Dual citizenship is forbidden in Ukraine. Chervonenko denied being an Israeli citizen.

On March 17, state television “reminded” viewers in a long prime-time report that the Prosecutor General’s Office suspected Tymoshenko of embezzlement and was investigating her alleged ties to former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko, who has been charged with moneylaundering in the United States.

On March 18, the CEC cancelled the registration of nineteen candidates from Yulia Tymoshenko’s list, including former Soviet dissident Stepan Khmara, eleven candidates from the Communist Party list, eight from radical Marxist Natalia Vitrenko’s list and nine from the populist Yabluko party list (including Yabluko leaders Mykhaylo Brodsky and Viktor Chayka). The CEC explained that errors were found in the disqualified candidates’ income declarations. As Yelyashkevych had forecast, the CEC also disqualified several low-key candidates from the pro-government Women for the Future, the Green Party and the United Social Democratic Party. It is easy enough for the CEC and tax authorities to find fault with income declarations. Ukraine’s tax legislation is imperfect, and Ukrainians are still learning to fill in tax declarations, which were introduced only a few years ago (Inter TV, March 15; ICTV, March 16, 19; UT-1, March 17; Ukrainska Pravda, March 15, 18; Forum, March 18; UNIAN, New Channel TV, March 19).