Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 87

The leader of Crimea’s communists, Leonid Hrach, has lost both his parliamentary speakership and his seat in the Crimean legislature. When, on April 19, Ukraine’s Supreme Court overruled Hrach’s disqualification from the Crimean election for a faulty property declaration, it seemed as if Hrach would continue to rule in Crimea (see the Monitor, April 23). Yet, on April 25, the same Simferopol court that had disqualified Hrach in February ruled his election to the Crimean parliament on March 31 illegal, arguing that the disqualification was still in force at the time of the election. A repeat election would be conducted in the constituency where Hrach “won.”

But Hrach appealed against the new disqualification and his allies in the Crimean electoral commission stood by him. On April 27, nine out of the commission’s fourteen members voted against invalidating Hrach’s election. Hrach had hoped to win re-election as Crimean speaker at the newly elected Crimean legislature’s first sitting on April 29. As speaker, no matter how tenuous the position, it would have been easier for him to continue the legal battle.

It would have been. But, on April 29, his candidacy for speaker was supported by only 22 votes in the 100-seat Crimean legislature. Former first deputy speaker Borys Deych won the day with 52 votes. Deych, also the former director of a Crimean holiday resort, was on Kuchma’s Crimean team in the 1999 presidential election. On the same day, Hrach’s archrival Serhy Kunitsyn, Kuchma’s adviser on Crimean issues, was elected as Crimean prime minister in a vote of 64 to 0. He returned to the post he had held from May 1998 until July 2001, when Crimea’s communists voted him out of office (see the Monitor, July 27, 2001). Valery Horbatov, who has served as Crimean premier since then, is leaving Crimea. On March 31, he was elected to the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament).

On April 30, Hrach surrendered. His speakership was gone, and it made little sense for him to wrestle for the seat of an ordinary deputy in a regional legislature when he had won one in the national parliament. In a statement denouncing “open falsification” of the April 29 replay election, Hrach announced that he would take a seat in Ukraine’s national parliament, to which he was elected from the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPU) list on March 31. The same day, the Central Electoral Commission in Kyiv registered him as a Ukrainian people’s deputy. Hrach pledged to protect Crimea’s interests in Kyiv and said he hoped to work on the Rada’s anti-organized crime committee. (Hrach has always cultivated the image of a corruption fighter.)

But he has not lost hope of eventually returning to Crimean politics. But even if he wins a seat in its parliament this summer, gaining the speaker’s chair is another matter altogether. Hrach’s rule of Crimea seems to be over.

Crimean Communists and pro-Russian lobby have thus lost their fight for Crimea, a battle that began when Hrach became the speaker in May 1998. For most of this period, Crimea maintained a fragile balance between Hrach presiding over the legislature and the Council of Ministers chaired by representatives of rival Crimean business groups linked to different powerbrokers in Kyiv. Now that Hrach is out, Crimea may become an arena for contests between pro-Kyiv groups and Russian interests for property at lucrative Crimean holiday resorts. Hrach’s defeat is also a triumph for Crimean Tatars–another force in the Crimean power conundrum–who have viewed him as one of the main opponents of Tatar political and economic revival. Hrach also opposed the redistribution of arable land that Tatars returning to Crimea from Stalin-imposed exile in Central Asia demanded.

Hrach’s retreat from Crimea is also yet another painful defeat for the CPU. Ukraine’s Communists have now lost their second most important regional stronghold. The first fell on March 31, when Ukraine’s industrial heartland–Donetsk Region–chose pro-government forces over the CPU in the national parliamentary election (UT-1, April 27; Ukrainian TV and internet, April 29-30).