Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 143

As Ukraine’s presidential election campaign gathers steam, the contestants are increasingly using the issue of corruption as a political weapon against each other. That issue had figured prominently in Leonid Kuchma’s successful presidential campaign five years ago and may significantly influence the outcome of the vote again in the election scheduled for October 31. In recent weeks, the Verkhovna Rada and television have become, respectively, the main arena and main medium in which candidates are waging the war of “kompromat” (discrediting documents). As in Russia and other former Soviet republics, the standards of evidence in this war are no higher than the legal and ethical standards of the body politic itself. Due to a generally low level of legal culture, most participants in these hostilities tend to blur the distinctions between evidence and allegation, fact and hearsay, or defense of the commonweal and mudslinging at one’s political opponent.

The presidential campaign team escalated the hostilities in May when the state television’s 1st Channel, controlled by Kuchma, launched an investigative news program specializing on the past and present sins of Kuchma’s leftist rivals. On July 3, the program, called Dossier, claimed that in 1996 Oleksandr Moroz, as chairman of parliament at that time, had conducted illegal operations with real estate. The program appeared designed to sink not only Moroz’ image but also his anticorruption platform as the presidential candidate of the Socialist Party against Kuchma.

On July 8, Dossier revived the case of the US$70 million loan, received in 1994 by Land and People, a collective farm conglomerate headed by Oleksandr Tkachenko before he became chairman of the current parliament. The state-guaranteed loan was never repaid by the recipient, who in effect forced the state to pick up the liability. Tkachenko is now running for president as the candidate of the Peasant Party, the lobby of state and collective farm chiefs. Highlighting the Land and People case again on national prime time television certainly did Tkachenko’s campaign no good.

On July 15, Kuchma’s opponents retaliated through Hryhory Omelchenko, chairman of a parliamentary ad-hoc commission to investigate moneylaundering by state officials. Omelchenko alleged in a parliamentary report that Kuchma, as prime minister in 1993, was involved in the embezzlement of state funds through the Black Sea Shipping Company (BlaSCo). Omelchenko produced copies of documents showing, as he maintained, that Kuchma had endorsed illegal currency transfers abroad on behalf of the now-bankrupt BlaSCo. That particular scandal had been used in 1994 against then-President Leonid Kravchuk, who lost that year’s presidential election to Kuchma. Now, however, the affair is being used against Kuchma.

Former SBU [Security Service of Ukraine] Colonel Omelchenko had also initiated an attack in parliament in June against Kuchma’s campaign manager, Oleksandr Volkov (see the Monitor, June 17); and threatened to bring both Kuchma and Kravchuk, now Kuchma’s ally, to trial. Omelchenko could hardly get the floor on this matter without a blessing from Tkachenko, who had almost certainly backed Omelchenko in his endeavors against Volkov.

Also on July 15–the date of Omelchenko’s attack–Moroz alleged that funds from the Social Protection charity foundation, which is run by members of Kuchma’s team, had been raised illegally and are now used for Kuchma’s campaign. Moroz called for setting up another ad-hoc commission, this time to scrutinize Social Protection.

Kuchma has so far seemed to ignore the investigations spearheaded by Omelchenko. Last month, Kuchma publicly ordered law enforcement agencies not to cooperate with the parliamentary investigators. Meanwhile, the parliamentary ad-hoc investigation commissions have become a powerful campaign tool at the disposal of Kuchma’s adversaries. The “kompromat” war will probably intensify into the autumn as the election draws nearer (Ukrainian Television, 1st Channel, July 3, 8; Ukrainian agencies, July 15; Den, July 16).

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 pubs@jamestown.org, 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