Publication: Prism Volume: 7 Issue: 1

By Taras Kuzio

“Kuchmagate” continues to gather momentum.(1) On January 10 Prosecutor General Mykhailo Potebenko admitted that DNA testing had finally confirmed the body found near Kyiv in early November was that of the murdered journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, who went missing on September 16. But, in order to deflect accusations that President Leonid Kuchma ordered the murder, Potebenko argued that the tapes at the center of “Kuchmagate” were a forgery. On November 28 Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz revealed the tapes in parliament after receiving them from Mykola Melnychenko, a former Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) officer employed in the Presidential Guard.

Nevertheless, Kuchma has never denied that the voices on the tapes are his own, has failed to address the very serious allegations found in them and ignored the parliament’s demands to dismiss the heads of the SBU, Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVS) and Customs Service. On December 21, 2000 a Department for Law Enforcement under the president was established as an “emergency landing site” just in case any of them are fired from their positions by the president under pressure from parliament. The department would enable them to continue to exercise their influence over the “power ministries” from within the presidential administration.

President Kuchma has claimed that the tapes are a foreign-inspired “provocation” and a “frontal assault on the foundations of statehood” which are pushing Ukraine to “the edge of chaos, anarchy and the disorganization of social life.” He also said that he has “nothing to vindicate himself for.”(2) On January 4, the day charges were brought against Melnychenko, Kuchma accused the SBU officer of being “mentally ill” and refused to discuss the allegations. The manner in which Kuchma has responded to these allegations is not consistent with a wrongly accused man.

What is unclear is who actually undertook the murder of Gongadze: That the murderers wanted the body to be found suggests that someone used Kuchma’s loathing of Gongadze to discredit him. The body would never have been found if the murder had been carried out professionally.