Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 226

Allegations by Ukraine’s Socialist Party (SPU) leader Oleksandr Moroz, who claimed that top Ukrainian leaders were involved in the disappearance of a journalist, shocked Ukraine last week. Moroz, a former parliament [Verkhovna Rada] speaker, addressing the Rada on November 28 accused President Leonid Kuchma of ordering the removal of the political journalist Georgy Gongadze. Gongadze, who disappeared in mid-September and has not been found, had been caustically critical of Kuchma and his entourage (see the Monitor, September 27). Moroz also claimed that Internal Affairs Minister Yuri Kravchenko “organized the operation” and that Kuchma’s office head, Volodymyr Lytvyn, “has been au fait with its preparation.” Later the same day, Moroz invited journalists to listen to an audio record of telephone conversations about Gongadze’s removal. The voices were allegedly Kuchma’s, Kravchenko’s and Lytvyn’s. Moroz claimed that the discussions were wiretapped from Kuchma’s telephone by a security officer who later passed the record to him. According to Moroz, the officer was hiding abroad, and the authenticity of the record was confirmed by “appropriate structures in Europe.”

Both the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) and Kuchma’s press service immediately denied Moroz’ allegations. A group of SBU officers who serve in the presidential residence also issued a statement saying that it is impossible for the SBU to wiretap the president because of internal security’s strict surveillance practices. Lytvyn and Kravchenko announced their intention to sue Moroz for libel. Finally, speaking at the CIS summit on December 1, Kuchma claimed that “this provocation has been backed by a security service. It will have to be discovered which one.” Meanwhile, Moroz said that he was ready to defend himself in court, claiming that the officer who passed him the record was ready to testify in Ukraine if his personal safety were guaranteed.

On November 29, the SPU newspaper Tovarysh–which was to have run a transcript of the scandalous record–was not published. Moroz claimed that the newspaper was banned. The transcript had been posted online on November 28 by several web sites, but, given that less than 1 percent of Ukrainians have access to the internet, the record’s full text remains essentially unavailable to the public. It is interesting that the accused sides denied the record authenticity and their involvement in the disappearance of Gongadze, but no one denied that the conversations implicating Ukrainian top officials in persecution of the media (not only Gongadze, but also several other opposition publications and journalists were mentioned on the record) had taken place.

Regardless of whether the allegations are grounded, they will have a negative effect on the attitude of the West toward Ukraine’s freedom of the press. The head of the European Parliament group for ties with Ukraine, Jan Marinus Wiersma, has emotionally compared the scandal to Watergate. In his letter to Ukrainian Speaker Ivan Plyushch he warned that, if the allegations were true, relations between Ukraine and Europe would be seriously spoilt.

Moroz’ statement also undermined the image of the Kuchma administration inside Ukraine, as well as the prestige of the SBU. The struggle for power between oligarchic clans and other groups of influence, and the rivalry between the SBU and the police, headed by Kravchenko, are set to become more acute. Moroz claimed that the two organizations regularly spy on each other. Kuchma may also choose to clamp down on the opposition media, which he had on several occasions accused of slinging mud at him and spoiling Kyiv’s international prestige by reporting corruption. It is believed that Moroz could be personally interested in stirring up a scandal to revamp his self-imposed image of an corruption fighter less than two years before the Rada elections. Moroz had virtually escaped media attention after his fiasco in the presidential elections last year and the subsequent split in his party. The “Red” forces, including Moroz’ SPU, may now capitalize on the alleged “corruptness” of the powers-that-be. And Kuchma has to prove that Moroz’ allegations are groundless as soon as possible (STB, New Channel TV, November 28; UNIAN, November 28-December 1; Fakty i kommentarii, November 30; Holos Ukrainy, December 1).

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