Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 147

The four-star General Yevhen Marchuk, 58, is considered Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma’s strongest non-Red rival in the upcoming October presidential elections. Marchuk has cultivated for himself the image of a pragmatic politician who knows how to curb crime and corruption and lead the country toward prosperity in what he terms a “socially oriented market economy.” After a thirty-year career in the Ukrainian SSR’s KGB, Marchuk became the first head of independent Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) in 1991. In 1995 President Leonid Kuchma appointed Marchuk prime minister, only to dismiss him the next year with the accusation that Marchuk was “promoting his own image”–a phrase which has entered Ukrainian political lore. Marchuk was also the first politician, in October 1997, to announce plans to run against Kuchma for the presidency.

Marchuk, however, spoiled the beginning of his campaign: He has been indecisive about which political camp to choose and has moved awkwardly, preferring mysterious silence to energetic campaigning–a tactic he has only recently abandoned. Using his control of Ukraine’s reputable political daily–“Den”–Marchuk effectively capitalizes on the Kuchma administration’s mistakes in the social sphere, crime prevention and foreign economic relations.

Marchuk is generally believed to hold pro-market views, but he would find it difficult to persuade the public of his qualifications in that area. His tenure as prime minister in 1995-1996 was marked by a fast growth of wage arrears and his inability to cope with mining strikes, which–officially–prompted his dismissal. Marchuk is essentially a populist, promising maximum social protection to the poor, low taxes to enterprises and amnesty on illegally exported capitals to the nouveaux riche. In foreign relations, Marchuk professes to stand for an independent, “neither eastern nor western” course, which is strangely reminiscent of Kuchma’s 1994-95 “multidirectionalism”–a stance motivated by electoral opportunism. Marchuk, moreover, has been one of the most outspoken critics of NATO’s bombardments of Yugoslavia, calling for coordination of opposition to NATO with Russia.

In his painful search for an ideological niche, Marchuk has failed to establish an influential party of his own. After the United Social Democratic Party, on whose list he was elected to parliament in March 1998, refused to back his presidential bid and opted instead for Kuchma, Marchuk hurried to create a motley electoral coalition from small parties of various orientations, ranging from the leftist Social Democratic Union to the radical nationalist paramilitary grouping State Independence. Marchuk has strong positions in Kyiv and cities in central Ukraine, his native region. His flirtation with radical nationalists, coupled with his social-democratic credo, has recently boosted his popularity in Ukraine’s Western regions. At the same time, Marchuk is testing the ground for a political union with moderate leftist presidential candidates (see the Monitor, July 23). In recent polls, Marchuk trails behind Kuchma and the Red heavyweights–Petro Symonenko, Oleksandr Moroz and Natalya Vitrenko (Den, March 26, April 20, Segodnya, June 25; Vechirny Kyiv, July 20; Ukrainian television, July 21; see the Monitor, May 17, April 6; Prism, May 15, 1998).