MURDER MARS UKRAINIAN ELECTIONS.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 64

Late on the evening of March 29, the Vice Governor of West Ukraine’s Ivano-Frankivsk Region, Mykola Shkriblyak was riddled with bullets on the stairs of his home. In the early hours of March 30, he died. His murder will have serious political consequences, he having been a favorite of the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) race in the local single-seat constituency and the leader of the Ivano-Frankivsk Regional branch of the United Social Democratic Party (USDP).

Until the election campaign got underway, Shkriblyak, as vice governor, supervised the lucrative energy sector in a region key to Ukraine’s fuel industry. Ivano-Frankivsk is home to one of two western Ukrainian oil refineries–Nadvirna-based Naftokhimik Prykarpattya. Several Russian and Ukrainian companies have recently been vying for control of this plant, and Shkriblyak’s position as broker was thus inherently dangerous.

President Leonid Kuchma personally instructed the prosecution, the police and secret services to solve the murder as soon as possible. The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office warned against anyone making hasty conclusions. Yet the Ivano-Frankivsk authorities hurried to define the murder as political, as did the USDP and For United Ukraine (the major pro-government force backing Shkriblyak in the parliamentary campaign). The Green Party said that it would withdraw its candidate from the constituency in protest. The same parties, along with front-running Viktor Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc, suggested that the election in the single-seat constituency Number 90 should be postponed until the murder is solved. But the election took place, and Shkriblyak’s main rival–an American-born radical Ukrainian nationalist, Roman Zvarych–won.

Shkriblyak’s tragic death has taken a toll on Our Ukraine, whose candidate Zvarych was. Moral scruples aside, USDP-linked media hinted that the party, or individuals connected to it, might be behind the murder. Inter, probably Ukraine’s most popular television channel, showed in its evening news a video of Zvarych vowing to “tear his rivals to pieces” along with a report about Shkriblyak’s murder. The message, aimed mainly at Russophone audiences in the East of Ukraine, where support for Yushchenko was thin, was clear. On April 1, the Kievskie Vedomosti newspaper claimed that the U.S. embassy had tried to help Zvarych. “Don’t play with your fate,” someone from the embassy told Shkriblyak, persuading him to bow out of the race, according to the newspaper. The embassy indignantly denied the allegation.

Shkriblyak’s murder has been a blow to the Ukrainian government, which went out of its way to sell the March 31 election to the international community as democratic and free. It has also been another bitter lesson for Yushchenko. Just as in the row about the abortive rehabilitation of SS veterans in the same Ivano-Frankivsk (see the Monitor, March 27), Yushchenko had neither opportunity nor time to deny the allegations against his team. He was powerless against the media blockade staged against him by the government and oligarchs in control of nationwide TV channels. Pundits and politicians, including President Kuchma, agreed that the 2002 parliamentary campaign has been a dress rehearsal for the presidential campaign of 2004. Yushchenko, who is regarded a key presidential hopeful, has two years to either break the media blockade or procure a nationwide television channel for himself (Inter TV, Ukrainska Pravda, March 30; New Channel, Ukraina.ru, March 31; Kievskie Vedomosti, Forum, April 1).

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 [email protected], 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