On April 28 the Ukrainian contingent in Iraq lost an additional two soldiers, bringing its total to three. These most recent deaths followed the kidnapping of five Ukrainian citizens working for the Russian company Interenergoservis in Baghdad.
Some 1,700 Ukrainian troops are based in the Polish-led Central-South zone of Iraq. This contingent represents the fourth largest of the thirty-three member U.S.-led Coalition. Ukraine’s troops are drawn from the Sixth Separate Mechanized Division, composed of three battalions. In light of the escalation of violence in April, Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk revealed that Ukraine is considering sending helicopters to provide air support to its contingent.
In mid-April a motion was presented to parliament by Mykola Tomenko, head of the parliamentary committee on Freedom of Speech and Information, to discuss and vote on the issue of Ukraine’s contingent in Iraq. The motion was fully supported by the left-wing opposition Communists and Socialists.
What was more surprising was the support for the motion by the populist Yulia Tymoshenko opposition and forty-five out of 100 Our Ukraine members. Tomenko is a leading member of Our Ukraine, Viktor Yushchenko’s political bloc. The motion obtained only 163 votes, far short of the 226 required for parliamentary approval. The opposition is planning to return to the issue.
It is not surprising that the neo-Stalinist Communists and the more moderate Socialists are opposed to Ukrainian troops being part of the U.S.-led coalition. But support for the Ukrainian military contingent by the pro-presidential center and opposition to the deployment by the opposition national democrats (Our Ukraine, Y.TYmoshenko) is contrary to their foreign policy preferences.
Support for Ukraine’s military contingent in Iraq is therefore lukewarm. The deployment is backed by political forces who are inherently hostile to the United States.
Privately, President Leonid Kuchma does not support the U.S. led coalition; during his second term in office he has permitted and encouraged a growth in anti-Americanism. Kuchma believes that the United States (i.e., the CIA) was behind the Kuchmagate scandal that arose from the publicity given to tape recordings illicitly made in his office in 1999-2000. The recordings were made by Mykola Melnychenko, an officer serving in a Ukrainian equivalent of the U.S. Secret Service. Melnychenko obtained asylum in the United States in April 2001.
Kuchma’s agreement to deploy 1,700 Ukrainian troops meant he dissented from Russia, which had joined with “old Europe” in denouncing the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. But this dissent merely masks what is in fact Kuchma’s re-orientation towards Russia since 2000.
It was for personal reasons that Kuchma gave the authorization to deploy troops, and then ordered his parliamentary supporters to back the move. Kuchma’s reputation sank to very low levels in 2000-2002 because of the Kuchmagate and Kolchuga scandals.
Simply put, the dispatch of Ukrainian troops to Iraq is intended to improve Kuchma’s relations with the Bush administration. Kuchma’s son-in-law, Viktor Pinchuk, one of Ukraine’s wealthiest oligarchs, is attempting to assist in this endeavor by inviting the U.S. president’s father to Ukraine. There is no likelihood of President George W. Bush himself meeting Kuchma. In addition to the scandal surrounding Kuchma’s authorization of the sale of Kolchuga radars to Iraq in July 2000, there is also his broken promise to U.S. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that Ukraine would not send weapons to Macedonia during its civil war.
According to the Versii.com site owned by Dnipropetrovsk oligarch Andrei Derkach, the majority of the pro-Kuchma camp – “in their hearts” – favor the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops. Derkach has himself long opposed the deployment. The pro-Kuchma camp continues to support the deployment because of Kuchma’s control over them; this control will decrease with the approach of elections.
The pro-Kuchma camp is privately incensed that what was touted as one of the benefits of the deployment – economic contracts – have not in fact materialized. By contrast, Russia, which has no troops in Iraq, has been successful. Two companies – Interenergoservis and Lukoil – have signed contracts.
Kuchma’s main political ally – Viktor Medvedchuk, head of the Presidential Administration and the Social Democratic united (SDPU-o) “party of power” – is the main promoter of anti-Americanism in Ukraine. SDPU-o electronic and print media outlets vie with the Communist Party’s newspapers in their anti-Americanism. Both parties earnestly believe that the United States exported revolution to Serbia (October 2000) and Georgia (November 2003) and that Ukraine is next in line. Pro-Western political forces, such as Our Ukraine, are denounced by the SDPU-o and Communists as being in the pay of, or under orders from, the United States.
Medvedchuk is the most pro-Russian of Ukraine’s leading oligarchs. Earlier this year the U.S.-funded Radio Liberty was denied re-transmission in FM within Ukraine after Medvedchuk’s allies took control of the FM station. In April the visit of the philanthropist George Soros to Ukraine was condemned by SDPU-o controlled media instructed to attack him. The SDPU-o was also behind the actions of hired nationalist and skinhead criminal thugs who incited violence in the Crimea and threw mayonnaise at Soros in Kyiv.
The pro-Western opposition Our Ukraine, therefore, remains opposed to the deployment for two reasons. First, because of Kuchma’s insincere motivations in sending them.
Secondly, Our Ukraine fears that Kuchma is seeking political favors from the United States in a quid pro quo. The opposition is looking to Azerbaijan, whose president was elected in November 2003 in what the OSCE described as fraudulent elections but the results of which were nonetheless recognized by the United States. How will the United States respond, Yushchenko and Our Ukraine fear, to infringements by the Kuchma camp in the October presidential elections?