Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 64

It was generally expected that after the sudden death of Rukh’s long-time leader, Vyacheslav Chornovil, on March 25, the party–which split a month ago–would reunify on the basis of the objectively stronger group, led by former Environment Minister Yury Kostenko. On March 30, however, the Justice Ministry effectively outlawed Kostenko’s Rukh, ruling legitimate the results of the March 7 assembly of Chornovil’s conservative supporters. That assembly reelected Chornovil as Rukh leader, overruling an earlier decision of the Rukh congress, which had replaced Chornovil with Kostenko as party chairman (STV, March 30, see the Monitor, March 9, 29).

Kostenko described the Justice Ministry’s decision as a government attempt to use the death of Chornovil to destroy the Rukh. The Rukh faction in parliament, which consists of Kostenko’s supporters, called on the government to resign and threatened to appeal the Justice Ministry’s actions in court. Meanwhile, the conservative wing of the Rukh elected former Foreign Affairs Minister Hennady Udovenko–the Rukh’s official presidential candidate–as the party’s acting chairman. Udovenko, who previously had not been a member of the Rukh party, officially joined it yesterday (Ukrainian television and agencies, March 31).

The deepening split in the Rukh benefits incumbent President Leonid Kuchma, leaving him with less viable non-leftist rivals in the elections this year. The Rukh has been seen as the only party among Ukraine’s democratic forces capable of competing against Kuchma in the upcoming elections. With the Rukh weakening daily, Yevhen Marchuk–a former KGB general and premier–may remain the only feasible rival to the incumbent president among the declared non-leftist presidential aspirants. Udovenko, branded by Kostenko’s supporters as a weak candidate, is generally expected to bow out in favor of Kuchma.–OV