Confirming the growing Russianization of Ukrainian security policy, Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk was dismissed on September 22. Marchuk had only been appointed to this post in June 2003.
His removal resembled that of the pro-Western Foreign Minister Borys Tarasiuk in October 2000. Tarasiuk claims that his dismissal resulted from pressure placed on the Ukrainian Presidential Administration by the newly elected Russian President Vladimir Putin. Tarasiuk’s ouster came one month before the Kuchmagate crisis broke, when tapes surreptitiously recorded in the president’s office revealed that President Leonid Kuchma had ordered his interior minister to “deal” with opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. On September 16 and 17, 2004, Channel Five (https://5tv.com.ua), owned by Our Ukraine businessman Petro Poroshenko, aired a two-part documentary on the murder of Gongadze, which produced new evidence that the Russian intelligence services were behind his death. Russia is the main country to have benefited from Kuchma’s subsequent international isolation.
On September 20, two days before Marchuk’s removal, the Russian state television channel RTR aired a program that was critical of Marchuk. Coincidentally, the RTR program focused on the very same two accusations that Kuchma laid out when he removed Marchuk. On the same day as the RTR program, the Presidential Administration sent a temnyk (secret instruction) to television stations that also repeated the two accusations made in the RTR report (Ukrayinska pravda, September 22).
Accusation one claimed that Marchuk had no right to authorize the use of Ukrainian military helicopters in Turkey. One of these aircraft crashed on September 3 while extinguishing a fire. Accusation two claimed that Marchuk was sabotaging efforts to de-commission military rockets (Ukrayinska pravda, September 22).
One day later, and thus one day before Marchuk’s dismissal, the head of the Presidential Administration, Viktor Medvedchuk, visited Moscow where he met his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev (1+1 TV, September 21). The topic of their discussions was not publicly revealed, but the meeting’s importance could be gauged from the fact that Medvedchuk met Putin personally.
Writing in Ukrayinska pravda on September 21, Oleksandr Palij found it incredulous that a foreign country (i.e. Russia) was deciding cadre policy in an independent state (i.e. Ukraine). This he blamed upon Medvedchuk, through his personal links to the Russian presidential administration and his control over the Ukrainian prosecutor-general’s office. Since Medvedchuk became head of the Presidential Administration in May 2002, he has also taken over the management of Ukrainian security policy from the Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs. This change has led to a progressive “Russianization” of Ukrainian security policy.
Ironically, Marchuk learned of the accusations made by the prosecutor-general’s office from television (UNIAN, September 21). He described the accusations as a “character assassination.” The practice of sending helicopters to other countries on contract work had begun under his predecessor, Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk. Marchuk confidently quoted his lawyers’ opinion that he had not infringed Ukrainian legislation.
It is difficult to argue that Marchuk was dismissed because he was an ineffective Defense Minister. NATO has been very complimentary about his work in this role. Ironically, on Tuesday (September 21) the head of NATO’s military committee, Harald Kujat, was in Kyiv. After a meeting with Ukrainian defense officials, he was quoted as praising progress in Ukraine’s military reform and said that the long-term plan for reform is “quite healthy” (Interfax-AVN, September 21). All of the participants in the meetings echoed these sentiments and the new transparency, “openness, and sincerity” with which Ukraine made its report on military reform. Marchuk fulfilled the military component of the yearly NATO-Ukraine Action Plans, which was not the case with the political-economic requirements.
Two other factors explain Marchuk’s dismissal. First, Ukraine’s security policy increasingly resembles that of Russia. This process began after the Kuchmagate crisis but sped up after Viktor Yanukovych became Prime Minister in November 2002. Until 2001-2004, Ukraine’s security policy was cardinally different from Russia’s in that it sought EU and NATO membership. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry defined the policy as “Integration with Europe, Cooperation with the CIS.” Russia, however, has never sought membership in these two structures. Since Kuchmagate and Yanukovych’s appointment as prime minister, both Russian and Ukrainian security policy can accurately be described as “Cooperation with Europe, Integration with the CIS.”
As secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, Marchuk was instrumental in May 2002 in lobbying Ukraine to adopt NATO membership as a goal. This ambition, together with EU membership, was included in the new military doctrine adopted in mid-June.
After failing to obtain a Membership Action Plan (MAP) at NATO’s Istanbul summit on June 30, Kuchma issued a decree that removed these objectives from the doctrine (president.gov.ua, July 15). NATO had refused to offer Ukraine a MAP until after the October presidential elections.
One of the main reasons why Ukrainian security policy is increasingly resembling Russia’s is that the Kuchma camp is aghast at repeated Western demands for democratization and free elections in Ukraine. If Ukraine does not seek membership in the EU and NATO — like Russia — then such Western demands will be fewer, Kuchma and Yanukovych apparently believe.
Second, there was a need to remove Marchuk and replace him with somebody loyal to Medvedchuk, personnel changes that have already been implemented in the Interior Ministry (MVS) and Security Service (SBU). Control over the armed forces is important for two reasons connected to next month’s elections. First, Marchuk is on record as refusing to allow the Yanukovych camp to manipulate voting within the armed forces, as was widespread in the 2002 parliamentary elections. Control over the armed forces is also important should the government need to declare a state of emergency or to deal with Georgian-style civic unrest after the elections. On August 22 a joint statement by the MVS, SBU, and prosecutor-general’s office warned the opposition against “provocations.” In an address to a MVS Internal Troops spetsnaz unit in the Crimea, President Kuchma threatened the opposition with unspecified measures for plotting to come to power in a “revolution” during the ongoing election campaign (Ukrayinska pravda, September 7).
The joint statement and Kuchma’s speech were both written by the Ukrainian Presidential Administration, which has now cooperated with Russia to remove Marchuk.