President Leonid Kuchma, himself immersed in scandal, fired his scandal-soaked energy minister last Friday. Kuchma has been implicated in the disappearance of an investigative journalist, Georgy Gongadze, who has not been seen since last September; the minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, is under investigation for smuggling and forgery when she ran the private company United Energy Systems of Ukraine. Her activity in that period may be connected to the fraud and embezzlement allegedly committed by former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, now in custody in the United States.
Kuchma denounced Tymoshenko’s performance in office, where her supporters say she has tried to untangle the web of subsidy, barter and bribery that protects the small group of oligarchs who dominate the country’s energy sector. She is also rumored by some to be a source of financial support for Major Mykola Melnychenko, the source of the audio tape that allegedly captures Kuchma discussing the fate of the meddlesome journalist with his minister of the interior and his chief of security.1
The president’s centrist parliamentary majority is melting away. Tymoshenko’s supporters have left the pro-Kuchma coalition, returning the parliament to the political stalemate that frustrated reformers for most of the past decade. The parliament’s refusal to pass reform legislation could delay indefinitely the renewal of the IMF and World Bank lending that Ukraine needs to service its external debt. More seriously, the pervasive corruption of Ukrainian politics makes real reform impossible in any case.
1 This edition of Russia’s Week when originally posted improperly identified the husband of Ukrainian energy minister Yulia Tymoshenko. He is Oleksandr Tymoshenko, now in jail and charged with embezzlement. The version appearing here corrects the error.