Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 93

The political council of Ukraine’s United Social Democratic Party (USDP) has decided to back incumbent President Leonid Kuchma at the presidential elections in October, party chairman Viktor Medvedchuk announced on May 11. Approval of Kuchma’s nomination by the USDP congress scheduled for May 15 should be a mere formality (Ukrainian agencies, May 11).

The USDP, to all appearances, seems to be gradually supplanting the People’s Democratic Party (NDP)–dubbed “party of power” for its ample representation in the government–as the real organization of the power elite. Its leaders–Deputy Parliament Speaker Medvedchuk, leader of the USDP parliament caucus Oleksandr Zinchenko, Ukrainian oligarch Hryhory Surkis and former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk–have lately been remarkably present on national television primetime programs, especially in the news. This is a clear sign of power in a country where television is firmly under control of the state and the private media moguls backing Kuchma. Another indication of this party’s growing influence is a more than three-fold growth of its ranks in the last six months. Zinchenko has recently boasted that the USDP now numbers 81,000 members, more than even the Communist Party, generally considered the largest political party in Ukraine. Furthermore, Medvedchuk reportedly said that if Kuchma wins the elections, he will join the USDP (Ukrainian agencies, May 11-12; ICTV, May 11; Den, April 28).

Zinchenko argues that the USDP is in fact not a “party of power,” because it does not have its representatives in the executive branch. The NDP was created “from above,” Zinchenko says, but the USDP was not. The USDP has a pronouncedly business-oriented leadership, dubbed by journalists “the Kyiv clan.” In this it clearly differs from the NDP, which is essentially a party of government officials and state enterprise directors. Leading members of the USDP, most of them long-time business partners, have lucrative interests in a number of areas: the media (Inter television channel and newspapers Kievskie vedomosti and Biznes), agriculture (Ukrainian Agricultural Exchange), finance (Ukrainian Credit Bank), oil and gas (Slavutych concern), power engineering (three regional power distribution companies), and sports (Ukraine’s soccer champions Dynamo Kyiv) (UNIAN, May 12; Money Maker, No. 4, 1999; see also the Monitor, April 8, May 6). –OV