WHAT IS BEHIND THE BOMB ATTACK ON VITRENKO?

Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 185

The October 2 bomb attack on one of the strong candidates in the Ukrainian presidential race, the leftist radical Natalya Vitrenko, is impacting the course of the election campaign and may ultimately affect the main contenders’ fortunes. Two explosive charges thrown at her car after an electoral rally in Kryvyy Rih, in the Dnipropetrovsk region, injured both Vitrenko and her campaign manager and leader of Vitrenko’s Progressive Socialist parliamentary group, Volodymyr Marchenko, as well as nearly thirty bystanders. After the splinters were removed from her legs and stomach on October 4, Vitrenko was well enough to resume campaigning.

Two perpetrators–who were seen throwing the explosives and then grabbed by citizens and the police on the spot–were identified as Russian citizens residing in southern Russia’s Rostov region. One of them is a brother of the Kryvyy Rih campaign manager of another presidential candidate, Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz. That campaign aide disappeared on the same day and was later spotted in the Rostov region by Russian police. The two suspects stated to Ukrainian police interrogators that the man who is now on the run had given them the explosives and transported them to the scene of the attack. These are the early official findings, reported on October 4 to the public by Internal Affairs Minister Yury Kravchenko and on October 5 to a special plenary session of the parliament by Prosecutor-General Mikhaylo Potebenko, Internal Affairs Deputy Minister Leonid Borodich and Security Service First Deputy Chairman Yury Zemlyanski.

President Leonid Kuchma has expressed outrage about “this terrorist act” and has ordered the police to step up protection of the presidential candidates. He considers that the attack had been designed to “derail the presidential election” as it enters the decisive stage. The first round is scheduled for October 31 and the possible runoff for November 14.

The alleged involvement of the Moroz campaign staffer carries political implications as serious as those of the assault on Vitrenko. The bomb attack in any case seemed hardly intended to kill. Had it been, more professional performers and more sophisticated weapons would undoubtedly have been used. These circumstances are generating an abundance of theories with regard to the origin and intent of the assault and its putative beneficiaries.

Vitrenko considers that the attack had been intended to assassinate her because she poses “the main threat to the existing regime.” However, hardly anyone considers Vitrenko capable of defeating Kuchma; many observers indeed regard her as a divisive factor which may pave Kuchma’s way to reelection against a splintered left. The other leftist candidates and their supporters are therefore suggesting that the assault was staged to generate public compassion for Vitrenko and boost her popularity at the expense of Moroz, Parliament Chairman Oleksandr Tkachenko and Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko. According to various public opinion polls, Vitrenko’s popularity has recently declined, but nonetheless remained second only to Kuchma’s. Vitrenko is now certain to capture voters’ sympathies and media attention. This scenario would, again, seem to imply–as Tkachenko suggested–that the assault “should be linked to the work of the incumbent president’s electoral staff.” Tkachenko has also suggested that the incident was aimed at scaring voters and other candidates.

Moroz and a number of commentators feel, in view of the authorities having implicated a Moroz aide, that Moroz himself was the main political target of the assault on Vitrenko. Moroz considers–with some observers concurring–that he is best placed to defeat Kuchma in a runoff as the common candidate of the “center-left” alliance of the Kaniv Four. This group includes Moroz, Tkachenko, former Prime Minister Yevhen Marchuk and Cherkassy Mayor Volodymyr Olinysnk (see the Monitor, September 8). The Kaniv Four have been expected for some time to announce a common candidate, and Moroz has been considered to have the best chance for being elected. But the group has passed several deadlines which it had stipulated for announcing its nominee. And now that Moroz’ name is repeatedly mentioned in connection with the bomb attack against Vitrenko, his chances may be shattered. Moroz had condemned attempts to connect his name to the incident, but has not denied that the individual alleged to have organized it was a member of his team. It is widely known that relations between Moroz and Vitrenko have been strained since Vitrenko left the socialists in 1996 to set up her own party.

The parliament has set up a sixteen-strong special investigative commission of its own. Working parallel to the official investigation, such a politically motivated commission, along with similar commissions previously set up (see the Monitor, September 28), may be used as another campaign tool against the incumbent president by his fourteen campaign rivals, no fewer than twelve of whom sit in parliament (UT-1, STB-TV, UNIAN, AP, October 2-6).

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