Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Some Ukrainian thoughts 

I haven't written much about it because the really big stuff has settled down, but here's some followup on stories we've discussed the last few weeks.
  1. I reported on Nov. 29th about the possibility of a decision to attack the protestors being thwarted at the last minute, and we thought the decision had been made by the army to not follow orders from on high. The Financial Times reports this morning that the attack was indeed being pushed forward by the Yanukovych people, but that Kuchma interceded against it.
    The Ukrainian authorities came close to resorting to violence in trying to solve the country's political crisis.
    The Financial Times has learned that the administration of Leonid Kuchma, the authoritarian president, considered deploying troops against the crowds of protesters gathered in central Kiev in support of Viktor Yushchenko, the opposition leader.
    Those lobbying for the use of force included senior officials, among them Viktor Medvedchuk, the head of the Ukrainian presidential administration and Viktor Yanukovich, the prime minister.
    According to people inside and outside Mr Kuchma's administration, the president resisted the pressure and the danger passed.
    Yanukovych vigorously denies the story. If true, this places a wrinkle in the dominant story line, that Kuchma and Yanukovych were working against each other earlier than most people had concluded. I thought this was true even before the first round of the elections. Kuchma wants immunity from any Gongadze prosecution, and would like to be an empowered prime minister. Yanukovych is (was) just a vehicle to get there.
  2. I haven't written much about the poisoning issue, since I had reported it on October 31st. Hindrocket has a few details from Fakty. According to a report by Maurin Picard in Le Figaro on December 10th, however, the story takes some interesting turns (can't get you a link because it's in French -- someone mailed me a translation and I've confirmed the first 50 words). On Sept. 29th, the heads of the Viennese hospital that treated Yushchenko for what now appears to be dioxin poisoning held a press conference to "assert the truth," that the poisoning was a fake. In the process they discredited Dr. Mykola Korpan, who had attended to Yushchenko. The story continues:
    Two days later, as Yushchenko returned to Vienna for a second hospitalization, the same doctors return to the question with staggering assurance and affirmed that he was indeed truly poisoned. The proofs follow. Doctor Wicke avows in private to having been visited by threatening individuals in his office who were strongly determined to impose the idea of poisoning. According to him, Yushchenko himself had declared from his sickbed: "You have probably made me lose the presidential campaign." "I have a child, you understand,",- continues the distressed surgeon, as if asking to forgive his turnaround. In this conference, false journalists and real "agents" are confronting each other, while a mysterious person with a Slavic accent in charge of maintaining order attacks foreign journalists. On background, irritated assistant nurses affirm that "these people do not belong to the establishment." The Yushchenko case has become a bet in a media battle for the exclusive attention of Ukrainian public opinion. The excessive comments and stories of the international press do not matter.

    On October 7, Dr Zimpfler declared that he has called for the help of international specialists, renowned for their expertise in matters of "bioterrorism." The controversy continues, and one inquiry suggests on October 22 a "herpetic viral infection," without totally excluding a possibility of a criminal act.

    Dr Wicke, for his part, returns to the intimidation attempts against him and the stained reputation of Rudolfinerhaus in an interview on Ukrainian TV, obtained by Le Figaro. Professor Zimpfer, in his n-th turnaround, disclaims Dr Korpan and declares hasty his conclusions about poisoning.

  3. Such intrigue! These flip-flops have been in the Ukrainian press for at least two months, mostly on competing television stations. The tests, which now appear to be conclusive, give the story of threatening behavior in the hospital more credence. (UPDATE: Someone sent me a translation of this article from Suddeutsche Zeitung yesterday with more details, including the possibility of a combination poisoning using soap or perhaps even a gas.)
  4. Funding democracy movements, like those in Ukraine, are old hat. This is no secret.
    I knew of three such organizations in Ukraine in 1996 when I was there. Given its geography, it's little wonder it has attracted as much attention in the west. If increasing democracy is plotting against Yanukovych as he claims, I'd call that a good thing.
  5. One of the facets of constitutional revisions in Ukraine that were part of the grand solution was the shifting of parliamentary elections to purely party lists (it was 50% party list, 50% single representative constituencies before.) Moreover, someone leaving a party for another faction, so common in previous parliaments in Ukraine, would now have to resign his or her seat. This would seem to me to be quite significant; while it puts more power in party leaders, I think it also creates more disciplined voting. It's hard to say on balance whether this is good or bad -- your comments are invited.