Monday, January 31, 2005

The Yushchenkos on 60 Minutes: "To die is not very original" 

Christiane Amanpour did a piece on 60 Minutes last night on Viktor Yushchenko's election and poisoning in Ukraine. It was nice to see both Viktor and Kathy on screen, and he looked like he was much more relaxed than the earlier videos I'd seen of him during the days on the Maidan. An emailed transcript from the Action Ukraine Report indicates that Yushchenko still thinks it possible the Russians did it.

The attempt to eliminate Yushchenko is as Byzantine as Kiev�s skyline, filled with plots and potential villains. One theory is that he was poisoned by Ukraine�s security services, the old KGB, because just before he fell so gravely ill, he had been invited to dinner by the security chiefs. Yushchenko and his hosts shared crayfish, salad and a few beers, and ironically they had been meeting to discuss the death threats against him.

Ukraine�s security services deny they had anything to do with the poisoning. Their director had in fact been helping the Yushchenko camp.

Does Yushchenko know who did this to him? "I have no doubts this was by my opponents in the government, that's who would benefit the most from my death," says Yushchenko.

But there is still the question of how it was done. One way to solve it is to trace the poison. And some people in Yushchenko's camp think that it came from a Russian chemical weapons lab.

"Dioxin like this is produced in four or five military labs in Russia, America, and a few other countries," says Yushchenko. "Our security services have informed me how this material got into Ukraine, but that evidence is now with our general prosecutor, who eventually must answer this question."

They must also examine another plot on Yushchenko�s life. Ukraine�s security services say a powerful car bomb, targeting Yushchenko�s headquarters, was discovered during the presidential campaign. Two Russian nationals are being interrogated.

Spokesmen for the Russian security services would not comment on either case, but President Vladimir Putin�s role during the election remains controversial. He openly backed the handpicked successor of the previous regime, coming to Kiev twice to lend his support.

"President Putin supported your opponent during the election. How do you reconcile with him," asks Amanpour.

"I'll give him my hand, and I say, 'Vladimir Vladimirovich, let�s forget the past and think of the future,'" says Yushchenko.

This week he did just that, greeting Putin on his first trip abroad after his inauguration.

"Everyone now understands only Ukrainians have the right to choose Ukraine�s president," says Yushchenko. "Our president is not elected in Moscow, or anywhere else."

Those of us who've known him for awhile know that Viktor speaks with great rhetorical flourish. Because I do not speak Ukrainian (and just a little Russian) I often miss these flourishes, but the translator didn't with the end of the piece.

"A lot of people asked me, 'How did you deal with it,' and my answer was always my husband�s alive. My children are alive, I'm alive," says Yushchenko's wife, Katherine. "It was such a small episode in a huge revolution. Generations of Ukrainians, you could say centuries of Ukrainians, have dreamed and have fought, and have died for a chance to be right where we are right now."

"When I heard that millions were praying for me, it went straight to my heart," says
Yushchenko. "But I also felt an obligation to live. To die is not very original, but to live and carry on -- that�s special."

OK then. Carpe diem.

UPDATE: This article from Transitions Online sounds as if Yushchenko hasn't exactly buried the shaska just yet.
Boris Berezovsky, a self-exiled Russian tycoon and would-be nemesis of Vladimir Putin, announced on 28 January that he plans to settle in Ukraine within a matter of months. Speaking to the Russian news website, he said he was confident the new Ukrainian leadership would not extradite him to Russia, where he is wanted on charges of fraud.

Wanna bet Berezovsky has a little information to share with Yushchenko? Boris better be careful where he eats.