A top Ukrainian official denied allegations that exiled Russian magnate Boris Berezovsky financed the presidential election campaign last year of Viktor Yushchenko, brought to power after “Orange Revolution” protests, the Reuters news agency reported Oleh Rybachuk, Yushchenko’s chief of staff, was among several of the president’s allies denying any suggestion that Berezovsky, now an avowed foe of the Kremlin, had channeled funds to the president’s campaign.
“Neither Viktor Yushchenko nor Oleh Rybachuk knows or has ever known Berezovsky,” Rybachuk told Fifth Channel television. “Yushchenko has never even spoken to Mr Berezovsky.”
Other officials denounced the allegations as an attempt to denigrate Yushchenko, who won the re-run of a rigged election after weeks of mass protests in his favour. The president last week sacked Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and her cabinet after months of government infighting.
Ukraine’s first post-independence president, Leonid Kravchuk, now a member of parliament, said on Wednesday he had information that Berezovsky had funnelled at least $15 million to back Yushchenko, opposition leader at the time.
Kravchuk told a news conference several of the president’s top allies had acted as intermediaries. He said that if the allegations were proved true, parliament could launch impeachment proceedings against Yushchenko.
Once close to ex-Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Berezovsky fell out with his successor Vladimir Putin and has been granted political asylum in Britain, from where he regularly accuses the Kremlin leader of curbing democratic freedoms. Berezovsky, wanted in Russia on fraud charges, told the Fifth Channel he had spoken to Kravchuk. But he said he did not tell the former president that he had provided money specifically for Yushchenko’s campaign.
Impeachment procedures in Ukraine’s parliament are complex, making it extremely difficult to remove the president. Several attempts to remove Yushchenko’s predecessor, Leonid Kuchma on allegations of complicity in the murder of an investigative journalist proved unsuccessful.
Yushchenko Choice Represents 'Stopgap' Measure
Immediately after dismissing the government of Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko on 8 September, President Viktor Yushchenko announced that he wanted Dnipropetrovsk Oblast Governor Yuriy Yekhanurov to form a new cabinet. On 13 September, Yushchenko submitted the candidacy of Yekhanurov for the Verkhovna Rada's approval, stressing that he wants to have a "pragmatic government." Yekhanurov needs at least 226 votes to obtain the job.
Most political observers in Ukraine do not foresee any problems in Yekhanurov's approval, particularly after Yushchenko and Yekhanurov on 13 September signed a Declaration of Unity and Cooperation for the Future with leaders of parliamentary factions comprising nearly 240 deputies. The signatories pledged to pool their efforts "to secure the interests of the Ukrainian people, improve their welfare, consolidate society, and boost Ukraine's authority in the world." Making a new cabinet get down to work without delay is no doubt a priority in this endeavor.
Yekhanurov is widely seen in Ukraine as an experienced and efficient administrator without political ambitions. Therefore, many assert, he is the best choice Yushchenko could made for the six months that remain until the parliamentary elections in March, when the political scene in Ukraine may undergo a considerable rearrangement. In other words, Yekhanurov is seen as a "stopgap" prime minister whose main concerns will be to draft a 2006 budget, secure a tolerable price for Russian gas supplies next year, and push through the parliament what remains of the previous cabinet's package of bills intended to facilitate Ukraine's access to the World Trade Organization by the end of this year.If things in Ukraine continue to go poorly, Yushchenko will not be able to lay all of the blame on Yekhanurov, as he did with Tymoshenko.
Yekhanurov, an ethnic Buryat, was born in a village in Sakha (Yakutia) in 1948. His family moved to Ukraine in 1963. In Kyiv, Yekhanurov graduated from a construction school in 1967 and from the Institute of People's Economy in 1973. He climbed the career ladder in the construction industry to the post of deputy director for economic issues of Kyiv's main construction directorate.
After Ukraine gained independence in 1991, Yekhanurov moved to the Cabinet of Ministers, where he initially served as a departmental director and then was promoted to the post of deputy economy minister. In 1994-97 he oversaw the initial stage of Ukraine's privatization as head of the State Property Fund. Subsequently he served as economy minister and deputy head of the presidential administration. At that time he belonged to the People's Democratic Party, a "party of power" that provided political support to President Leonid Kuchma.
In 1998 Yekhanurov was elected to the Verkhovna Rada from a one-seat constituency in Zhytomyr Oblast. From 1999 to 2001 he worked as first deputy prime minister in a cabinet headed by Viktor Yushchenko. When Yushchenko's was dismissed as premier in 2001, Kuchma employed Yekhanurov as first deputy head of the presidential administration.
Premier Yekhanurov in 2004
In November 2001, Yekhanurov left Kuchma for good and tied his political fate closely to that of Yushchenko. He became deputy chief of the election campaign of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine bloc and was elected to parliament in March 2002 from Our Ukraine's list. In 2004, Yekhanurov became deputy chief of Yushchenko's presidential election campaign. In March 2005, he was elected head of the executive committee of the Our Ukraine People's Union, Yushchenko's "party of power." In April, Yushchenko appointed Yekhanurov governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast after his predecessor was accused of having backed Yushchenko's rival in the presidential election.
Perhaps it is also not without significance for Yushchenko in his current situation that Yekhanurov is one of the very few in the Ukrainian president's entourage who back Ukraine's membership in the Single Economic Space with Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. "This is a businesslike man, a man who deeply understands economics and economic relations, including those between states," Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin praised Yekhanurov earlier this week.
In other words, Yekhanurov appears to be the opposite of the politically overambitious and charismatic Tymoshenko, whom Yushchenko accused of focusing on "PR activities" rather than on the presidential election program. Yekhanurov seems to be the man that will easily accept his place in the shadow of Yushchenko. But this may have drawbacks for the Ukrainian president as well, because now voters will be more likely to see Yushchenko -- not Yekhanurov -- as the real leader of the government. If things in Ukraine continue to go poorly, Yushchenko will not be able to lay all of the blame on Yekhanurov and fire him as the main culprit, as he did with Tymoshenko.