Lazarenko escapes assassination attempt

by Marta Kolomayets
Kyiv Press Bureau

KYIV - Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko escaped an assassination attempt early Tuesday morning, July 16, when a remote-controlled bomb exploded along the roadway as his motorcade was traveling to Kyiv's Boryspil Airport.

Although Mr. Lazarenko was shaken, after being examined by a first aid team he continued his journey to the airport where he boarded a plane for Donetske to meet with regional leaders. The blast left a crater three feet deep and six feet wide along the Kyiv roadside, in what investigators have called a professional job.

Local police said luck saved the prime minister as his driver accelerated from the shoulder lane to pass a bus that had stopped beyond the spot where the bomb had been planted. Both Mr. Lazarenko's car and another car in the entourage were damaged in the attack.

Prime Minister Lazarenko, 43, speaking with reporters upon his return to Kyiv that evening, called the attack a terrorist act, saying that criminals opposed to his shake-up of the coal industry had tried to kill him.

Sounding angry, yet composed, Mr. Lazarenko said he links the explosion to the recent problems in the Donetske region, where coal miners have been striking to obtain back wages owed them.

"The drafting of concrete measures to tackle the crisis in the mining region forced criminal structures to organize an assassination attempt using the most modern methods," said Mr. Lazarenko. He is the first high-ranking official in post-Soviet Ukraine to be the object of a terrorist act.

"The attack was meant to force the cancellation of my trip to the Donetske region," he said, as he vowed to tackle crime in Ukraine and bring order to the corrupt coal enterprises in the industrial Donbas region.

Ukrainian government leaders warned on July 17 that certain emergency measures may be invoked following this assassination attempt against the prime minister.

Volodymyr Horbulin, President Leonid Kuchma's adviser on national security issues, added that the country's national security is under threat after the bomb explosion.

Security was beefed up in the nation's capital, as more than 500 extra Berkut special forces were brought into the city from four neighboring regions to patrol transport terminals and roads in and around Kyiv. Minister of the Interior Yuriy Kravchenko told reporters that more than 3,000 police officers are engaged in the investigation of the bomb blast.

In addition, security forces guarding Ukraine's top state officials will be reinforced, said Deputy Chairman of the Security Service Olexander Skybynetsky at a presidential administration press briefing on July 17.

Mr. Skybynetsky called the bomb blast "a deliberate act, done by professionals." He also said there are strong indications that certain radical forces had "sounded the alarm to launch actions against economic reforms." He pointed to both left-wing forces such as Communists and right-wing forces such as the Ukrainian National Assembly.

"The activities of Socialists and Communists, especially in eastern Ukraine, their disapproval of the recently adopted Constitution and their views on the president's allegedly anti-popular reformist program all are a threat to the state," said Mr. Horbulin.

First Deputy Prime Minister Vasyl Durdynets said the attack was intended to thwart investigations into the embezzlement of state funds meant for miners' wages. He added that Mr. Lazarenko had been en route to Donetske to hear a progress report on the matter.

Prime Minister Lazarenko said the Ukrainian government has already paid off 15 trillion karbovantsi ($81 million U.S.) to coal mines to cover wages for June. It has also promised that by September 15 all wages owed since February would be paid.

He noted that for the first half of 1996, 27 trillion karbovantsi ($160 million) disbursed by the state had not made it to the miners, and he accused various "bandit operations" of misusing funds.

The newly appointed prime minister also lashed out at the leaders of the coal miners and independent trade unions, who continue to promote strikes despite promises by the government that the wages will be paid.

"They are the ones trying to destabilize the situation in Donetske. This is an easy way out. They do not have to work and can blame everything on the government," said Mr. Lazarenko, who promised to find out what powers stand behind these men and have them punished.

Whereas the leaders of the independent trade union and the miners' strike committee, Yuriy Volynets and Mykhailo Krylov, respectively, accuse the government of holding back wages, Mr. Lazarenko said various commercial coal enterprises have misused funds received from the government.

"We have raised 45 criminal matters within the industry," said Mr. Lazarenko, who disclosed that 11 coal mine directors have been fired and investigations into the work of local government officials had been initiated. He said changes within the local government are to be expected.

[As The Weekly was going to press, the Cabinet of Ministers proposed that President Kuchma dismiss Volodymyr Shcherban, the chairman of the Donetske Oblast, from his duties for failing to maintain order in the region and allowing the strikes to destabilize the country. This recommendation also fuels ongoing rumors about clan wars between the Dnipropetro-vske and Donetske regions, headed by Mr. Lazarenko, former governor of Dnipro-petrovske, and Mr. Shcherban.]

Despite government promises to deliver miners' paychecks, on the morning of July 18 Donetske miners started picketing the Coal Industry Ministry in the city, protesting payment delays and the closing of mines without providing for social protection. The picketers carried posters demanding the resignation of Coal Industry Minister Serhiy Polyakov and the director general of the Donetskevuhillya amalgamation, reported Interfax-Ukraine.

However, they did end their blockade of highways and railways leading into the city. Criminal charges have been brought against strikers who blocked the regional railways over the last few days, an offense that carries a prison term of five to 15 years, said the deputy chief prosecutor of the Donetske region, Leonid Chernikov.

According to the Coal Ministry, 18 mines were at a standstill on July 18: 12 in the Donetske region, five in the Luhanske region and one in western Ukraine.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, July 21, 1996, No. 29, Vol. LXIV

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