Kuchma dismisses Tymoshenko

Former vice PM vows to continue fight

by Roman Woronowycz
Kyiv Press Bureau

KYIV - President Leonid Kuchma brought the political axe down on Vice Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on January 19 in connection with charges of smuggling, forgery and tax evasion that the country's chief prosecutor has leveled against her. But it took her boss, Prime Minister Viktor Yuschenko, five days to sign the document dismissing her, even though the president's team insisted that the head of government concurred in the decision.

Commenting on the firing, which was made while Mr. Kuchma was attending an international conference in Berlin, the president said that he and his prime minister had consulted and agreed on the need to make the move.

Initially the prime minister's press office contradicted President Kuchma's statement and said that Prime Minister Yuschenko had issued no order dismissing the vice prime minister, but the following day it acknowledged that the president had discussed the decision with the prime minister on several occasions. Nonetheless, it took Mr. Yuschenko until January 23 to announce that he had issued his own governmental decree.

Mr. Kuchma said in Berlin that he signed the order not only because of the investigation by Procurator General Mykhailo Potebenko but also "for other reasons," according to Interfax-Ukraine, which included Ms. Tymoshenko's poor performance in energy sector reform. He explained that the vice prime minister had done more image-building than effective work while in office and that she should have resigned long ago from "a moral point of view."

Ms. Tymoshenko, 40, formerly ran United Energy Systems, a gas and oil consortium that achieved its success on the coattails of ex-political heavyweight Pavlo Lazarenko, a former prime minister of Ukraine who has spent the last two years in a U.S. detention facility fighting money-laundering charges there and in Switzerland. Ms. Tymoshenko has been named in several criminal investigations recently, including one by Russian prosecutors into a bribery charge against a Russian military official. Her husband, the current president of the company she founded, was arrested in November on charges of illegal business activity and has spent the last months in confinement in a Kyiv prison.

As the energy tsar in the Yuschenko government, Ms. Tymoshenko achieved extensive success in revamping Ukraine's energy sector in the last year and increasing cash payments to government coffers despite intense pressure from business clans with vested interests there. She claims, as do many others in Ukraine, that the oligarchs were responsible for her dismissal. During Ms. Tymoshenko's 13 months in control of the energy sector the oligarchs created obstacles and applied political pressure on the executive branch to stop reforms in what is considered Ukraine's most closed and corrupted economic sector.

During a crowded press conference on January 22, which included applause from some members of the press for her reform efforts, Ms. Tymoshenko emphasized that she blames the business clans rather than President Kuchma for the decree he signed releasing her.

"The most important thing to note here is that it was not the president but the criminal circles that control this country that signed the order [of dismissal]," said Ms. Tymoshenko. "It was merely done with his hand."

She also stated, "Now the kingpins of the shadow business can take their red markers and mark January 19 on their calendars as Oligarch Liberation Day."

She explained that President Kuchma continued to be intensely pressured by business oligarchs, many of whom financially supported his re-election. While expressing understanding for his situation, she threw a jab his way when she stated that in all her conversations with the president over the course of the last year she attempted to convince him to rely on the government and not on "the boys," as she referred to the oligarchs.

"Unfortunately, nothing ever came of it in words or deeds, and he continues, as he has for several years, to ruin the country," the ex-vice prime minister remarked.

Ms. Tymoshenko said she would continue in politics in her position as the head of the Batkivschyna Party, which ironically is a key member of the fragile majority coalition in the Verkhovna Rada formed last year to support legislative cooperation between the executive branch and the Parliament

Now she would turn her attention to establishing a political coalition to fight the oligarchs and support the Yuschenko government as long as it continues with the reforms begun, she explained.

"In the near future I want to bring the members of the party and the parliamentary faction together to develop a plan to unite the country around the true patriots, to fight for Ukraine's revival and to cleanse the state of the current dirt," said Ms. Tymoshenko. Her party recently entered into a political center-right coalition for 30 democratic parties in preparation for parliamentary elections in 2002.

Ms. Tymoshenko expressed wholehearted support for the prime minister when she said that she believes he is a "strong and talented" person capable of staying the course on economic and administrative reforms. She cautioned, however, that the key to Mr. Yuschenko's continued survival at the helm of the government is his ability to control appointments to ministerial posts.

Prime Minister Yuschenko, who political experts believe fully understands that the oligarchs who want to maintain control over the fuel and energy sector could take control of the post vacated by Ms. Tymoshenko's dismissal, said on January 23 that it would be best to abolish the Cabinet position and that he is willing to assume the fuel and energy portfolio.

President Kuchma offered his prime minister a measure of support during a Cabinet of Ministers meeting, which he attended that day, when he assured the government that he would insist that no changes be made in the reforms that have been implemented. The president said he wants to maintain the transparency achieved and would not allow for barter operations to resume.

However, the same day, his national security chief, Yevhen Marchuk, suggested that the portfolio formerly controlled by Ms. Tymoshenko needed to be enlarged to encompass all industrial activity in Ukraine. Mr. Kuchma has said since then that he would search for a person from the regions who is not directly associated with the energy sector to fill such a post.

Ms. Tymoshenko's dismissal was prompted by charges brought against her by Procurator General Potebenko and an opinion offered by him to the president and the prime minister that, should Ms. Tymoshenko continue in her post, she could abuse the powers of her office in order to hamper the investigation against her.

Ms. Tymoshenko, who was questioned by procurators on January 10 and has signed an order that she not leave Kyiv, said she had no intention of fleeing either the city or the country, but would fight the charges, which she has called baseless and politically motivated.

"Categorically, nothing will force me to leave," said Ms. Tymoshenko. "I will not take a single step out of this country no matter what action this band [of criminals] takes against me."

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, January 28, 2001, No. 4, Vol. LXIX

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