Former Deputy Prime Minister and party leader arrested
On 13 February the Batkivshchyna (Motherland) Party leader and former Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko was arrested.
Tymoshenko was previously charged with "smuggling and the falsification of documents." To keep herself out of prison she signed a written pledge not to flee Ukraine. Additional charges have now been brought against her, in particular, bribing former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko to the amount of USD 79 million. Clause 170, part 2 of the Criminal Code calls for imprisonment from seven to ten years for such crimes.
During a news conference on the same day, Deputy Prosecutor General Mykola Obykhod rejected the link between Tymoshenko's arrest and the establishment of the National Salvation Forum of which Tymoshenko is a leader.
Following the arrest the Motherland Party issued a statement saying that the arrest "has been carried out following a direct order of [President Kuchma], who in political agony may realize perfectly well that his days in the country's Supreme Office are numbered." It also said that Tymoshenko was arrested because she "dared challenge the criminal-oligarchic regime of President Leonid Kuchma, as well as corruption and the shadow economy..."
On 15 February around 30 members of the Motherland Party picketed the prison where Yuliya Tymoshenko had been imprisoned and demanded her release. Requests for Tymoshenko's release also came from the Ukrainian People's Movement, and women's organizations in Sevastopol (a city in the Crimean Peninsula) appealed to national women's rights groups to protest against the arrest.
Some observers have argued that the arrest of Tymoshenko has deepened the political crisis in Ukraine and diminishes the possibility of civilized political dialogue between the opposition and state power.
Political leaders address the Ukrainian people
On 13 February President Kuchma, Chairman of Verkhovna Rada (Parliament of Ukraine) Ivan Plyushch and Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko made a common appeal to the Ukrainian people.
The text of the address said, "an unprecedented political campaign featuring a psychological war has been unleashed against the [Ukrainian state]" and that "this is being done at the point when [Ukraine has] just started to overcome the long economic crisis, when the people have a real hope for improvement."
The country's leadership noted the "unity of its positions and approaches, and its determination to offer resolute resistance to the politically destructive." They stressed its openness for political dialogue, "but only with those who really want such a dialogue, who are capable of conducting it and who see in it the sole correct and only possible way for resolving contradictions and discord, for strengthening political stability, for speeding up solutions to economic and social problems and for improving the life of the people."
The statement also attacked the leaders of the National Salvation Forum opposition alliance, which was established on 9 February and is led by Yuliya Tymoshenko. "The leaders of this motley conglomerate, aggrieved by their own political setbacks and failures, are indeed in search of salvation... for themselves from political bankruptcy and oblivion and—for some—even from criminal liability."
Participants in the National Salvation Forum described the appeal of country leaders as a sign of the authorities' readiness to turn to forcible scenarios for resolving the crisis.
Moreover, the leaders of the Forum are preparing a lawsuit on protection of honour and dignity against the three authors of the address. Members of the Forum perceive the appeal as offensive towards each individual who signed its manifesto. The manifesto was signed by 63 people, among them many famous MPs.
Throughout the week the number of protesters rallying against the Tymoshenko arrest, housed in tents along the main street of Kyiv, has increased. On 16 February, 50 tents were counted.
Opposition becomes more heterogeneous
The People's Movement of Ukraine, Reforms and Order Party, and Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists announced on 13 February the start of a unified action group "Ukraine for Truth." They are demanding the resignations of Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, General Prosecutor Mykhaylo Potebenko and Secretary of the Council for National Security and Defense Yevhen Marchuk.
The participants of the action group stressed that it "has nothing in common with the tent camp of the action "Ukraine without Kuchma." They also pointed out that they are not linked to the "Forum of National Salvation" public initiative. MP Les Taniuk (People's Movement of Ukraine) stated: "[they] do not support any action where left forces dominate."
Ukraine-Russia presidential meeting
The meeting of Russian and Ukrainian Presidents Vladimir Putin and Leonid Kuchma took place in Dnipropetrovsk between 11 and 12 February. Talks focussed on the Southern Machine-Building (Pivdennmash) Plant in Dnipropetrovsk.
The Dnipropetrovsk plant produced intercontinental ballistic missiles during the Soviet era, inciting concerns in the Western mass media. Currently the plant is producing booster rockets and satellites for civilian use. Thus, it was pointed out during the meeting that the two countries should undertake measures to comply with all the international obligations on the nonproliferation of various types of weapons.
The meeting resulted in 15 agreements on all the questions on the agenda. In particular, the sides signed a memorandum on cooperation in the electricity sector between the Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Ministry and the Unified Energy Systems Company of Russia. Agreement on cooperation in the military sphere, space rocketry and aircraft construction was also achieved.
Both presidents evaluated the meeting as a step forward in deepening Ukraine-Russia relations.
Although Kuchma claimed that no political issues were discussed during the talks, the National Salvation Forum representative MP Taras Stetskiv suggested that it had become known to the Forum that during the Dnipropetrovsk meeting "the conditions of Ukraine joining the Union of Belarus and Russia were discussed." Oleksandr Martynenko, the president's press secretary, denied that this issue was discussed during the presidential meeting.
On 13 February, the leader of People's Movement of Ukraine, Henadiy Udovenko, and the leader of the Reforms and Order Party announced that they were concerned about the possible results of the Dnipropetrovsk meeting, in particular, about the possibility that Russia may use "(the) current political situation in Ukraine to strengthen its pressure."
EU troika delegation in Ukraine
Between 13 and 14 February an EU troika consisting of the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security Javier Solana, European Commissioner for External Relations Christopher Patten, and Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Anna Lindh visited Ukraine.
The visit addressed Sweden's special plan concerning the EU's strategy in Ukraine. Acording to the plan the current priorities of EU cooperation with Ukraine are Ukrainian integration into European structures, deepening cooperation on migration policy, and development of local self-governance.
Also, during the news conference Anna Lindh said it was very important to find out the circumstances of the journalist Heorhiy Gongadze's disappearence as well as the current situatuion of freedom of speech in Ukraine.
Iryna Solonenko, 16 February 2001
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