- Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in
1991, the former Communist country he presides over as
president has sunk into a deep economic crisis. In each of the
past 10 years, the economy has unfailingly shrunk. Industrial
production has plunged 70 percent, agricultural production has
halved. Wages have imploded, contracting 70 percent, while
prices for heating oil, electricity, bread and public transit
have skyrocketed, along with unemployment. The country's debt
has ballooned. And grinding poverty has left many ordinary
citizens fed up.
Posters appear everywhere, tacked up by a
student resistance group that aims to oust the president. The
posters declare the president to be "kaput." Tens of
thousands take to the streets demanding the president step down.
They mass in front of government buildings. An attempted assault
on the president's administrative offices is beaten back by
The political opposition accuses the president
of corruption, of press censorship, of organizing a police state and
of ballot stuffing and vote buying in an election branded a complete
disgrace by international observers.
In an attempt to redirect the country's
attention, the president whips up enmity toward an ethnic minority.
Milosevic, before he was chased from power by
No. Leonid Kuchma, president of Ukraine, a
man who fits the media's description of Milosevic almost to a
tee, but has never rated even a fraction of the media's
It's the economy, stupid!
The Ukraine's economic woes are not unusual
for a formerly Communist country undergoing free-market
"reforms." Russia, Poland, and other countries of what
used to be called the Eastern Bloc, have seen the dream of a
consumer society turn into a nightmare of plummeting production,
massive unemployment, sinking wages, substandard health care and
collapsing educational systems. Rather than becoming dynamos of
capitalist energy, they've become saddled with debt, and
prisoners to the harsh medicine of the IMF. Growing poverty, not
Here and there there's been opposition to
the IMF-directed austerity, notably in Yugoslavia under
Milosevic, and also in Russia, quickly quashed there by an
Yugoslavia is instructive. Despite years of
sanctions and a 78-day Nato bombing campaign that knocked out
refineries, factories, schools, and hospitals, Milosevic's
government controlled prices so that people could make it
through the winter, contrary to the IMF's "remove all
subsidies no matter what the human cost" approach.
The Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS),
which was backed morally and financially by the West, is now in
power in Yugoslavia and Serbia. The DOS are IMF supporters.
They've let the price of staples, like bread, and fuel,
skyrocket and wages collapse. Worries about making it through
this past winter were acute.
The opposition parties arrayed against
Kuchma in Ukraine couldn't be more different than the DOS. Like
Milosevic, they're not big fans of the IMF, either. They've held
up Kuchma's latest IMF-directed budget. They want to put an end
to the continued collapse of wages and unremitting rise in
Which may be why Jane's Security predicts,
for all of Kuchma's failings, the "Ukraine without Kuchma"
movement is unlikely to get any support from the West, unlike
the DOS. The IMF represents the West, and the interests of
Western investors. Indeed, Kuchma represents the West's best
hopes of getting a return on Ukraine investments. The
"Ukraine without Kuchma" movement doesn't.
John Tedstrom, senior economist at RAND,
and Christopher Walker, formerly director for Russian, Ukrainian
and Eurasian affairs at the US National Security Council , argue
that the West should stand four square behind Kuchma, despite
corruption, despite the mass uprisings, despite evidence of
electoral fraud, and despite what accounts for Kuchma getting
whatever passing media coverage he's had -- his connection to
the disappearance and death of Georgy Gongadze.
Gongadze, a fierce critic of Kuchma, was
editor of Ukrainska Pravda, an Internet journal that exposed
corruption within the highest levels of the ruling elite. In
September of last year Gongadze went missing. In November, he
was found -- headless.
A tape made by one of Kuchma's bodyguards
has Kuchma ordering his critic's abduction. Kuchma admits it's
his voice on tape, but says the tape has been doctored.
Tedstrom and Walker say never mind. Kuchma
is the West's best hope for economic "reform" in
Ukraine. He should be supported.
And so a man who might be called
iron-fisted, ruthless, and authoritarian, the strongman of
Ukraine, the murderer of Kiev, a man accused of stealing
elections and cracking down on dissent, is blithely ignored in
the Western media, but for the occasional references to a
titillating murder scandal. He's the West's best hope to push
through an IMF-directed program of economic reform, which,
judging by its track record, has been an unqualified disaster
for the people of Ukraine, though much more pleasing to Western
Milosevic, on the other hand, has been
called ruthless, a strongman, iron-fisted, a vote stealer, and
the butcher of Belgrade, and yet almost all that he's been
accused of , Kuchma, who the media ignore, has been accused of
too. Maybe Milosevic made the mistake of not being sufficiently
accommodating to the interests of Western investors. Had he been
more accommodating, and had Kuchma been less so, it may have
been Kuchma's name, not Milosevic's, that the media turned into
a byword for corruption, ethnic trouble-making,
heavy-handedness, and authoritarianism.