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Ukrainian Democracy At Risk

(Washington, DC--March 2, 2001) Ukraine is now at "a turning point in its national history" and may either move toward a criminal dictatorship or become a democratic state, according to a major participant of the ongoing political drama in that country.

Oleksandr Moroz, the chairman of the Ukrainian Socialist Party and one of the leading opponents of current Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, described the current political crisis in Ukraine to a briefing at RFE/RL's Washington office this week.

Moroz suggested that the case of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, a journalist who many suspect was killed on the orders of people surrounding Kuchma, was "just another stroke in the picture" of the emerging nature of political power in Ukraine.

Moroz, who unsuccessfully ran against Kuchma in the recent election and now seeks to replace him, said that the current Ukrainian president has blocked reforms in the economy, cultivated an authoritarian political style, and actively interfered in the country's national and religious life.

All of this has been going on for some time, Moroz said, but the Gongadze case has energized the opposition, even leading to speculation that the regime may have been responsible for the death of Ukrainian nationalist leader Vyacheslav Chornovil as well. One group that has emerged in recent weeks, he pointed out, was a movement that has the self-explanatory title "Ukraine without Kuchma."

Moroz said that he expected the crisis in Ukraine to peak sometime in late spring or early summer, with public participation in demonstrations growing and with the parliament becoming ever more assertive. In the meantime, he said, he and others were seeking to expand contacts with foreign governments.

In response to questions, Moroz stressed that he was not seeking to have the United States and other countries stop their assistance programs but rather to change their Ukrainian partners, building cooperation with non-governmental groups rather than continuing to rely on the Ukrainian state.

A longtime communist party official in Soviet times, Moroz provided few clues as to what kind of Ukraine he would like to see. But he was clear on one point: he insisted that Kyiv must have the closest possible ties with Moscow. "The Russian Federation is Ukraine's greatest and closest partner," he said.