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Ukrainian 'Clans' Exercise Political Power Through Informal Associations

(Washington, DC-- December 21, 2004) The exercise of political power in Ukraine is conducted through informal relationships, which are "specific, but not visible" between any number of clans and political decision makers, according to an expert on Ukraine. Roman Kupchinsky, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's (RFE/RL's) Coordinator of Corruption Studies told a recent audience in Washington, DC that these relationships transcend the formal structures of executive and legislative branches of government, and are dependent on the relationship between each 'clan' and its political sponsor.

Kupchinsky said that 'clans' can consist of financial-industrial groups (FIG), holding companies, informal clubs or foundations with lobbying interests. In the case of the eleciton campaign of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, according to Kupchinsky, he relies mainly on support from the "Donetsk Clan" -- a wide-ranging group that provides money and votes in Eastern Ukraine, while opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko enjoys support from the Poroshenko financial group and former former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. In terms of outside support, Russia's President Vladimir Putin has campaigned twice in Ukraine for Yanukovych, while it is rumored that Russian exile Boris Berezovsky has helped finance the Yushchenko campaign, according to Kupchinsky.

Kupchinksy noted that the popular slogan of Ukrainian politics in 1999, developed during outgoing Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma's campaign for a second term, was that "Donetsk made money, while Kyiv does politics." When Kuchma appointed Yanukovych prime minister in 2002, Kupchinsky said, this "deal" was altered to allow members of the Donetsk clan to become high ranking government officials, thereby blurring the boundaries of private and public interests. Kupchinsky concluded this existing conflict of private and public interests is playing a major role in the current presidential campaign.