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Corruption Charges Have Ukrainian Politics in Turmoil

Ukraine's political situation remains unclear, after its parliament narrowly rejected President Victor Yushchenko's candidate to replace former Prime Minister Julia Tymoshenko. Rejected nominee Yuri Yukhanurov will act as caretaker prime minister while negotiations continue. Earlier this month president Yushchenko fired several members of his administration amid corruption rumors. VOA's Oksana Lihostova produced this report on those charges and public reaction to them. Jim Bertel narrates.

Oleksandr Zinchenko is preparing for court proceedings. The former state secretary says he can prove that people closest to the president have parlayed their authority into a profit-making business.

"I charge the president's closest circle with an attempt to establish a closed corporation, said the former presidential chief of staff. “I charge that the byword of our revolution to separate government from business has not been realized."

Crisis. The word was first spoken on September 5th, when Mr. Zinchenko called a news conference to level corruption charges against several top government officials. Among them was Petro Poroshenko, a close personal friend of president Viktor Yushchenko.

The president, after a few days of silence, reacted with unexpected intensity, dismissing those accused of corruption as well as those who made the accusations. They included close associates from the Orange Revolution who later became bitter rivals for power -- national security advisor Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Julia Tymoshenko.

Mr. Zinchenko says the president's decisions to fire everyone is inadequate. "I do not accept this argument. Every crime and every action come with a name and a patronymic."

Division in the orange camp has bolstered the confidence of the opposition. The Social Democrats, staunch supporters of former President Leonid Kuchma's regime, were hostile to the Orange Revolution. Ukraine's first president, Social Democrat Leonid Kravchuk, criticizes Ukraine's current leader for what he says are attempts to minimize the corruption scandal.

"What does it mean when the president says in advance, 'I know there is no corruption, but let's study it?' He's saying, 'don't probe too deeply'," said Mr. Kravchuk.

President Yushchenko gave authorities just 10 days to examine charges against his closest advisors. However, a representative of the presidential party, Borys Bezpaliy, says there is nothing to investigate.

"Investigating the facts expressed by Zinchenko, Tomenko, and Tymoshenko would take 10 minutes,” he said, “because they represent empty statements."

According Mr. Bezpaliy, one of the president's supporters, the whistleblowers' charges have no merit and their statements are mere spin.

"At this point there are no proven facts. There are currently only discussions. I think they will remain discussions because they poured out as emotions."

Meanwhile, emotions are flaring. After the sudden fall of so many top officials came a series of mutual recriminations. On September 13th the president said that Julia Tymoshenko betrayed the ideals of the Orange Revolution. She allegedly used her position to write off an $8 billion debt of United Energy Systems, a company she once led. The former prime minister answered by saying Viktor Yushchenko "picked up Kuchma's club and wants to deal with her in the same manner as the former president."

Commenting on the current crisis, most political observers agree that the situation should not be over-dramatized.

Political analyst Oleksiy Haran says Ukraine is undergoing a normal process of democratization. "I believe Ukraine has a democratic process and this crisis demonstrates that our society and our politics are more transparent."

According to Mr. Haran, the fact that Ukrainians are intensely debating corruption is a positive development. This is evidence of society's control over the authorities, which was unthinkable before the Orange Revolution.

"It's obvious that Ukraine is making a transition from authoritarian rule,” said the Eurasia Fund analyst. “We had no freedom of speech and elections were falsified. We are now moving toward democracy. I believe there has been a giant step forward in terms of free speech and democratic procedures."

Meanwhile, millions of Ukrainians -- supporters of Viktor Yushchenko and Julia Tymoshenko -- are painfully experiencing the split between two charismatic leaders of the Orange Revolution.

Jeanna, a college instructor, expressed her thoughts. "After the recent events, I see no fundamental difference between the principles of power today and those we had two or three years ago. If we talk about my feelings and those of my friends, there is considerable disenchantment."