The Poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko
The Poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko
Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko
Viktor Yushchenko was a renowned beekeeper, and he loved bees more than he loved power. Born in a small Ukrainian village with the unpromising name of Horuzhivka, in eastern Sumy, a region on the Russian border, he received his secondary education. His teachers remembered him as a diligent student, but without leadership ambitions. The Girl in Kherson. After graduating from the USSR Ternopil Financial and Economics Institute, he served in the Soviet Army and after his discharge worked on rank-and-file positions in the kholkoz collective farm system. Yushchenko then worked in various divisions of Ukrainian banks in Sumy and Kyiv and became a staff member of the then Governor of the National Bank of Ukraine (the central bank), Vadym Hetman. The latter promoted Yushchenko to director, first at Agroprombank of the USSR, later at Ukraine Bank. In 1993, on Hetman’s recommendation, Yushchenko became the National Bank of Ukraine’s third Governor since 1991.
In this position, Yushchenko managed to push through several important reforms. He was responsible for monetary reform and the introduction of the new national currency – the hryvnia. He also created the State Treasury and State Mint. Being under the close guardianship of Vadim Hetman, he rarely made his own decisions, but he took responsibility for the currency reform and promised the people that they would not suffer from the reform. The successful implementation of the monetary reform and the introduction and strengthening of the national currency put Yushchenko among the best bankers in the world, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development nominated him as the best banker of the year. Yushchenko’s popularity skyrocketed. It was in this context that he decided to participate in President Kuchma’s re-election campaign (for a second term) and was eventually proposed by Kuchma for the post of Prime Minister of the country. The post of Deputy Prime Minister in Yushchenko’s government was taken by Yulia Tymoshenko.
Tymoshenko was in charge of fuel and energy. In this position she pursued a policy that displeased the President’s inner circle.29 The Donetsk politicians Mykola Azarov and Viktor Yanukovych, and Dnipropetrovsk oligarchs Medvedchuk and Surkis & Co did not like Tymoshenko either. It was she who insisted on the real privatization of three regional energy distribution companies.30 She also publicly accused Naftogaz Ukrainy of stealing Russian gas and concealing its real debts to Russia, which led to the resignation of the management of the company. Tymoshenko then insisted that Fuel and Energy Minister Serhiy Tulub (a representative of the Donetsk clan) be fired. Due to disagreements with her, Economy Minister Serhiy Tihipko, who was close to the President’s family clan in Dnipro, was forced to resign as well. Tihipko was the inventor of a short-term loan scheme under which the government borrowed money from private banks at high interest rates (up to 70 percent per annum) to pay salaries to state employees and pensions to pensioners. Tihipko was the head of Privatbank and lobbied for its interests before taking up a government post. The ruinous (for the state) but profitable (for banks) practice of short-term loans was stopped by Yushchenko, who balanced the state budget.
In addition, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko forced big businesses to make their empires transparent, pay taxes to the state, and give up hidden barter deals that deprived the Treasury of revenue. Yushchenko and Tymoshenko also ensured that the Tax Service, headed by Mykola Azarov, no longer reported to Kuchma but was subordinated to the Prime Minister, Yushchenko. In June 2000, they presented a law modernizing operations in the Ukrainian energy sector, which helped increase state revenues sixfold. This bold step by Yushchenko’s government allowed the state to repay its debts to pensioners, students and state employees. At the same time, the Fatherland faction in the Rada, controlled by Yulia Tymoshenko, took an anti-Kuchma stance on the Gongadze case, blaming the President for the journalist’s death.
Given their losses, the Donetsk and Kyiv oligarchs close to the President, whose interests were under attack from Tymoshenko, easily convinced Kuchma to get rid of her. The first move came from the Attorney General Potebenko, who opened a criminal case against her. It compromised her both as a state official and as an entrepreneur. Tymoshenko’s husband Oleksandr and her childhood friend Valeriy Falkovich, who was a board member of United Energy Systems of Ukraine (UESU), a company controlled by Tymoshenko, were arrested in August 2000. On January 5, 2001, the Attorney General followed this up with two criminal cases against Tymoshenko herself, and on January 19, at the recommendation of Potebenko, Kuchma removed her from the government.
Tymoshenko was accused of illegally withdrawing from Ukraine more than $1.1 billion through her company. On February 13, she was arrested in connection with the charges, as well as the accusation of transferring about $80 million to the Swiss accounts of former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko. The transfer was carried out when Lazarenko was the Prime Minister. Tymoshenko was also accused of bribery and of involvement in a Russian financial scandal at the Ministry of Defense.31
After serving for over a month and a half in Kyiv’s Lukyanivska prison, Tymoshenko was released on her own recognizance and transferred from the detention center to a hospital. In March 2001, from the hospital, she demanded President Kuchma’s resignation and declared that she would fight for the Presidency. Seeing Tymoshenko re-emerge, Kuchma again tried to put her behind bars. The Attorney General appealed against Tymoshenko’s transfer to a hospital, and a Kyiv court ruled that Tymoshenko should be returned to prison. Yushchenko, who had intended to meet his former deputy in hospital, called the decision a “display of muscle” and urged the President to establish a dialogue with the opposition instead. Tymoshenko’s lawyers managed to appeal the Kyiv court’s decision to the Supreme Court of Ukraine, which overturned the lower court’s decision. Upon her release, Tymoshenko reiterated her intention to run for President: “If I knew of a real leader in Ukraine who is ready to give his life for the country… then I am ready to do my laundry at his campaign headquarters. But I do not see this team yet. I want to form it myself.”
After the publication in November 2000 of audio recordings of President Kuchma’s possible involvement in the disappearance and death of journalist Georgiy Gongadze and the beginning of mass protests called “Ukraine without Kuchma,” Kuchma’s rule became so unpopular that the movement took on a pan-Ukrainian scale. The organizers of the protests were the leader of the student unrest of the 1980s and 1990s, Volodymyr Chemerys, and the socialist Yuriy Lutsenko. The protesters demanded the resignation of the President and his inner circle – the Interior Minister, the Head of the SBU and the Attorney General, as well as an independent examination of the Gongadze case. Under public pressure, Kuchma eventually had to dismiss his associates.
At the same time, another high-profile murder of a Ukrainian journalist occurred in Donbas: Ihor Aleksandrov, director of the TOR television company in Sloviansk, who was brutally beaten to death with baseball bats on the premises of his own television company. From 2000-2001, Aleksandrov hosted a television program called Unvarnished that revealed the links between Donbas organized crime and the police and prosecutors in the region. His follow-up program was planned to show a videotape in which members of the Kramatorsk organized crime group “17th Precinct” discussed how much they had paid or should pay their patrons in police and prosecutor’s offices. The broadcast was never aired due to his assassination in July 2001.32
Of course, international pressure on Kuchma intensified. The President’s actions were sharply criticized. Western countries now publicly declared their support for Yushchenko as an alternative to Kuchma. To crown it all, on October 4, 2001, during air defense exercises in the Crimea, a TU-154M passenger plane of the Russian “Siberia” airlines flying from Tel-Aviv to Novosibirsk with 144 Russian and Israeli passengers and 12 crewmen on board was shot down by a Ukrainian missile over the Black Sea. Initially Ukraine categorically denied its involvement in the crash, but international experts proved the responsibility of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry. As a result, Ukraine was forced to admit its connection to the tragedy and a trilateral agreement was reached between Russia, Israel and Ukraine to pay financial compensation to the families of the dead.
At the height of the 2001 political crisis, in which many government levels, including the Presidential administration and virtually the entire cabinet, were embroiled, Kuchma searched frantically for ways to survive. US philanthropist and billionaire George Soros suggested that the Ukrainian President should step down and appoint Viktor Yushchenko, who was supported by the West, as his successor. But the only conclusion Kuchma drew from Soros’ recommendation was that, in order to retain power, he had to double down on eliminating all his rivals, above all Yushchenko.
The forced departure of Yulia Tymoshenko meant that the Yushchenko government did not have much time left. The confrontation between the Kuchma entourage and the Prime Minister moved to the Ukrainian parliament. Viktor Medvedchuk, Deputy Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada and Putin’s friend, insisted that a coalition government be formed by April 5, 2001, during a government Q&A. Yushchenko called this threat by Medvedchuk “a good way of destabilizing the situation in the country” and called for a meeting with the President and the Deputy Speaker of parliament to discuss the ultimatum delivered to him. Kuchma made it clear that he supported Medvedchuk and was in favor of a coalition government. In turn, Yushchenko decided to fight his corner in parliament.
Speaking in Parliament on April 26, during a vote of no confidence in his government, the Prime Minister said that Parliament was following the lead of the oligarchic clans and acting as their mouthpiece. He suggested that any political actions be temporarily suspended in order to gradually hand over power in the country to the people, but stressed that “I will not quit politics” even if “democracy in Ukraine has suffered a serious setback”. Yushchenko then famously said: “I will leave to come back!” The next day, April 27, Kuchma resigned, instructing the government to perform its duties until a new government was formed. Yushchenko refused to stay on, telling the President that the position of “acting President was not for him.”
Many Ukrainian and foreign analysts agreed that Yushchenko’s government made the first attempt in a decade of independence to reform the country’s political and economic system.33 Prior to this, Ukraine’s elite had caused the stagnation of not only economic but also democratic developments. Any reformist government became a threat to the wealth of these people.
Against the gray mass of the faceless politicians, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko became the most charismatic and colorful politicians in Ukraine. That is why Ukrainians believed in them. Yushchenko did not give the impression of being anything other than a mild-mannered man. Tymoshenko, on the other hand, looked determined and courageous. She was called “the only man in Ukrainian politics”, paraphrasing Ukrainian writer Ivan Franko’s (1856-1916) words about Lesya Ukrainka (1871-1913), “the only man in Ukrainian literature”.
The Ukrainian people, tired of political squabbles and clashes between the President, the government and parliament, always imagined that after a change of this or that President, government or even Rada, the country would experience long-hoped-for prosperity. But each time the change merely resulted in a redistribution of power, property and money between the new names and the emergence of new political alliances between the well-known players. While the Rada voted to dismiss Yushchenko’s government, a crowd of 7,000 supporters of the Prime Minister gathered outside the parliament, shouting that his government was a reformist one that fought for the country and its people. Yulia Tymoshenko said that she would support Yushchenko’s candidacy at the next Presidential Elections in 2004 and created an initiative of 50 parties and organizations in order to force a referendum (which failed).
This referendum was to ask just one question: “Do you think that Leonid Kuchma should resign, further to articles 108 and 109 of the Constitution of Ukraine, for destroying the rights and freedoms of the Ukrainian people contrary to the rule of law”. Naturally, the government did not allow the referendum to take place. Then in July 2001, the undaunted Tymoshenko created the cross-party political alliance “National Salvation Forum” (NSF).34
In an attempt to thwart Tymoshenko’s political activity, in late January 2002 the Attorney General’s Office issued a new warrant for her arrest and put her under house arrest. On January 29, 2002, while driving her Mercedes to a hearing at the Court of Appeals, Tymoshenko had a car accident and was hospitalized.
Parliamentary Elections of 2002
The March 31, 2002, parliamentary elections were fast approaching. Both Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, now ousted from power, began preparing by rallying a large number of supporters who really thought that the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko tandem would radically change things for the better. The country was readying itself for an election that would radically change the political landscape and life in Ukraine.
The pre-election months were marked by a regrouping of political forces and blocs, some of which tried feverishly to retain power while others tried to seize it. According to the new law, Ukraine created an election system in which 50 percent of deputies were elected from party lists and 50 percent from first-past-the-post constituencies. To enter parliament, a party or political bloc had to pass the four percent threshold. While Tymoshenko created an opposition bloc under her own name, former Prime Minister Yushchenko announced his intention to create an opposition bloc of political parties called “Our Ukraine”.35
At the Verkhovna Rada elections of March 2002 no fewer than 62 political parties (united in no fewer than 30 electoral blocks) took part. Our Ukraine headed by Yushchenko was the winner with 23.55 percent of the votes.36 He received support in central and western Ukraine; the Communists – in southeastern Ukraine and Crimea;37 Tymoshenko’s bloc was supported mainly in Kyiv and Dnipropetrovsk.38 The newly elected deputies and parties now formed new factions. Twelve deputies, however, remained independent, which turned out to be advantageous in the finely balanced Rada. They could vote without a party whip for this or that bill (proposed by different factions) and earn handsome fees.
As is always the case in politics, some win and others lose. In 2002, it just took a long time for the dust to settle: the struggle for a parliamentary majority, and consequently for the position of Prime Minister, lasted from May to December. The pro-Presidential forces took advantage of the heterogeneity of the opposition, which was unable to develop clear principles of cooperation, to draw the Socialists and Communists to their side and form a parliamentary majority. Having gained a majority in parliament, supporters of President Kuchma cleared the way to government power, increased economic and political influence in the country, revival of the old corrupt privatization schemes, used the opportunity to appoint people they liked to senior government positions and fired those who stood in their way.
The Presidential Elections of 2004
Yushchenko lost, but for the first time in the years of Ukraine’s independence, a coalition government had been formed. Regrettably it turned out to be one headed by Viktor Yanukovych, who was in the pocket of oligarch Rinat Akhmetov and his Donetsk clan. The opposition could only continue its struggle for further democratization and work out a new strategy to fight for power in the forthcoming Presidential Elections. They began preparing long before the officially announcement. The majority of Ukrainian voters hoped that these elections would be a watershed in the country’s history. The ruling elite realized that they could not win fair and democratic elections. Yet, they had no intention of giving up their lucrative position.
Thus, the Constitutional Court, which was controlled by President Kuchma and his supporters, decided that under to the new Constitution of 1996, President Kuchma had really only been in power for one term, as he had been elected for the first term before the new Constitution of Ukraine had been adopted. This meant, the court ruled, that Kuchma could run for a “second” term if he wanted to even though he had “technically” already served two full terms. The government-controlled Ukraine’s mass media began to explain to viewers and listeners the “correctness” of the Constitutional Court’s conclusions, and Kuchma himself was carefully monitoring public opinion. Not knowing yet whether he should run for the Presidency or not, he initially supported Yushchenko’s candidacy in the media.
At the same time Kuchma understood that if they came to power Yushchenko, and even more so Tymoshenko, would come after him, and that he would most likely be prosecuted for corruption, or worse, for killing Gongadze. But there was one more option left for him: to support the Donetsk clan who offered their protégé for the Presidency – Viktor Yanukovych. For all the disadvantages of handing power to the Donetsk oligarchs, had one great plus side: he would definitely not want to start a corruption witchhunt and see Kuchma behind bars.
Another candidate, Viktor Medvedchuk (of the Kyiv oligarchs “Surkis and Co”), then Kuchma’s Chief of Staff, also promised Kuchma that if he won, he would not prosecute him, and guaranteed (like Putin to Yeltsin) an untroubled existence when no longer in power. Both candidates did not have deep popular support, but they did have powerful oligarchs behind them, ready to fight for their survival to the bitter end. Meanwhile, the opposition went on the offensive, denouncing to the people the constitutional “sleight of hand” played by the Supreme Court. In the end, Kuchma declined to run in the Presidential race, bet on Yanukovych, the incumbent Prime Minister, and lost everything.
While waiting for the situation with the incumbent President to become clearer, a whole army of candidates (26) rushed into the election race, each one trying to convince voters that it was they who could change the lives of ordinary people for the better. Ukraine had never seen such a number of candidates wishing to relieve the suffering of its people. The most popular ploy of the candidates was to cover their opponents in muck, and the Presidential Elections campaign of 2004 turned out to be the dirtiest ever.
No one paid attention to the programs of the candidates because there was not much difference. Among the general monotony nevertheless two stood out: Viktor Yanukovych and Viktor Yushchenko. Completely different and dissimilar, these two candidates very soon emerged as the main ones in the race. Prime Minister Yanukovych was publicly supported by Putin, for whom Yanukovych, after the frustation of the 1999 Marchuk plot, was the new vehicle to take the reigns in Ukraine. As Russian President, Putin had been consolidating his power for four years by inserting former intelligence officers in key government and business positions. He was keen, finally, to start doing the same in Ukraine, courtesy of Yanukovych’s election. The former Donetsk governor was also the preferred candidate of the Ukrainian oligarchy, especially of course the one in Donetsk. Not least, Yanukovych could also count on the support of his own ministers.
Unusually for a Prime Minister, Yanukovych had a serious criminal record involving both theft and the use of force. Born near the town of Yenakyivo into the family of a locomotive engineer, Fedor Yanukovych, and a nurse, Olga Leonova, Viktor Yanukovych was motherless at an early age and was raised by his grandmother, Kastusya Yanukovych. After graduating with good grades from high school, he worked at the local metallurgical plant while he also studied at its mining college, and later graduated from the Donetsk Polytechnic Institute. At the age of 17, he was first sentenced to three years in jail for participating in a robbery, and as soon as he got out was sentenced to serve two more years in another prison for inflicting grievous bodily harm. These physical-violence charges were later dropped “for lack of corpus delicti,” as Yanukovych and his supporters pointed out many times.
For more than twenty years, Yanukovych worked as a manager of a number of Donetsk enterprises, which allowed him to break through to politics in the end and from 1996 to 2001 he was the Governor of the Donetsk Region. He received a degree from the Faculty of International Law of the Ukrainian Academy of Foreign Trade and, while a governor, defended his doctoral dissertation on the management of infrastructure development. Following his dissertation, Yanukovych not only received his doctorate but also the title of “Professor”. But when he wrote down this title in the electoral questionnaire, he spelled it with two letters “ff” and one “s” – “proffesor”, which was how he was known in Ukraine ever since – “Proffesor Yanukovych”.
“Big Ya” (another nickname for Yanukovych, in the narrow circle of his supporters) successfully coped with his task – up to a point. The government tried to create a positive image for their candidate through all possible means at their disposal – some not entirely legal – deploying administrative resources, demagogy, and compromising evidence against political opponents. On the eve of the election, the Prime Minister also made populist decisions, such as increasing wages and pensions, which depleted the budget and almost imploded the entire economy.
The opposition focused its forces around Viktor Yushchenko, who at the time had the highest popularity rating in the country. Tymoshenko wanted to become President, but realized that her hour had not yet come. She joined his “Our Ukraine” party, remaining in the shadows of her former boss. The European Union also made no secret of its sympathy for the opposition candidate, hoping that he would gradually free Ukraine, the center of Europe, from Russian influence. Yushchenko himself said he did not really want to become President but would submit to the will of the voters.
All the polls showed that Yushchenko and Yanukovych led the election race and the official election results announced on October 31, 2004, showed a tie: Yushchenko received 39.87 percent of the vote; Yanukovych, 39.32 percent.39 Voter turnout was a record high 75 percent. Observers noted that there were numerous violations during the election campaign. No one could say how much these irregularities might have influenced the election results. But since none of the candidates gained more than the 50 percent required to win in the first round, a second round was scheduled for November 21.
Geographically, voter sympathies were clearly split. The central and western regions of Ukraine voted for Yushchenko with the exception of the Transcarpathian region, where Ruthenians and Hungarians live. The population of these regions spoke mostly Ukrainian and belonged to the Greek Catholic Church and the Kyiv Orthodox Church. The southeastern regions and the Republic of Crimea, where residents preferred to speak Russian and were members of the Moscow Orthodox Church, voted mostly for Yanukovych.
The election campaign for the second round of voting proved to be unprecedented. The entire propaganda and administrative machine of the ruling party, which Yanukovych represented, worked at full capacity. The state-controlled TV channels and media were also working for his candidate. Every city in Ukraine was plastered with Yanukovych’s portrait. In his election program, he promised to make Russian the second state language.
Vladimir Putin himself came to Kyiv twice to support the pro-Russian candidate. All the CIS leaders (except for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who supported Yushchenko) also took part in Putin’s propaganda campaign to get Yanukovych elected, assuring the Ukrainian people of their eternal friendship and the importance of preserving the economic ties and cooperation built in Soviet times. The leitmotif of these statements was that, if Yanukovych came to power, Ukraine would take its rightful place in the CIS, becoming once again a driving force in the economic and customs union of former Soviet states, and that its economy could only survive and thrive in close cooperation with Russia and the others.
Of particular “concern” to Ukraine’s neighbors, primarily Putin’s Russia, was the “oppressed” position of the Russian-speaking population and the situation with the infringement of the Russian language in Ukraine. Pro-Russian and Russian analysts warned Ukrainians that if Yushchenko came to power, Ukraine would join NATO and become financially dependent on the International Monetary Fund and the US
At the same time, on Kuchma’s orders, the press was told that Yushchenko’s wife Kateryna Chumachenko was an employee of the Central Intelligence Agency and had been sent to Ukraine by the US as a sleeper agent. In the press it was claimed that she was “attached” on purpose to Yushchenko, then Governor of the National Bank of Ukraine, and that that their first meeting on the plane, where their seats were next to each other, and their subsequent marriage were also organized by the CIA. There had never been a more dramatic and crooked Presidential Elections in the history of Ukraine.
The poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko
As the unauthorized recordings in President Kuchma’s office in 2000 were made on the orders of General Marchuk (further to the instructions received from the Russian secret service in Moscow) in order to force Kuchma to resign and hand over power to a pro-Russian candidate, the operation was a failure: Kuchma did not resign, despite a whole chain of scandals and revolutions. He remained President until the end of his constitutional term. In 2004, however, Putin was not taking any chances during his second attempt to seize control of Ukraine. In September Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned.
The poisoning took place in the evening of September 5, 2004, during a dinner at the dacha of secret-service General Volodymyr Satsyuk,40 where the former Prime Minister candidate Yushchenko was meeting with the SBU leadership. We can ignore the explanation that was given to misinform the press both by the poisoners themselves and by Yushchenko’s political opponents41 that there was no poisoning, merely a reaction of Yushchenko’s body to the sushi he had eaten. Yushchenko was poisoned with dioxin, a diagnosis made by doctors at the clinic Rudolfinerhaus in Vienna, where Yushchenko was taken on September 10.42
The Austrian doctors said that the poison must have entered Yushchenko’s body five days before hospitalization, that is September 5. Yushchenko’s appearance had changed beyond recognition and his face was disfigured. He hovered between life and death. For about a month after the poisoning he was unable to speak. Meanwhile, the elections were scheduled for October 31. And Yushchenko had to spend a substantial part of precious campaign time in intensive medical treatment. Given the confusion, Yushchenko’s ratings were plummeting. Moreover, if Yushchenko had died as a result of poisoning, or had withdrawn his candidacy for health reasons, his pro-Russian rival Yanukovych would have remained the sole leader of the Presidential race.
The Attorney General duly opened a criminal investigation into Yushchenko’s poisoning. SBU General Satsyuk was considered the main suspect. He was interrogated several times but was not charged or arrested. Despite the interrogations and examinations, the Attorney General concluded there was no case that Yushchenko was poisoned at dinner at Satsyuk’s place and that Satsyuk was involved. The general subsequently fled abroad and it was not immediately known that “abroad” was Putin’s Russia. Later, when under President Yushchenko Ukraine requested the extradition of Satsyuk, the Russian government replied that Satsyuk had received “political asylum” in Russia and could not be deported.
As Yushchenko did not resign or die, the campaign against him didn’t stop. On November 21, 2004, the day of the second round, another attempt was made to assassinate him and, at the same time, Tymoshenko. On that day, city police detained two Russian citizens, Muscovites, with three kilos of explosives in their car in the center of Kyiv. The detainees were 35-year-old Mikhail Shugai and 33-year-old Marat Moskvitin. A second car with explosives was parked near the election headquarters of Yushchenko on Borychiv Tik Street, in front of the residence of the US Ambassador. The car contained an explosive device with a radio-electronic control. Shugai and Moskvitin confessed that they were paid to murder Yushchenko and Tymoshenko. Who exactly was behind the organization of this assassination attempt remained unknown, though circumstantial evidence pointed to the top of the Interior Ministry under Prime Minister Yanukovych.
Under Yushchenko as the new President, the Ukrainian media published a recording of a telephone conversation between the Head of the Surveillance Department, Oleksiy Prilipko,43 a position formerly held by General Pukach, and Serhiy Klyuyev, the brother of Yanukovych’s campaign manager and former Deputy Prime Minister Andriy Klyuyev. Prilipko had been Pukach’s deputy, and it was he who had organized the surveillance that preceded Gongadze’s abduction and murder in 2000 (which at the time of the second round of Presidential Elections in 2004 had not yet been solved).44
The two officials spoke in detail about the exact location where the second assassination attack took place. The revealing nature of this conversation is also crucial to our understanding who was behind the deadly events in Kyiv on February 20, 2014. In 2004, Andriy Klyuyev was one of Yanukovych’s energy ministers. But his official title clearly belied his real role in Prime Minister Yanukovych’s entourage as there would have been no reason for Ukraine’s Head of Surveillance to discuss a covert operation of any nature – and certainly not regarding political opponents – with someone tasked with gas policy. By February 2014, Klyuyev’s real importance to Yanukovych became public. He was then President Yanukovych’s Chief of Staff and the most powerful man in Ukraine after the President, appointed only a few weeks before the events that would change Ukraine’s history.
Klyuyev: That’s where Yulia is, etc.
Prilipko: No, Yulia has her own…
Klyuyev: And where all the leadership, is there, where they gather? Well, still, there’s where they gather for the most part.
Prilipko: That’s it – on Borychiv Tik, all the services in Yaroslavskaya, all in one square, as it were…
Klyuyev: And that place where the leadership gathers, where is that?
Prilipko: They go to Yaroslavskaya 1/3d, he has 8a… He also meets there in a smaller circle, and I think there’s a 22 there as well.
Klyuyev: There’s no such main place as ours.
Prilipko: His office is on 8a.
Klyuyev: How much security is there?
Prilipko: There are a lot of guards there, there’s an American embassy nearby.
Klyuyev: In all three, yes.
Prilipko: Yes, yes.
Klyuyev: Okay. But we have a number of agents there. And the entrance is free, how’s the entrance? There are a whole lot at the entrance, right?!
Prilipko: Yes, yes there’s cover there.
Klyuyev: Okay, good, thank you.
Prilipko: Thank you, goodbye.
There was no third assassination attempt that day. However, another crime did take place. The Central Electoral Commission announced preliminary results of the second round of the Presidential Election, according to which Viktor Yanukovych, the incumbent Prime Minister, had won by a 3 percent margin.45 The published results of the second round shocked everyone. People were reminded of Joseph Stalin’s saying that it is not how one votes, but how votes are counted. In Russia Vladimir Putin had followed this sage advice and made sure that electoral counts always ended up in their favor.46
The problem with the preliminary voting results was that, according to exit polls, the election results were the exact opposite: Yushchenko had won. In addition, numerous irregularities were revealed. It turned out that voters dependent on the state – students, prisoners, and military personnel – had been “strongly encouraged” to vote for Yanukovych. Voters were allowed to vote by so-called absentee ballots, and many active Yanukovych supporters traveled around the country and had voted several times. In the eastern part of Ukraine (especially in Donbas), which voted mostly for Yanukovych, there was also a significant increase in the number of voters between the first and the second round – almost 20 percent. At some polling stations, the number of voters even miraculously exceeded the number of officially registered voters. (These were all methods from the rule book Putin had developed to lock his own people in elected positions in the years after 2000, up to and including assassination.)
It was apparent that the government was deceiving the voters and were stealing the victory from Yushchenko. This opinion was shared by the majority of voters, the opposition, and the international community. All official observers from international organizations (the European Parliament, NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Council of Europe, OSCE, PACE) were vocal about the large-scale fraud committed during the Presidential Elections in Ukraine, and their undemocratic nature and incompatibility with European standards.
Information on how exactly President Kuchma and Prime Minister Yanukovych’s people falsified the results began to transpire. The SBU had recorded the telephone conversations of the conspirators and it also turned out that voting figures in the regions were first sent to Yanukovych’s headquarters, where the data was amended, and only from there was it sent to the computer of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC).47 To create extra votes pushing up Yanukovych’s percentage, hundreds of thousands of fraudulent ballots printed in Russia had been filed into ballot boxes across the country. In telephone conversations with Russian members of the conspiracy, these fake ballots were referred to as “cookies”.
Nonetheless, on November 24, the CEC announced that, according to the official electoral count, Yanukovych had won and was President. Putin and the KGB had succeeded. Four years late, Ukraine was now at last theirs through Yanukovych. At any rate, so it was in the script that Putin had prepared.