UKRAINE is a giant seesaw balancing between Europe and the
former Soviet Union, poised to elect a new leader who will tip the
Slav nation one way or another.
The battle for Ukraine's presidency in elections on June 26 will
most likely be fought by two men with the same first name - Leonid
- and two dramatically different visions of Ukraine's future:
Kravchuk, the incumbent, and Kuchma, his former prime minister who
resigned last September.
Mr. Kravchuk has maintained a pro-Western foreign policy,
building a reputation as the guarantor of Ukraine's sovereignty.
Mr. Kuchma, in contrast, promises to save the country's faltering
post-Soviet economy by bringing Ukraine closer to the economic and
political fold of its former Soviet partners, particularly Russia.
That both men have a roughly equal shot at the top position
reflects the sharp divide between Ukraine's nationalist,
Europe-oriented western region, and its pro-Russian, pro-communist
east. These disparate voices have made Ukraine a model of
indecision, resulting in a nation of 52 million suffering from
economic chaos at home and an incoherent foreign policy.
Rejecting Poland's "shock therapy," Kravchuk has preached a
"third way" that falls between the Soviet-style centralized
economy and a market economy. But in the absence of a clear-cut
economic policy, industrial output declined nearly 40 percent in
the first quarter from last year, without a firm base of privatized
enterprise to take up the slack. Dozens of major plants have
closed, and thousands of state employees have gone without salaries
An uncertain commitment to West
In foreign policy, Ukraine has pursued a similarly undefined
agenda, trying to embrace the West without cutting links with
Russia and the ex-Soviet republics of the Commonwealth of
Independent States (CIS).
Kiev has joined NATO's Partnership for Peace, has just Tuesday
signed a partnership accord with the European Union, and has agreed
to get rid of its former Soviet nuclear arsenal - the third largest
in the world - much to the relief of the West. It is a member of
the CIS, recently joining its economic union in fear of losing
access to markets and raw materials.
"With a Kravchuk presidency you'll have more of the same -
ambiguity with a lacing of desire to push westward," says Ian
Brzezinski, a Kiev-based Western analyst. "But Kuchma has
unambiguously defined his vision of Ukraine as a member of the Slav
community of nations, that its best economic future lies within an
economic union of the Commonwealth. That is a Ukraine
geopolitically oriented toward the East, which is worrying because
it may pull itself from Europe."
Days before the June 26 election, polls indicate Kravchuk may be
inching ahead of his rival, who was far and away Ukraine's most
popular politician during and after his tenure as prime minister.
The five other registered candidates lag far behind.
Kravchuk has lost much support as Ukraine's economy collapsed.
But the once-Communist-turned-nationalist is trying to regain his
base by posing as a defender of Ukraine's sovereignty and labeling
his opponents as advocates of a return to the old Communist order. …