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Cablegate: Former President Kuchma On Ukrainian Election,

DE RUEHKV #0190/01 0341506
P 031506Z FEB 10

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 KYIV 000190


E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/02/2020

Classified By: Ambassador John F. Tefft ...

1. (C) Former Ukrainian President Kuchma had no kind words for the current "orange" government, accusing it of ruining the economy and the country's international reputation, and of deepening Ukraine's internal divisions. While he endorsed his former PM, Viktor Yanukovych, he characterized the February 7 runoff election as a choice between "bad and very bad." Kuchma dismissed the notion that Yanukovych would be a Russian tool, and praised Yatsenyuk among younger Ukrainian leaders for his "greater vision." He laid out the argument for an international consortium to manage (not to own) Ukraine's pipeline infrastructure, and said that the Russians would never stop dreaming of getting Sevastopol back. End summary. DOMESTIC POLITICS: ORANGE HASH ------------------------------
2. (C) Former Ukrainian President (1995-2005) Leonid Kuchma opened his February 2 introductory meeting with Ambassador Tefft with a critical assessment of Ukraine's trajectory since the 2004-05 "Orange Revolution." The country could hardly boast of its achievements, he lamented. The President and PM have been so busy fighting that the government has yet to elaborate a program to deal with the economic crisis. The economic situation is catastrophic, and technological progress will be impossible with the country barely able even to service its debts. Ukraine has lost its international position, Kuchma continued. It used to be a leader in the post-Soviet space; now, no one listens to what Ukraine says. Finally, Yushchenko has only deepened the divisions among Ukrainians by moves like his recent naming of Stepan Bandera as a "Hero of Ukraine" (note: Bandera led anti-Soviet Ukrainian partisans in the 1940s; his forces committed atrocities against Jews and Poles; end note).
3. (C) In the February 7 presidential runoff election, Ukrainians "are choosing between bad and very bad," said Kuchma. He added that he supports his former PM, Yanukovych ("his team is more professional"), over current PM Tymoshenko, who is traveling all over the country handing out money, apartments, and titles to land, essentially buying votes by distributing largesse as PM. By contrast, he maintained, Yanukovych had had to take a leave of absence as PM in 2004 to avoid any appearance of using administrative resources in his presidential bid.
4. (C) Kuchma fully expected Yanukovych to win on February 7. Rather than beginning to call foreign leaders, said Kuchma, Yanukovych should wait to see which foreign leaders call him. He should not rush to Moscow with an extended hand, but should make his first foreign trip to Brussels. President Obama should call to congratulate Yanukovych, added Kuchma, and should look for an early opportunity to invite him to Washington. Kuchma said it was a good thing that the U.S. is pursuing a balanced policy and is not supporting either candidate for the Ukrainian presidency -- unlike in 2004, in his view, when both the U.S. and Russia were actively involved.
5. (C) Speaking about some of the next-generation Ukrainian political leaders, Kuchma expressed confidence in Arseniy Yatsenyuk, whose "greater vision" he praised. Serhiy Tihipko also has good prospects, said Kuchma, although he added that Tihipko would not have done so well in the January 17 election if he had been attacked as fiercely as Yatsenyuk had been during the campaign. Kuchma concluded that Ukraine would be better served if Rada deputies were elected from single-member districts rather than by party lists. Currently, the parties represented in the Rada compete to see who has the most MPs with a criminal record, he quipped. RUSSIA, GAS, THE BLACK SEA FLEET, AND GEORGIA ---------------------------------------------
6. (C) Neither Yanukovych nor his advisors are pawns of Russia, Kuchma insisted, nor is Tymoshenko necessarily "pro-European." Indeed, the Russians have enough leverage over Tymoshenko to keep her in line, he said. The big business interests who back Yanukovych will force him to protect Ukraine's interests. In this context, Kuchma criticized the Tymoshenko government's willingness to approve the sale of the Industrial Union of Donbass to Russian oligarchs. He added that if you monitor the Russian press, you will find plenty of grumbling that the two candidates for the Ukrainian presidency are not as pro-Russian as Moscow would wish. KYIV 00000190 002 OF 002
7. (C) Ukraine had had a gas agreement with Russia with a price of $50 per TCM through the year 2010, Kuchma averred. Russia had abrogated the agreement unilaterally; Ukraine should have gone to international arbitration, but instead signed a new agreement under which Ukraine pays more for Russian gas than Germany does. Regarding the idea of a gas consortium, Kuchma said that the 2003 discussions among Ukraine, Russia and Germany had not/not been about joint ownership of Ukraine's gas infrastructure, but only about its management. Ukraine's compressors and pumps are obsolete and leak gas; they must be modernized or replaced. The consortium would have provided for this modernization, and would have offered Ukraine an opportunity to explore one of of Russia's most promising untapped gas fields in the Caspian basin. It had been a win-win situation for everyone involved, Kuchma claimed. Instead, Ukraine is now left with its creaking infrastructure, and her estwhile business partners are investing $30 billion in new pipelines that bypass Ukraine.
8. (C) Kuchma downplayed the strategic importance of the Russian Black Sea Fleet (BSF), saying it could dispatch a ship to scare Georgia, but would be no match for the Turkish fleet. Since Ukraine must now pay the "world price" for gas, said Kuchma mischievously, Ukraine should insist that Russia pay the "world price" (i.e., "what the Americans have to pay for bases") to homeport its BSF in Sevastopol. The question of Sevastopol is above all an emotional/nostalgia issue for Russians ("the city of Russian glory"), and they will never quit hoping to get it back. Kuchma said he once told Moscow Mayor Luzhkov that Ukraine would agree to return Sevastopol to Russia -- provided the U.S. returned Alaska to Russia, and Russia returned the Kurile Islands. to Japan and Kaliningrad to Germany.
9. (C) Ukraine would never recognize Abkhazia or South Ossetia as independent, Kuchma insisted. However, the 2008 war in Georgia had raised some questions. Russia had sent its army into Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and the world had swallowed it. What, then, would happen in 2017 if the Russians unilaterally declared that the BSF would not leave Sevastopol? Would any country be willing to become involved in a conflict on Ukraine's behalf? he asked. COMMENT -------
10. (C) Kuchma displayed a bit of historical amnesia in suggesting that Yanukovych had avoided using administrative resources in his failed attempt to win the presidency in 2004. Perhaps more indicative was Kuchma's less-than-ringing endorsement of Yanukovych as the lesser of two evils. Nevertheless, Kuchma's conviction that Yanukovych, as president, would have to defend Ukrainian interests (if only business interests) vis-a-vis Moscow tracks with what most of our interlocutors have been saying. TEFFT

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