Ukraine’s future as an independent democratic state hangs in the balance. President Leonid Kuchma stands accused of complicity in the murder of Georgy Gongadze, a journalist whose headless, mutilated body was identified this week, months after his disappearance. Revelations about Mr Kuchma’s involvement in a host of crimes from murder to corruption came from a former bodyguard, who after secretly bugging the President’s office, leaked tapes, which – if proved authentic – are a devastating indictment.
Mr Kuchma has now endorsed an investigation, even suggesting that foreign experts be included. While a praiseworthy gesture, it cannot be converted into reality unless Mr Kuchma stands aside and allows the investigation to go forward.
Even as he claims to support an investigation, President Kuchma, takes any available opportunity to lash out at his opponents. In a letter to The Financial Times, he said “my main accusers are precisely the same people who have blocked Ukraine’s transformation to a free economy” – condemning his critics for using Mr Gongadze’s death as “a political weapon designed to destabilize Ukraine”. Mr Kuchma publicly denounced the crowds of protesters against him as “a herd under various flags”.
If Mr Kuchma remains recalcitrant, continues to harass political opponents and the media, and drags his feet on the investigation, he risks relegating Ukraine to the same fate as neighbouring Belarus, where a repressive regime, embraced only by Russia, silences independent voices and political opposition