With its accusations about poisonings and conspiracies, Ukraine's presidential election campaign is a spectacle only the Borgias could love. Ten days ago, Viktor Yushchenko, the opposition candidate for president (who is leading in the polls), disappeared from the campaign trail. He re-surfaced in Vienna recovering from what at first was thought to be food poisoning.
But it is now widely alleged in Ukraine that Yushchenko's food may have been laced with the deadly drug ricin, once a favorite of KGB assassins, who used it in the murder of Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident, in London in 1978. In most countries, such charges would seem like paranoid delusions. Not in Ukraine, where the current prime minister, and Mr Yushchenko's leading rival for president, Viktor Yanukovych, has been twice convicted for violent crimes.
Yushchenko has now resumed campaigning, his face partially paralyzed when he spoke to a huge rally of supporters in Kiev last week. His opponents cavalierly dismiss the affair, with the deputy head of President Leonid Kuchma's administration suggesting that Yushchenko should hire a food taster. The matter is now the subject of a criminal investigation.
Suspicions of foul play deepened when the opposition's second-leading figure, Yuliya Tymoshenko, a former deputy prime minister, was summoned by a Moscow prosecutor to answer questions related to charges that years ago she bribed a Russian military officer to benefit the gas firm she headed. Indeed, Russia's military prosecutor has now issued an international arrest warrant for her, even though the officer she is accused of bribing was acquitted in a trial in Moscow last year of the very charges that prosecutors now want to question her about.