Pro-Russian candidate wins Ukrainian election

July 12, 1994|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Sun Staff Correspondent

KIEV, Ukraine -- In an election upset that could change Ukraine's relations both with the West and with Moscow, voters here have turned out incumbent President Leonid M. Kravchuk and replaced him with Leonid D. Kuchma, a pro-Russian former factory manager and prime minister.

The election underscored the deep split between east and west Ukraine, a stark reality in a 30-month-old nation that possesses a giant military, a still-considerable nuclear arsenal and a huge identity crisis.

In Lviv, in the nationalist west, Mr. Kravchuk won by 93.7 percent to 3.9 percent, according to unofficial results reported yesterday.

In Sevastopol, in the ardently Russian Crimea, Mr. Kuchma prevailed by 92.0 percent to 6.5 percent.

Mr. Kuchma put together the support of industrial managers, socialists and Communists to build an insurmountable lead in the heavily populated eastern Ukraine. Virtually complete results showed him unseating Mr. Kravchuk, who had campaigned in his new persona as Ukrainian nationalist and free-market reformer, by 52 percent to 45 percent.

The results raise the immediate question of a how a nation so divided can remain whole.

Time for rebuilding

Mr. Kuchma, 55, said last night that the often bitter campaign had served only to divide Ukraine further and that the time had come to start rebuilding the country.

He ran on a platform of restoring the old economic links that bound the former Soviet republics together and, in a sense, his victory continues a pattern -- already evident in Lithuania, Poland and Hungary -- of Communists and their allies returning to power in Eastern Europe.

But, as in each of those countries, local complications make such an easy generalization a bit too broad.

It's true that Mr. Kuchma came from the heart of the old Soviet nomenklatura. But so did Mr. Kravchuk. It's true that Mr. Kuchma wants to build an industrial system that bears more than a passing resemblance to the old Soviet one. But then Mr. Kravchuk's three years in office were hardly marked by daring or coherent economic reforms.

And Mr. Kuchma, far from rattling the old Soviet saber that is the Black Sea Fleet, wants to defuse the issue of its ownership by getting rid of it.

"People wanted changes in the leadership," Mr. Kravchuk's legal adviser, Ivan Tymchenko, said yesterday. "It was the economic situation, and the decline in living standards. People didn't know rationally who they wanted or what they wanted -- just an intuition that they wanted something different."

Mr. Kuchma's term, which is to begin within the next two weeks, will run until 1999.

Kravchuk out of sight

Mr. Kravchuk canceled a meeting with his advisers yesterday and made no public appearances, although the Itar-Tass news agency reported that he had conceded.

The 60-year-old president had been expected to win by a slight margin.

Mr. Kuchma's victory -- promising closer economic ties with Russia and a less confrontational military stand -- is clearly a plus for Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin. It does, though, serve a sort of notice on Mr. Yeltsin as well: He is now the only surviving member of the troika that disposed of the Soviet Union and created the Commonwealth of Independent States one weekend December 1991.

Stanislav Shushkevich of Belarus, who joined Mr. Yeltsin and Mr. Kravchuk in that endeavor, was ousted from office in March.

The Clinton administration and other Western countries had put their money on Mr. Kravchuk -- most recently last week, with a $4 billion aid package through the G-7 nations.

He was promising free-market reforms and had made a deal to get rid of Ukraine's nuclear arsenal. Mr. Kuchma's victory evidently changes the equation. A man who built his career as head of the world's largest rocket factory, he has raised questions about whether Ukraine can afford now to dispose of its missiles.

His triumph also promises to put off once again any effort to privatize Ukraine's industrial sector.

But it is, perhaps most strikingly, a repudiation of Ukrainian nationalism. Mr. Kravchuk had campaigned hard on the theme that only he would protect the young nation's statehood, and it was widely suggested that a Kuchma victory would lead to unrest or even violence in the western part of the country.

But, just as in Lithuania a year and a half ago, people here had tired of nationalist dogma. The economy is in a mess, and everyone remembers how things used to be better before independence. Mr. Kuchma was portrayed as the candidate of ethnic Russians -- yet ethnic Russians make up only a quarter of the population.

Crimean problem 'solved'

His jubilant press aide, Dmitri Tabachnik, said yesterday that in one stroke Ukraine had solved its Crimean problem, in the sense that the restive Russian population there will no longer want to secede from a country led by a man for whom they voted overwhelmingly.

But he conceded that a new problem might have been created in western Ukraine.

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