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06KIEV1022, UKRAINE: PARTY OF REGIONS ELECTION STRATEGY: A NEW

March 15, 2006

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06KIEV1022 2006-03-15 17:05 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Kyiv
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 KIEV 001022 

SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/15/2016 
TAGS: PREL PGOV PARM
SUBJECT: UKRAINE: PARTY OF REGIONS ELECTION STRATEGY: A NEW 
APPROACH? 

Classified By: Charge d'Affaires, a.i., reason 1.4 (b,d) 

1. (C) Summary:  Ukrainians and outside observers are 
currently contemplating the increasing possibility that Party 
of Regions, led by Viktor Yanukovych, may return to power as 
part of a coalition emerging from the March 26 elections in 
which Regions will by all accounts win a plurality (an 
estimated 30 percent).  In the wake of then-PM Yanukovych's 
failed attempt to steal the 2004 Presidential election, 
application of administrative resource abuses, and advice 
from the Kremlin's top political consultants, Regions 
seemingly adopted a different approach to the 2006 elections. 
 Its foreign advisers hail from the U.S., not Russia; its 
formal party platform reads like an ideal pro-business, 
pro-investment manifesto; Regions has pledged its election 
observers will follow a code of conduct and has publicly 
highlighted potential election process concerns it ignored, 
or caused, in 2004. 

2. (C) The question remains, however: is there a new Regions? 
 Many Ukrainians who remember well the actions of key 
Regions' figures in office and during the 2004 campaign 
remain skeptical.  Recent Regions actions suggest a two-track 
strategy.  On February 17, local Regions representatives in 
Crimea used a flawed election law provision to secure a court 
ruling, since overturned, to shut down a media outlet, Black 
Sea TV, in the only known such incident of the 2006 cycle, 
but reminiscent of the pressure the same forces, as 
incumbents, placed on media in 2004.  On March 9, Regions 
Campaign Chair Kushnaryov unleashed an anti-American diatribe 
accusing the U.S. of meddling in Ukraine's internal affairs, 
posting it on the Regions website.  On March 14, the 
Committee of Voters of the Donbas, a Regions-affiliated NGO 
created in 2004 to confuse voters and obstruct the work of 
the genuine Committee of Voters of Ukraine (CVU), elaborated 
on Kushnaryov's charges of U.S. interference in the election 
process.  Meanwhile, concerns about potential election day 
abuses in the Regions base of Donetsk persist, fueled by the 
Regions' March 14 attempt to secure Rada authorization for 
Polling Station Commissions (PSCs) to amend voter lists on 
site on election day.  End summary. 

A new Regions to help move past the divisions of 2004? 
--------------------------------------------- --------- 

3. (C) Prematurely written off after the 2004 presidential 
election cycle, ex-PM and Regions' party leader Yanukovych 
made a remarkable political comeback in late 2005, as Regions 
took over the lead of opinion polls when the leading Team 
Orange accrimoniously split into factions in September. 
Regions has run a well-organized, active campaign throughout 
most of the country, in contrast to Our Ukraine.  To help 
facilitate the possibility of a return to government after 
the elections, which would require joining a coalition with 
one of the larger Orange parties, Regions quietly began to 
build bridges both inside Ukraine and abroad, hiring 
image-making consultants, suggesting that it could serve as a 
reliable coalition partner with a pro-business, minimalist 
government approach, and stating that its presence in 
government could help heal the divisive wounds of the 2004 
election which divided Ukraine into "Orange" and "Blue." 
Amid the continuing fratricidal Orange sniping between Our 
Ukraine and the Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT), conventional wisdom 
in Kiev's chattering classes have come to believe that an Our 
Ukraine-Regions grand coalition was more likely than a 
post-election Maidan reunion. 

4. (SBU) Regions' 2006 campaign has featured a new focus on 
the integrity of the electoral process.  Its American 
campaign consultants run a "Ukraine Election Integrity 
Project" for training campaign workers and raising concerns 
about election process shortcomings (ref B).  On March 13, 
Regions held a press conference to voice concerns about 
administrative flaws which they said could undermine the 
integrity of the March 26 elections, primarily understaffed 
PSCs and voter list problems, calling on Ukrainians and 
international forces to support Regions-proposed fixes to the 
electoral law, some of which were passed March 14 (ref C). 
Regions also asserted these shortcomings were a part of a 
concerted strategy by those currently in power, particularly 
Our Ukraine, to undermine the election, including creating 
new voters' lists to replace those used in 2004; and 
fostering problems in transliteration from Russian to 
Ukrainian, which disproportionally affects the Regions' bases 
of support in eastern and southern Ukraine; and boycotting of 
PSCs in the east and south to prevent their functioning due 
to a lack of a quorum.  (Note: the claim that the 
transliteration problem affects Regions' base areas more than 
others has some merit, though it affects Russian-speaking 
"Orange" strongholds like Kiev as well). 

With some familiar faces... 
--------------------------- 

5. (C) For many, memories of the abuses under 
Kuchma-Yanukovych and during the 2004 presidential election 
cycle remain fresh; while Yanukovych started denouncing 
Kuchma and Kuchmaism as early as December 2004, prior to the 
revote which elected Yushchenko President, Yanukovych has not 
acknowledged Regions' role in perpetrating the electoral 
f
raud witnessed by thousands of domestic and international 
observers.  Instead, we understand that he continues to rage 
privately about how the election was stolen from him by 
Kuchma and Western figures whose "putsch" denied him the 
Presidency (refs A-B). 

6. (C) Regions' Rada list includes many 2004 election 
mischief makers.  The ex-Central Election Committee Chair who 
presided over the falsification effort and declared 
Yanukovych the winner, Serhiy Kivalov, is number 27 on the 
Regions' electoral list, guaranteed a Rada seat that will 
give him immunity from criminal prosecution.  Many of the 
former governors/oblast officials who applied administrative 
resource abuses on behalf of Yanukovych are also prominent 
Regions list candidates, led by ex-Kharkiv governor and 
Regions Campaign Chair Yevhen Kushnaryov (number 11) and 
Donetsk Oblast Council Chair Borys Kolesnikov (number 10), 
identified by most as the real political brains behind the 
Donetsk clan and Regions.  The ex-Prosecutor General who did 
not prosecute any high-ranking perpetrators of the 2004 
election fraud, Oleksander Piskun, is number 96 on Regions' 
list, also guaranteed a Rada seat and immunity if current 
polls prove accurate. 

...and Echoes of familiar tactics 
--------------------------------- 

7. (SBU) In mid-February, the Crimean branches of Party of 
Regions and a pro-Russia group of parties called the Russian 
bloc took advantage of a misguided clause in the election law 
passed in mid-2005, which experts had warned could be used by 
those of ill-intent to shut down legitimate media commentary 
on elections, parties, and candidates, to secure a February 
17 ruling by a Simferopol district court to suspend Black Sea 
TV's broadcast license until after the elections.  The 
pretext was that a program on Black Sea TV, whose owner is 
affiliated with BYuT, had announced poll results that 
allegedly were biased in favor of BYuT and thus caused a 
negative impact on their local Bloc for Yanukovych.  (Note: 
Regions consultants told us that the National Regions party 
had not authorized the action; ref B). 

8. (SBU) To date in the 2006 election cycle, this remains the 
only effort by any political party to shut down a media 
outlet, echoing a frequent concern in 2004.  After the 
Crimean Appeals Court invalidated the ruling February 23, 
local Regions leader Vasyl Kiselyov filed a defamation suit 
against Black Sea TV March 2, securing a second shutdown 
ruling by the same Simferopol Court March 7.  Black Sea TV 
Director-General Tetyana Krasikova told us March 15 that the 
Crimean Court of Appeals threw out the March 7 ruling on 
March 14.  Krasikova had told us March 10 that local cable TV 
operators across Crimea were illegally dropping Black Sea TV 
under pressure from pro-Yanukovych municipal officials. 

9. (C) The day after the U.S. House of Representatives passed 
legislation abolishing the Jackson-Vanik amendment for 
Ukraine, Regions' Campaign Chair Kushnaryov unleashed a 
strong anti-American diatribe March 9, belittling "sharply 
accelerated U.S. actions on the eve of the Ukrainian 
elections."  He alleged that the U.S. was promoting better 
economic relations with Ukraine (Market Economy Status, a WTO 
bilateral accession agreement, Jackson-Vanik) in order to 
meddle in Ukraine's election campaign and ensure that a 
"Maidan team" willing to "take orders from across the 
Atlantic" stayed in power.  The U.S. interference as a 
"shadowy player" was necessary, according to Kushnaryov, 
because the Orange parties could not win honestly. 
Kushnaryov who as Kharkiv governor in 2004 was noted for 
administrative pressures on state officials to vote for 
Yanukovych, referenced Ambassador's calls to regional 
governors in 2004 urging them to ensure elections were 
conducted fairly, asked if similar calls were being made in 
2006 now that "Orange" forces were in office, and suggested 
this was a classic example of American double standards. 

10. (SBU) Kushnaryov's charges of U.S. interference in the 
elections were echoed at a March 14 press conference called 
by a little known NGO "The Committee of Voters of the 
Donbas," whose representative spun the alleged web of 
organizations and procedures the U.S. supposedly used to 
influence the electoral process and civil society in Ukraine. 
 While the NGO does not claim any affiliation, Dmitry 
Tkachenko, the head of the genuine CVU in Donetsk, told us in 
May 2005 that the pseudo-NGO was the creation of Regions' 
Donetsk boss Kolesnikov (ref D).  Kolesnikov had launched the 
Committee of Voters of the Donbas two months before the 2004 
election, according to Tkachenko, to confuse voters and 
prevent the CVU from carrying out its activities in Donetsk, 
with the collusion of Donetsk authorities. 

11. (C) Comment:  The reappearance of the Committee of Voters 
of Donbas in the 2006 election cycle, reprising its 2004 role 
of confusing voters and providing misleading information, is 
a disturbing indication that Regions has not abandoned all 
the tactics used in 2004.  The well-choreographed March 14 
effort, complete with thousands of chanting young supporters 
on the streets around the Rada, to secure quick Rada approval 
for measures to allow PSCs to amend voter lists on the spot 
on election day, loosing provisions intended to prevent 
election day manipulation in the name of ensuring the 
constitutional right to vote, recalls similar justifications 
and positions by the same Rada parties in December 2004 
(Regions, Communists, SPDU(o), and Labor Ukraine, now known 
as the Lytvyn Electoral Bloc) prior to the December 26 revote 
(ref C).  That said, there are problems with the voter lists, 
and both the CVU and the CEC endorsed court-authorized 
election day changes in combination with safeguards to 
prevent duplicate voting (ref C). 

12. (C) Among observers in eastern Ukraine who have watched 
Regions operate for years, there is skepticism that Regions 
has genuinely changed in the past 17 months.  Roman 
Pyatyhorets, Zaporizhzhya oblast head of the CVU, predicted 
to us February 28 that Regions would more or less play by the 
rules in this election in an attempt to get back into power, 
but that their true nature would reemerge if successful. 
Volodymyr Piskovy, Zaporizhzhya correspondent for the weekly 
pro-reform Dzerkalo Tyzhnya, expressed the same sentiment 
more colorfully:  "Regions politicians still follow the code 
of criminals: whatever can be taken is ours, and what is ours 
is not to be given away."  In the end, no one can say for 
certain how Regions would conduct itself in office until they 
return to government, a moment which may come sooner rather 
than later. 

13. (U) Visit Embassy Kiev's classified website at: 
www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/kiev. 
Gwaltney

 

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