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Thursday, 26 September, 2002, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Profile: Leonid Kuchma
Leonid Kuchma in 1999
Mr Kuchma points to improving economic figures

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma is facing new calls to resign, amid an international outcry over claims that he authorised arms sales to Iraq. BBC News Online looks back at his career.

Leonid Kuchma was born in 1938 in the Chernihiv region of Ukraine.

He graduated with a degree in physical engineering from Dnipropetrovsk State University in 1960.

He enjoyed a successful career in the Soviet machine-building industry, and was awarded two State Prizes for achievements in designing and developing rocket and space technologies - a field in which he was also a fairly prolific author.

Between 1960 and 1982 he worked as a technical designer at the "Pivdenne" Design Bureau, the world's largest space industry complex, which produced many of the USSR's best missiles.

Later, Mr Kuchma worked as the technical director of the Baikonur launch complex in Kazakhstan.

His final engineering post before entering politics was as Director General of Pivdenne between 1986 and 1992.

Prime minister, then president

His political career began in 1990, when he was elected to the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, for his first four-year term as a deputy.

Demonstrators in Kiev
Mass protests have called for his resignation
He was re-elected for a second term in 1994.

He then served as Ukrainian prime minister between October 1992 and September 1993.

He was elected president in 1994 on a manifesto advocating closer economic links with Russia and faster pro-market reforms, replacing the pro-Western Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine's first post-Soviet leader.

He oversaw the development of Ukraine's first post-Communist constitution, which was adopted in 1996.

Although he appointed a team of reformists to elaborate a programme of economic reforms after his election, progress was painfully slow.

The decline of the Ukrainian economy only actually stopped in 2000, with modest growth reported in 2001.


Political changes were also very slow, with entrenched opposition during his first term as president from the Communist and other left-wing factions in the Rada.

Leonid Kuchma
Mr Kuchma refuses to quit
The appointment of the former Chairman of the National Bank, Viktor Yushchenko, as Prime Minister in December 1999, appeared to herald a new period of economic and political stability.

However, given the opposition in parliament, he succeeded only in getting limited land reform legislation adopted, before being dismissed in May 2001.

He fell victim to a vote of no-confidence orchestrated by the Communists and the oligarchs (rich, politically influential businessmen), who resented his efforts to restrict their influence over politics, but Leonid Kuchma failed to come to his defence.

Over the last three years, Leonid Kuchma has shown himself increasingly intolerant of criticism, especially in the electronic media, who say they have become the target of abuse and harassment.

Secret recordings

But by far the most serious scandal to envelope the Ukrainian leader involves accusations that he was complicit in the September 2000 murder of Georgiy Gongadze, an opposition journalist.

Audio recordings, secretly made by the president's own guard, suggest that Leonid Kuchma asked his security services to rid him of an awkward and outspoken opponent.

Domestically, Mr Kuchma appears increasingly authoritarian, with some observers comparing his treatment of his opponents, and his crude, unsophisticated language and behaviour, to those of Slobodan Milosevic.

Internationally, most Western countries have drastically downgraded contacts, and Russia has also, to a lesser extent, sidelined him.

The Ukrainian opposition is now mounting an active and noisy campaign, demanding President Kuchma steps down ahead of the end of his second term in autumn 2004.

Given the complexity of Ukrainian legislation and splits within parliament, it seems unlikely that they will mount a successful attempt at impeachment.

But suggestions by the US that Leonid Kuchma has been involved in approving the illegal sale of radar system to Iraq (in violation of UN sanctions) look like destroying any political legitimacy he has left.

See also:

12 Nov 99 | Monitoring
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