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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 November 2005, 16:26 GMT
How Ukraine 'verged on civil war'
By Olexiy Solohubenko
BBC News, Kiev

A policeman rests in Kiev (Picture: 2004)
Last year tensions threatened to boil over into violence
A year after Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" swept Viktor Yushchenko into power new evidence has come to light about how tense the stand-off really was.

Former officers of Ukraine's secret service, the SBU, told the BBC that bloodshed had been avoided at the last minute.

They said fully armed troops were first ordered to confront the demonstrators in Kiev's Independence Square but were then dramatically told to go back to barracks 20 minutes later.

The then SBU head, Gen Ihor Smeshko, for the first time went public, saying that civil war had been avoided only after intense negotiations between representatives of the old cabinet of President Leonid Kuchma, key figures in the opposition and several ambassadors.

Gen Smeshko said he had had to give a personal pledge that government buildings would not be seized by the demonstrators, and only after this the troops were ordered to withdraw by Ukraine's interior minister.

"There were hot heads on both sides who would stop at nothing in order to seize power," Gen Smeshko said.

He added that the biggest threat was not in some extremist groups trying to seize or buy weapons, but in the real possibility of the conflict between supporters of Mr Yushchenko and then Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych spilling into the army and security services.

New political test

A year after those dramatic events and just four months before parliamentary elections, the party of the defeated Mr Yanukovych is leading in some opinion polls.

From left to right: Ukraine's former President Leonid Kuchma, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine's former PM Viktor Yanukovych
Russia showed strong support for Mr Yanukovych (right) before the poll

Splits in the administration between President Yushchenko and the charismatic former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko are destroying their ratings and give Mr Yanukovych a chance to lead the government after the May poll.

Officials close to Mr Yanukovych have privately told the BBC that he is talking to the president every week.

Mr Yushchenko's chief-of-staff does not deny this, but says it is normal practice.

All these revelations will dismay not only supporters of the "Orange Revolution" but also numerous pundits in Ukraine and in the West, who had dismissed Mr Yanukovych after he dramatically lost the vote last year.

Once again, Ukraine is unfinished business and the ability of Ukrainians to reach a compromise and avoid confrontation is going through a serious test.

As campaigning gets under way again the country of 48 million remains deeply split.

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