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Friday, October 29, 1999 Published at 11:10 GMT


World: Europe

Profile: Leonid Kuchma




[ image: Leonid Kuchma points to the record]
Leonid Kuchma points to the record
By BBC regional analyst Malcolm Haslett

Leonid Kuchma is 61, but he has presented himself as the candidate for youth, innovation and reform.

Born in the northern province of Chernihiv on the border with Russia, he spent much of his career as a missile engineer, at the missile range at Baikonur in Kazakhstan and the top-secret Pivdenie missile factory near Dnipropetrovsk, where he eventually became general director.

Though formerly a Communist Party member, by the end of the 1980s he was an open critic of the Communist Party, and his reputation as an efficient manager led to his being chosen in 1992 for the prime minister's post under Ukraine's first post-communist president, Leonid Kravchuk.

He resigned a year later, however, complaining of the slow pace of reform, and stood against Mr Kravchuk in the June 1994 presidential election.

Mr Kuchma won a clear victory against the incumbent, receiving strong support from the industrial and comparatively "Russified" areas in the east and south, and his worst results in the nationalist west.

His reputation as more 'pro-Russian' than his rival was based on his support for the Commonwealth of Independent States and a special 'Slavic Union' within it.

But he was also a pro-market reformer, and he was increasingly to emphasise privatisation and liberalisation in his economic policies.

In foreign affairs also he took a comparatively pro-western stance, refusing to condemn Nato expansion into Central and Eastern Europe in the way that many Russians did.

In these elections he presented himself as the man who saved the Ukrainian economy.

Inflation, he pointed out, was over 10,000% annually when he took over in 1994. Now it's less than 20% and, he argues, the country needs to go further still with its efforts to overcome the legacy of the past.

Leonid Kuchma's critics, however, argue that economic reform has stalled in recent years, many workers have not been paid regular wages and foreign debt has soared.

This time the areas that gave him strongest support last time, the industrial and Russified East and the South, have voted heavily for his opponents.

The opposition has accused him of increasingly authoritarian ways, and of running a very dirty campaign in which his camp have sought to intimidate opposition workers and muzzle the press and media.

But the areas which voted against him last time, ironically, have come to his support this time.

Many Ukrainians may not be totally happy with their president, but they'll probably prefer him to a return to communism. He is now the clear favourite to win the second round in two weeks time.



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