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Viktor Yanukovych

Viktor Yanukovich was the leader of the powerful "Party of Regions" in the Ukrainian parliament. Yanukovich was born in 1950 in the industrial city of Dnipropetrovsk, in eastern Ukraine. Yanukovich had a troubled youth. He was arrested in 1968 and convicted to a juvenile colony for manslaughter. And then in 1970 he was arrested again and sent to jail, apparently for beating up someone. Yanukovich's political career began in the mid 1990s as a member of the Donetzk regional administration, where he ultimately took over as chairman and was elected a deputy in the Donetzk regional council. In 2002, President Leonid Kuchma appointed him prime minister and he held that position through the first two rounds of the 2004 presidential election, in which he was a candidate.

Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych was born on July 9, 1950 in Yenakiyeve, Donetsk region. He graduated from Donetsk Polytechnic Institute (now Donetsk State Technical University) in 1980 with a major in Mechanical Engineering. He obtained Master’s Degree in International Law at the Ukrainian Academy of Foreign Trade in 2001. Viktor Yanukovych is a member of the Academy of Economic Sciences of Ukraine, PhD in Economics. He holds awards “For Merit” of the first, second and third degrees, Honored Transport Worker of Ukraine. Viktor Yanukovych’s core public activity is being the Honorary Leader of the Party of Regions. He is married to Lyudmyla Yanukovych.

Yanukovych had been very poor as a child, living in a village with his grandmother until she died and then in an orphanage until he turned 17; he had left the orphanage "with a lot of money" as he had learned to "play cards well." Yanukovych had returned to his grandmother's small house, which he inherited, to renovate it and work the land, but had immediately butted heads with an alcoholic neighbor, a police officer, who had illegally taken over part of the Yanukovych family spread. Yanukovych told the cop to get off his land; in retaliation, the cop fabricated a criminal case against him, and Yanukovych went to jail. After his release, Yanukovych again asserted his right to his grandmother's property, which prompted the cop to fabricate another criminal case. Yanukovych was given no time to prepare for his second trial and was actually informed of his trial date as he was preparing to propose to his wife. The trial lasted a cursory 45 minutes, after which he was again sentenced to jail.

Outraged about being railroaded a second time, Yanukovych became a difficult charge for his jailers, refusing to eat prison food and subsisting only on food packages sent to him by others. Yanukovych was punished for his intransigence by being put in isolation 14 times, for stints of 7 to 40 days. After being released from prison, it took him four years to get the local courts to overturn his convictions and officially clear his name -- something that rarely happened in Soviet times. Yanukovych credited Donetsk-born Soviet Cosmonaut Georgi Beregovoy, a longtime Donbas representative in the Supreme Soviet, for taking an interest in his case and getting him exonerated.

2004 - Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych

Viktor Yanukovych, first served as prime minister in 2002-04 under President Kuchma and was considered Kuchma's anointed successor before the Orange Revolution brought Viktor Yushchenko to power. In 2003, during Yanukovych's premiership under then-President Leonid Kuchma, Kyiv sought expanded cooperation with NATO, and declared NATO membership as a strategic goal. Under Yanukovych's premiership in 2004 Ukraine posted impressive economic growth of 12 percent.

President Kuchma tapped him to serve as prime minister because he needed the support of Donetsk clan politicians, but had actually tried to engineer Yanukovych's ouster with a rigged Rada vote in April 2003 -- a blow that Yanukovych parried with the aid of then-opposition leaders Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, and Moroz. Yanukovych's relationship with Kuchma worsened in early 2004, when he suggested that the deeply unpopular Kuchma distance himself from the Yanukovych presidential campaign. Yanukovych, in retrospect, should have resigned as prime minister in April 2004 and hit the campaign trail; not resigning, had been a "fatal mistake." Kuchma had persuaded influential figures from the Party of Regions (including Rinat Akhmetov) that Yanukovych should stay on as PM. Yanukovych accepted the advice of his party members and ran as "Kuchma's man."

The campaign leading to the October 31, 2004 presidential election was characterized by widespread violations of democratic norms, including government intimidation of the opposition and of independent media, abuse of state administrative resources, highly skewed media coverage, and numerous provocations. The two major candidates--Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leader (and former Prime Minister) Viktor Yushchenko--each garnered between 39% and 40% of the vote and proceeded to a winner-take-all second round. The November 21 runoff election was marred by credible reports of widespread and significant violations. The December 26 re-vote took place in an atmosphere of calm. President Yushchenko was inaugurated January 23, 2005.

2006 - Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych

The Orange Revolution at the end of 2004 resulted in nullification of a suspect presidential election; a new, internationally monitored election brought reformist Viktor Yushchenko into power. Ukraine held parliamentary and local elections on March 26, 2006. International observers noted that conduct of the Rada election was in line with international standards for democratic elections, making this the most free and fair in Ukraine's history. Unlike the first rounds of the 2004 presidential election, candidates and parties were able to express themselves freely in a lively press and assembled without hindrance. There was no systemic abuse of administrative resources as there had been under the previous regime.

The Party of Regions and the bloc of former Prime Minster Tymoshenko (BYuT), whose government the President dismissed in September 2005, finished ahead of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc. Other parties passing the 3% threshold to enter parliament were the Socialist Party of Ukraine and the Communist Party of Ukraine. According to final election results, five parties in the chamber were: the pro-Russian opposition Regions Party with 186 seats in the legislature, Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc with 129, President Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine with 81, the Socialists with 33 and the Communists with 21.

No party held the majority of Rada seats needed to form a government. Considerable internal squabbling within the Yushchenko camp led to the election of Yushchenko’s rival Viktor Yanukovych as prime minister. Following four months of difficult negotiations, the Anti-Crisis Coalition was formed by Party of Regions, the Socialists, and the Communists. The new coalition formed a government, confirmed August 4, 2006, led by Prime Minister Yanukovych. This, the first government formed after the extensive constitutional amendments brokered as part of the Orange Revolution, saw the Prime Minister's influence and power growing, often at the expense of the President. This finally brought some political stability to the country. Indeed, since the election of Yanukovych the political situation has calmed, and theeconomy has started to recover.

2010 - President Viktor Yanukovich

Party of Regions head Viktor Yanukovych served as Prime Minister from 2002-04 under former President Kuchma and from 2006-07 under President Yushchenko. Yanukovych supports a close relationship with Moscow and was the most pro-Russian of the major candidates in the 2010 election. Yanukovych calls for abandoning Ukraine's efforts to join NATO, though his advisors caution that a Yanukovych presidency would not end cooperation with the Alliance. Yanukovych does not emphasize Ukraine's integration with the European Union, but has not come out against seeking eventual membership. In August 2008, Yanukovych publicly supported recognition of the "independence" of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and, although criticized even from some within the Party of Regions, has not recanted. He advocates partial Russian control of Ukraine's natural gas pipeline infrastructure through a joint consortium, and joining a customs union with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. On the domestic front he is pushing legislation that would immediately raise social welfare payments, pensions and the minimum wage as a key part of his election strategy.

On 17 January 2010 exit polls announced within minutes after elections ended in Ukraine indicated the country's current and former prime ministers would emerge from a field of 18 candidates to face one another in a run-off in three weeks. Incumbent President Viktor Yushchenko was out of the running with a reported fifth-place finish. Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich faced current Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in a presidential runoff 07 February 2010. Mr. Yanukovich, who lost the last presidential elections in 2004, was seen as the front-runner. Many of the same criticisms applied to Yulia Tymoshenko as to President Yushchenko - close ties with Georgia, reduced emphasis on the Russian language and controversial support for Ukraine's anti-Soviet insurgents in World War Two. Moscow considers them to have been German collaborators.

In what appeared to be a stunning reversal of Ukraine's Orange Revolution, pro-Moscow opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych won the country's presidential election. With almost all votes counted from the February 7 runoff, Yanukovych had a lead of some 2.8 percentage points over Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, meaning she can't overtake him.

The win for Yanukovych completed a dramatic reversal of fortune for a man seen as the villain of the Orange Revolution in 2004. His victory in a rigged presidential election then brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets in protests that helped overturn the result. But Ukrainians have been disillusioned by five years of bitter infighting between the Orange Revolution's leaders. On 25 February 2010, five years after the Orange Revolution ousted him from power, Ukraine's pro-Moscow opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych was sworn in as president.

The Ukrainian parliament voted on 08 October 2010 to amend the country's constitution to make the presidential term of office five years, the same length of term held by deputies in the country.

Ukraine held local elections on October 31, 2010. International and local election observers concluded that overall the elections did not meet standards for openness and fairness. Observers noted shortcomings such as insufficient training for electoral commissions, which contributed to procedural violations and organizational problems. In particular, the registration of fraudulent Batkivshchyna Party candidate lists led to the disqualification of all Batkivshchyna Party candidates in the Kyiv and Lviv oblast council elections, preventing the main opposition party from running for election in regions where it had considerable support. Election observers also reported incidences of law enforcement authorities pressuring monitors and candidates, and election officials selectively barring or removing candidates from ballots.

There was a sharp increase in criminal charges brought against opposition politicians after the appointment of a new prosecutor general in November 2010, giving rise to concerns of selective and politically-motivated prosecution by the Yanukovych administration. During Yanukovych’s Presidency, there had been notable arrests and prosecutions of members of the former government, including against former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko who had been in prison since December 2010.

At the end of 2010 and throughout 2011, prosecutors brought charges against former Prime Minister Tymoshenko and many members of her government for abuse of office and/or misuse of state funds during their tenure. Tymoshenko was convicted and jailed in October 2011 on charges relating to actions taken while in office. Independent reports, such as those by the Danish Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, assessed that Ms Tymoshenko’s trial was subject to numerous and serious violations of fundamental legal principles, in direct contradiction of common European values.

The questioning of charged individuals by government prosecutors, which often lasted for hours at a time over a period of several days, and denial of bail in certain cases, further exacerbated the perception of selective prosecution. However, the government contended that the prosecutions were not targeted toward the opposition, and that there were many ongoing investigations into pervasive corruption on the part of previous and current government officials. Once cases were turned over to the courts, the judges’ tendency to deny defense motions, support prosecution motions, and to violate courtroom procedures raised questions about the independence of the judiciary.

A political crisis erupted in Ukraine after ruling party deputies pushed a bill that dramatically increased the official status of the Russian language through the parliament. The speaker of Ukraine's parliament, Volodymyr Lytvyn, tendered his resignation one day after the vote, which took place late on 03 July 2012. Police used tear gas, batons, and other forceful methods to disperse protesters in downtown Kyiv the day after the vote. Opposition politicians are calling it a full-blown crisis and vowing to continue to battle the ruling party of President Viktor Yanukovych over the bill's fate and the way they believe it was bulldozed through parliament.

On August 09, 2012 Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych signed a law that restored many privileges to Russian, a language that was favored in the Soviet era. Under the new law, an estimated half of Ukraine’s districts will allow government business to be conducted in Russian. About one quarter of Ukraine’s 46 million people are believed to speak Russian at home. Yanukovych is believed to have played the language card to energize his heavily Russian-speaking electorate in Eastern Ukraine. Ukrainians voted for a new parliament on October 28 and Yanukovych had steadily fallen in public opinion polls since his inauguration in February 2010.

On 28 October 2012 Ukrainians voted in parliamentary elections seen as a test of the democratic credentials of a nation that seesaws between European democracy and Russian authoritarianism. The election came halfway through the five-year presidency of Viktor Yanukovych. International election monitors gave a strongly negative assessment of Ukraine's parliamentary vote.

His boosters said he brought stability to this massive nation of 46 million people. His critics said he was pushing Ukraine in an authoritarian direction, halfway toward Vladimir Putin's strong rule in Russia. He degraded press freedom, rigged local elections and threatened non-governmental organizations. After the prosecutions of ministers of the prior government, US and European Union officials warned him against using the justice system to selectively target his political opponents.

Ukraine leaders have to balance their nation between Russia and the European Union. Protests erupted in Ukraine in November 2013 when Yanukovych backed out of a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer ties to Russia. As the Ukrainian protest slowly evolved from a peaceful pro-EU demonstration in November 2013 into a mass-rioting gang shooting at police with firearms in February 2014, it seemed that the Ukrainian president was preoccupied with two things: staying in power and avoiding responsibility. “A lot depends on the resolve of President Yanukovich. Until now he hasn’t shown the necessary qualities to take control of the situation,” said Veronika Krasheninnikova in February 2014, head of the Institute of Foreign Policy Research and Initiatives, a political think tank. “So most probably it will continue to deteriorate. Chaos will continue spreading in Ukraine.”

On several occasions Yanukovich could have acted decisively in one of two ways. He could have stepped down and called an early election, de facto putting the future of Ukraine to a referendum. This would most likely ruin Yanukovich’s personal aspiration for reelection. In a post-protest election, an apparently weak leader accused of corruption by his rivals and with an ailing economy on his hands would barely stand a chance. Or Yanukovich could have dispersed the protesters and maintained public order in the country, whatever criticism it might have brought. This is how the then Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili, acted in 2007. He brutally suppressed a peaceful protest and called an early presidential election, which he won.

The Ukrainian president chose neither option. He made a series of moves that the moderate opposition demanded of him, which can only be described as too little too late. Yanukovych, who reportedly fled Kyiv for the eastern city of Kharkiv 21 February 2014, likened the opposition to Nazis and insisted that he would not resign or leave Ukraine. However, Yanukovych was left powerless. His Cabinet promised to back a new government, the police said it supported the opposition, and the army said it will not get involved. Border guards said a plane intended to take Yanukovych to an unknown destination 22 February 2014 was denied permission to take off.

"The [Ukrainian] authorities' impotence, President Yanukovych's personal weakness and indecision doomed the people of Ukraine to great sufferings. The people who took to the streets had the right to peacefully protest against corruption and arbitrary rule," Medvedev said 21 March 2014.

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Page last modified: 23-03-2014 19:43:58 ZULU