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Ukrainian Premier Foresees New Crisis

Backers Would Block Defeat In Presidential Rerun, He Says

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, December 17, 2004; Page A01

KIEV, Ukraine, Dec. 16 -- Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said Thursday that he would not accept a victory by his opponent in the Dec. 26 rerun of Ukraine's contested presidential race and that his supporters were likely to turn out into the streets en masse to block such an outcome.

Yanukovych, who was the government-backed candidate in the contested vote of Nov. 21, said the country's political and judicial systems had buckled under the weight of what he called illegal demonstrations and were violating the constitution to orchestrate his defeat.

"Even if Mr. Yushchenko wins, he will never be a president of Ukraine," Premier Viktor Yanukovych said in an interview yesterday. (File Photo)

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Yanukovych warned in an interview that he might not be able to control supporters who are already mobilizing to launch a campaign of street protests in the capital in the event of a victory by the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko.

"Even if Mr. Yushchenko wins, he will never be a president of Ukraine," Yanukovych said in a 45-minute interview at his campaign headquarters in Kiev. "The people who voted for me, they will never recognize him. They are talking about it even now."

His comments suggested that his supporters intend to plunge Ukraine into a new political crisis by adopting some of the tactics employed in the "Orange Revolution," a name that arose from the color adopted by Yushchenko's street campaign to protest official election results in favor of Yanukovych following the Nov. 21 vote.

Hundreds of thousands of Yushchenko supporters turned out in the days after that vote, sometimes blockading government buildings. They protested what they and Western election monitors said was widespread poll fraud in Yanukovych strongholds in eastern Ukraine.

Yanukovych said he had consistently argued for a legal resolution to the political crisis that has gripped the country since his victory was overturned by the country's Supreme Court. He said political power was not worth "a single drop of blood." But he said his ability to restrain his voters if they felt cheated was diminishing.

"If this legal nihilism continues, I will not be able to stop people," he said. "It's impossible to agree with this great injustice, this discrimination. And if it is indeed the face of the future authorities, I will never be on their side. Today in these regions, there are civil organizations that are being established, that are making lists of volunteers, and they will be making some decisions."

The prime minister said he was not involved in making those decisions and did not know what they might involve.

"Today there is a people's movement," he said, speaking in Russian. "We're not talking about myself here -- I want you to put the emphasis correctly here -- we're talking about the violation of the rights of 15 million Ukrainian voters."

Yanukovych supporters in the candidate's home region of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine had considered calling a referendum on creating an autonomous region if Yushchenko wins, but have backed off for now. Some Yanukovych supporters in southern Ukraine have said they are signing up people to march on Kiev if he loses.

Yushchenko backers have played down the threat of a mass street uprising by the Yanukovych camp, viewing it as a bluff.

The prime minister, who went on leave from his post earlier this month, said the Supreme Court, which ordered new elections, the parliament, which created new electoral rules, and the president, who signed a package of political reforms, had all acted illegally in the weeks since the last round of voting, short-circuiting the constitution to rig the next election.

"The laws that were adopted, particularly the law on the Central Elections Commission, violated my rights," he said. "I don't have a single representative at the CEC. If the goal was honest and transparent elections, why are my representatives excluded from the list of CEC members?"

He denied recent reports that he had advocated the use of force to clear the streets of Yushchenko supporters. He did say the president, Leonid Kuchma, should have restored order, but offered no views on how that could have been achieved without risking violence.

"We have law enforcement bodies which were obliged to provide for the normal work of the parliament, of the CEC and of the government," he said, breaking into cynical laughter. "They shouldn't have allowed that illegal push on all these above-mentioned bodies."

The prime minister also complained that he no longer had the kind of news media coverage he had before earlier rounds of voting. At that time, according to Western election monitors, state-controlled television stations focused their coverage on Yanukovych and almost systematically ignored Yushchenko, except to vilify him.

"Freedom of speech in Ukraine has been largely diminished," Yanukovych said. "I'm not always shown. My quotes, my interviews are just cut. Small pieces of my speeches are taken out and shown, and the entire sense of what I was trying to say is lost. This has happened since the organizers of the Orange Revolution have united with the authorities against me."

Asked about the earlier exclusion of Yushchenko from state television, he said, "you know, it wasn't done by me or my team."

Yanukovych also said he wished that Russian President Vladimir Putin had not mentioned him when Putin came to Ukraine twice before the November vote, or spoken favorably about him when interviewed on television.

"Mr. Putin did not come to visit me personally; it was not a strategy of my electoral campaign," he said, denying allegations that he had benefited from Russian financial support and the work of Russian political consultants. "From a political point of view . . . it didn't raise me up. It's rather worked against me."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company