KIEV, Ukraine -- Serhiy Lyovochkin, chief of staff to Ukraine’s current President Viktor Yanukovych, said that his former boss, Leonid Kuchma, must have had “grounds” to suggest – as he did on Sept. 15 – that foreign intelligence services tried to undermine Ukraine by orchestrating the 2000 murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze and the subsequent Melnychenko tape scandal.
“Kuchma is a politician with a vast amount of experience. He likely had grounds to declare so,” said Lyovochkin, who served as Kuchma’s assistant in 2001 and top aid in 2002-2005.
The comment by Lvoyochkin was made in response to a question about Kuchma’s claim that Gongadze’s murder was part of an international provocation. “It’s an international scandal designed to compromise Ukraine. They didn’t give me or Ukraine any peace for five years,” Kuchma said on Sept. 15.
The former Ukrainian president hinted that foreign secret services were involved in Gongadze’s disappearance. He added that agents from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency were present at [anti-presidential] demonstrations following Gongadze’s disappearance.
“This was paid for. Money makes everything possible,” Kuchma said on Sept. 15, adding that he is satisfied that the U.S. under President Barack Obama has changed its view of the world and is no longer trying to spread democracy around the globe.
Lyovochkin, who was speaking to a group of journalists during a Sept. 20 briefing, did not directly answer whether he and Ukraine’s current president see evidence of such major interference from foreign intelligence agencies in Ukraine’s domestic affairs.
Kuchma claims to have seen such a risk. But he has, himself, been implicated in the murder of Gongadze. In secret recordings made of conversations in his presidential office druing 1999-2000 and known as the Melnychenko tapes, a voice resembling Kuchma is heard ordering subordinates to do away with Gongadze, whose reporting was critical of Kuchma’s administration.
Kuchma has also been implicated in the crime by the testimony ex-police General Oleksiy Pukach, who investigators say physically carried out Gongadze’s murder.
Ukraine’s prosecutors said last week that they are close to filing their case against Pukach in court. They say that Pukach testified that former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko gave him immediate orders to murder Gongadze in 2000.
Corroborating the claim could provide difficult, given that Kravchenko died in 2005 from two gunshots to the head under suspicious circumstances that were officially called a suicide by investigators.
Valentyna Telychenko, the lawyer representing Gongadze’s widow, claims that the case submitted by prosecutors also includes testimony by Pukach that implicates Kuchma and other individuals that held top posts back in 2000.
They include former deputy head of the Interior Ministry Mykola Dzhyha and Volodymyr Lytvyn, who served as presidential administration chief under Kuchma. Dzhyha today serves as governor of Vinnytsia oblast while Lytvyn is parliament speaker.
Media watchdogs and Telychenko fear that rather than investigating the possibility that Kuchma and other high-level officials could have ordered Gongadze’s murder, investigators could try to hang the crime entirely on Kravchenko.
Asked if Ukraine’s current president would be satisfied if in such a scenario, Lyovochkin said on Sept. 20 that it would not be good if the entire crime is “hung on one person.” But he stressed that concrete evidence was needed to clearly implicate other individuals.