Among the reasons that prevented the achievement of the ambitious objectives that L. Kučma had assigned himself in the field of economic policy and that provoked, in the summer-autumn of 1998, a financial crisis that immediately appeared difficult to solve, a particular role must be assigned to the political instability that since 1992characterized the country (in the space of seven years, eight governments had succeeded). What blocked the policy of reforms was, in particular, the conflict that opened up between the president and the Parliament divided between the nationalist parties, which demanded the acceleration of the privatization policy, also to sever ties with Russia, and the left-wing parties, the communist one in the first place, lined up against the proposals put forward by Kučma – from privatization to agrarian reform, to tax law – considered as a threat to the economic-social structure that was to be preserved.
As the economic situation continued to worsen, political instability became increasingly marked social instability. The increase in unemployment – which reached 20 % of the working population – was accompanied by the growing discontent of employed workers, due to the increasing irregularity in the payment of wages and salaries. At the same time the phenomena of corruption and organized crime worsened. For Ukraine history, please check historyaah.com.
Despite the replacement at the head of the government (April 1995) of the old Brezhnevian framework V. Massol with the ‘reformist’ general E. Marčuk (who however, accused of ‘inefficiency’, gave way to P. Lazarenko in May 1996) and, in June of the following year, the approval of a Constitution which, similar to the one voted in the same period in B. El´cin’s Russia, significantly increased the powers of the president compared to those of Parliament and the government, the project to give life to a stable and functioning political system only partially took off. In July 1997, Prime Minister Lazarenko, accused of corruption and incompetence on the part of Kučma and criticized by various parties of the Rada, was replaced by V. Pustovojtenko.
In a particularly difficult climate, with the Parliament attempting to depose the president, accusing him of excessive weaknesses towards Moscow and also of covering up serious episodes of corruption, this led to the parliamentary elections of 28 March 1998 that OSCE observers and of the Council of Europe considered undemocratic. Since these elections, which recorded a sharp decline in voter turnout (decreased to 69, 9 % vs. 74, 8 % of the elections in 1994), the political forces arrayed with Kučma came defeats. It was the Communist Party with the 24, 6% of the votes to win, with its allies (Socialist-Peasant Bloc, Progressive Socialists, Ukrainian Peasants’ Party), the relative majority of the seats by beating the Ruch nationalists (who with 9, 4 % remained the second political force of the country) and then, allying himself with some groupings in the center (Democratic People’s Party and Agrarian Party), to have the President of Parliament elected, but only more than two months later (7 July 1998), at the conclusion of 14 unsuccessful attempts. In essence, therefore, power remained in the hands of Kučma, however, forced to deal with increasingly fierce opposition.
If, as has been said, the situation in the sectors of political and economic life was very difficult, in the same period the picture had been made more favorable as regards the question, fundamental for the survival of the Ukrainian state, of safeguarding the country. structure and territorial integrity of the country.
While the separatist pressures, present at the beginning in particular in the region of Donets’ and Kryvyj Rih and in Galicia, gradually diminished, the wide autonomy granted to Crimea with the new Constitution, passed in June 1996 certainly contributed – together with the attenuation of the annexation threats from Moscow and the achievement of positive agreements (see below) between the Ukraine and Russia – to reduce tensions between the center and the peninsula. However, the complexity of the relationship between central power and local power and, above all, among the three ethnic groups in which is divided the population of the peninsula (2, 5 million residents, 65 % of whom are Russians, the 20 % Ukrainians, the13 % Tatars), created, also in connection with the problems deriving from the return of the families of those who had been expelled from the peninsula by Stalin in the years of the Second World War, not a few difficult moments. At the end of 1997, 250,000 people had returned to the Crimea – 52 % of all deportees – mostly Tatars, but also Greeks, Bulgarians, Armenians and Germans. Some of them, in addition to living in the poorest conditions, did not enjoy electoral rights (in 1998 at least 100,000 Crimean Tatars had not yet obtained Ukrainian citizenship).
The main theme of the foreign policy of the Ukraine in the years of the Kučma management, it continued to be that of relations with Russia and the search for solidarity and aid in Western countries, relying on the particular geographical location of the country, on its condition as a neutral state and as a nuclear power. Again with the aim of alleviating the weight of pressure from Russia, in 1996 Kučma had also initiated a policy of opening towards the former Soviet republics of Central Asia as well as towards Turkey. In May 1997, after a long period of bitter controversy and also thanks to the support of the West, the Ukrainian leaders were then able to sign advantageous agreements with those of Moscow on the division of the former Soviet Black Sea fleet (664 ships were assigned to Russia and 169 to the Ukraine) and on the fate of Sevastopol (whose naval base, confirmed the belonging of the city to the Ukraine, was leased to Russia for twenty years). Furthermore, in February 1998 a treaty was signed between the two countries, valid until 2007, which provided for, in addition to the solution of border problems, the doubling of trade exchanges and the start of cooperation also in the fields of security and defense.
Although it had contributed to improving relations between the two countries, the signing of these agreements (not always ratified at the parliamentary level, therefore in part not feasible) did not, however, lead to closer political and economic integration between Russia and the Ukraine, hoped, in particular in Moscow, by the supporters of Slavic unity (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus) and by the nationalist forces who advocated the reconstitution of the empire or at least the return of Crimea to Russia. The Ukraine he also firmly rejected the projects proposed by Yel´cin to give life to new forms of integration and association, including joining the unitary pact signed in 1996 by Belarus and Russia and subsequently also by Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
Likewise, despite being a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) since its foundation (December 1991), the Ukraine he always refused any agreement on the issues of political, military and economic integration, the creation of supranational structures and the modification of the borders between the states of the Community itself. Within the CIS the Ukraine established relations of particular collaboration with Moldova (which had asked the Ukraine to send its peace-keeping troops in its own territory to partially replace the Russian ones still present in Transdnestr). The two countries joined, together with Georgia, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, a new regional aggregation (GUAUM) born within the CIS. Good relations were established with Azerbaijan (with which the Ukraine had begun negotiations for the construction of an oil pipeline linking the Caspian fields with the Baltic ports), as well as with Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan (who had pledged to supply the US with oil and natural gas, so as to reduce the country’s dependence on Russia in this sector). Beyond the western borders the Ukraine established positive relations with Poland (with whom he had signed in May 1997 a solemn ‘Declaration of Reconciliation’) and with Romania.
Faithful to the Western and European vocation, but also to the line of neutrality affirmed at the time of the proclamation of independence, the Ukraine he did not ask to join NATO, although he reserved the right to do so if the safeguarding of his security required it. Of particular importance was the agreement signed in March 1998 with the United States on the peaceful use of atomic energy. Thanks above all to the support of the United States, the Ukraine He could also benefit, in the autumn of 1998, a new loan from the International Monetary Fund 2, 2 billion, but insufficient to cure the severe economic crisis that continued into 1999 also due to the continuous deterioration of the hirvna which in January had been devalued by 25 %, while the external debt reached 2 billions of dollars. In anticipation of the presidential elections scheduled for November, Kučma, after the Russian Duma ratified the friendship and cooperation agreement with the Ukraine in February, aimed at normalizing relations with Russia but, at the same time, making the battle its own led by nationalist political forces that aroused harsh reactions within the strong Russian minority, it launched a new ‘derussification’ campaign in order to impose Ukrainian as the only legally recognized language. Still in the field of domestic politics, Kučma had to deal with a new wave of scandals that also involved men of the government. Four ministers and as many deputy ministers were dismissed from office for “incapacity and corruption” while the former Prime Minister Lazarenko was under arrest in California. In the presidential election in November 1999 Kučma defeated with 57 % of the votes, but only in the second round, the communist Simonenko (37 %) who had proposed, in addition to new steps to bring the country closer to Moscow (also through the accession of Ukraine to the Treaty of Union between Russia and Belarus) the recognition of Russian as a state language alongside Ukrainian. In April 2000, Kučma won another political victory in the referendum that reduced the powers of the Rada.