Leonid Kuchma

Leonid Danylovych Kuchma (Леонід Данилович Кýчма; born August 9, 1938) was the second President of Ukraine from July 19, 1994, to January 23, 2005. The last five years of his presidency were mired in controversy when tape recordings of him seemingly discussing the possible murder of journalist Georgiy R. Gongadze appeared. Gongadze disappeared in September 2000 and opposition politician Oleksandr Moroz brought them to light two months later in November.

Early life

Kuchma was born in Chaikyne village of Chernihiv Oblast (Ukrainian SSR). His father was killed in a battlefield during the World War II in 1944. Kuchma attended Dnipropetrovsk University and graduated with a degree in rocket engineering. He moved into senior management posts of the Yuzhmash industrial company in Dnipropetrovsk, eventually becoming its top executive, as well as in the Communist Party elite. As such, Kuchma played an important role in Soviet strategic missile and space rocket programs.

Some researchers believe that Kuchma's earlier career was significantly boosted by his marriage to Lyudmila Tumanova, the daughter of a local CPSU chief.

Kuchma was an amateur guitar player in his younger years. He was also known for his skill at the complicated card game preferans.

From 1990 to 1992 Kuchma was a member of the Ukrainian parliament (Committee on Defence and State Security), and became Prime Minister of Ukraine in 1992.


Kuchma resigned from this position in September 1993 to successfully run for the presidency in 1994 on a platform to boost the economy by restoring economic relations with Russia and faster pro-market reforms. He was re-elected in 1999 to his second term.

Domestic Policy

In October 1994, Kuchma announced comprehensive economic reforms, including reduced subsidies, lifting of price controls, lower taxes, privatization of industry and agriculture, and reforms in currency regulation and banking. The parliament approved the plan's main points. The International Monetary Fund promised a $360 million loan to initiate reforms.

He was re-elected in 1999 to his second term. Opponents accused him of involvement in the killing in 2000 of journalist Georgiy Gongadze (see also SBU, "Cassette Scandal", Mykola Mel'nychenko), which he has always denied. They also blamed him for restrictions on press freedom. Kuchma is believed to have played a key role in sacking the Cabinet of Viktor Yushchenko by Verkhovna Rada on April 26, 2001.

Kuchma's Prime Minister from 2002 until early January 2005 was Viktor Yanukovych, after Kuchma dismissed Anatoliy Kinakh, his previous appointee.

Foreign Policy

Kuchma signed a "Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Partnership" with Russia, and endorsed a round of talks with the CIS. Additionally, he referred to Russian as "an official language". He signed a special partnership agreement with NATO and even raised the possibility of membership of the alliance.

After Kuchma's popularity at home and abroad sank as he became mired in corruption scandals, he turned to Russia as his new ally, saying Ukraine needed a "multivector" foreign policy that balanced eastern and western interests.

Role in the Crisis of 2004

Kuchma's role in the election's crisis of 2004 is not entirely clear. After the second round on November 22, 2004, it appeared that Yanukovych had won the election by fraud, which caused the opposition and independent observers to dispute the results, leading to the Orange Revolution.

Kuchma was urged by Yanukovych and Viktor Medvedchuk (the head of the presidential office) to declare a state of emergency and hold the inauguration of Yanukovych. He denied the request by admittedly stating in a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin that he refused to pass the government into the hands of an alleged Donetsk criminal. Later, Yanukovych publicly accused Kuchma of a betrayal.

Nevertheless, Kuchma refused to officially dismiss Prime Minister Yanukovych after the parliament passed a motion of no confidence against the Cabinet on December 1, 2004.

Soon after, Kuchma left the country. He returned to Ukraine in March 2005.



In September 2000 journalist Georgiy R. Gongadze disappeared and his headless corpse was found on 3 November 2000. On 28 November, opposition politician Oleksandr Moroz publicised secret tape recordings implicating Kuchma in Gongadze's murder. In 2005 the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s office instigated criminal proceedings against Kuchma and members of his former administration in connection with the murder of Gongadze. It is rumoured however that Kuchma has been unofficially granted immunity from prosecution in return for his graceful departure from office in 2005.

In 2005 Kuchma started to smoke, first appearing with cigarettes and cigars publicly. It is a return to the habit he quit back in 1992.

Politicians closely associated with Kuchma

Aides and advisors that became public figures after or before

Influential statesmen

Business oligarchs and managers of important state-owned companies


Kuchma's daughter Elena Franchuk founded the ANTIAIDS Foundation in 2003. She is married to politician Viktor Pinchuk, a famous industrialist. She is rumoured to have just bought the world's most expensive house, in London, for £80 million.

Related Literature

  • Sochor, Zenovia A. 1994. Political Culture and Foreign Policy: Elections in Ukraine 1994. Printed in: Tismăneanu, Vladmir (ed.). 1995. Political Culture and Civil Society in Russia and the New States of Eurasia. ISBN 1-56324-364-4. pp.208-224.


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