Kuchma, Leonid Danylovych
, 1938-, Ukrainian politician, president of Ukraine
(1994-2005). Formerly the manager of the Soviet Union's largest missile factory, he was a member of the Ukrainian Communist party's central committee (1981-91). Elected (1991) to Ukraine's supreme soviet, he served (1992-93) as prime minister after Ukrainian independence. In 1994, he defeated the incumbent, Leonid Kravchuk
, to win the presidency. Kuchma initiated some free-market reforms in his economically struggling nation and was successful at gaining Western support and funds for Ukraine, but the country suffered from a declining economy dominated by huge state-run industries. He was reelected in 1999, but he later was implicated in the Sept., 2000, disappearance of an opposition journalist, which led to an erosion of parliamentary and public support. In the 2004 elections opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko
defeated Kuchma's hand-picked successor, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych
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