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The Cassette Scandal (Ukrainian: Касетний скандал), a.k.a. "Tapegate", erupting in 2000, has so far been one of the main political events in Ukraine's post-independence history. It has dramatically affected the country's domestic and foreign policy, changing Ukraine's orientation from the West to Russia and radically turning the career of President Leonid Kuchma.
The scandal was started on 28 November 2000 in Kyiv, when Ukrainian politician Oleksander Moroz publicly accused President Kuchma of involvement in the abduction of journalist Georgiy Gongadze and numerous other crimes. Moroz named Kuchma's former bodyguard, Major Mykola Mel'nychenko, as the source of information. He also played selected recordings of the President's secret conversations for journalists, supposedly confirming Kuchma's order to kidnap Gongadze. That and hundreds of other conversations were later published worldwide by Mel'nychenko.
Journalists nicknamed the case after the compact audio cassette that was used by Moroz. Mel'nychenko himself was supposedly using digital equipment, not cassettes, for recording in the President's office.
The described events provoked a long-term political crisis, resulting in mass protests in Kyiv. Opposition started a campaign of non-violent resistance called UBK ("Ukraine without Kuchma!"), demanding President's resignation. Numerous other political changes resulted from the scandal. Despite economic growth in the country, the rates of public support for President Kuchma fell lower than 9%.
In 2002, the governments of United States and other countries became deeper involved after one of the recordings revealed the alleged transfer of sophisticated Ukrainian radar system (called "Kol'chuha") to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. As a result, Leonid Kuchma has been boycotted by Western governments for a while. Particularly, he experienced an offensive diplomatic demarche when visiting the NATO summit that took place on 21-22 November 2002 in Prague. Breaking the decades-lasting tradition, the list of participating countries was announced in French, not English. So the Turkey was named after Ukraine instead of United Kingdom and United States. It was staged to avoid Kuchma's neighboring with Tony Blair and George W. Bush.
Moreover, widely publicized conversations depicted Kuchma as a rude, undereducated and spiteful person, using filthy lexics and speaking a freak mixture of Russian and Ukrainian languages. Advocates argue that excessive foul language is the proof of a deliberate montage of the recordings using extrinsic audio samples .
Influenced by all above-mentioned, the President soon became disillusioned with the European integration and started to loosen Ukraine's relations with the United States and EU, critical to his regime. Instead, he boosted integration with Russia, considering the fact that its new leader, Vladimir Putin, was continuously supporting Kuchma and refusing to recognize the allegations.
Commenting on the scandal and Mel'nychenko's actions in particular, Leonid Kuchma persistently claims they were a result of foreign interference, but never accuses any specific country. However, some of his statements on the issue may be interpreted as cautious hints on the role of either United States or Russia.
In September 2003, Ukrainian troops joined U.S.-lead stabilization forces in Iraq, which is widely perceived as Kuchma's effort to improve relations with the West. Since then, high-level relations were partially restored.
Today, all the main figures of the scandal remain active and influential in modern Ukrainian politics. The case is directly connected with the political career of not only Kuchma (whose presidential term will soon expire), but also Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine's Prime Minister at the time and now a leading candidate in the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election. Oleksander Moroz took the third place in the election and concluded an alliance with Yushchenko, resulting in the reformation of Ukraine's constitution (in favor of the parliament). Hundreds of politicians and activists taking part in 2001 protests are at the lead of the 2004 "Orange Revolution", happening on the very same street and in a similar manner. Yushchenko, who supported Kuchma back in 2001 and refused to be at the head of UBK campaign, is now leading the revolution.
Mykola Mel'nychenko (now in U.S. political asylum) continues to release new portions of his recordings. Some analysts find his behavior partisan and suspicious. In 2004, Volodymyr Tsvil', a Ukrainian businessman who assisted Mel'nychenko in his escape, publicly accused him of not revealing certain details of the case and trying to sell the audio archive to Kuchma's aides.
The criminal investigation regarding the circumstances of Mel'nychenko's records and Georgiy Gongadze's death remains inconclusive despite a mass of information revealed by numerous journalistic investigations.
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