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Kuchma was born in Chaikyne village of the Chernihivs'ka oblast' (Ukrainian SSR). His father was killed at the front of World War II in 1944. Kuchma studied at Dnipropetrovs'k university and got a degree in rocket engineering. He moved into senior management posts of Yuzhmash industrial company in Dnipropetrovs'k (finally becoming its 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 has been significantly boosted by his marriage to Ludmila Tumanova, the daughter of local CPSU chief.
Kuchma resigned his 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. He also declared his intentions to implement economic reforms.
Early in his presidency, Mr. Kuchma arranged a $730 million loan from the IMF, 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. He was re-elected in 1999.
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.
Opponents have 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 blame him for restrictions on press freedom. President Kuchma, along with Viktor Medvedchuk , then, the Vice Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, is believed to have played a key role in sacking the Cabinet of Viktor Yushchenko on April 26, 2001.
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 administration) to declare the 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 hand of a Donetsk criminal. At the moment, however, Kuchma was himself blocked by protesters in his residence outside Kyiv, so he had effectively no power to pass. Later, Yanukovych publicly accused Kuchma of a betrayal.
- Sochor, Zenovia A. 1994. Political Culture and Foreign Policy: Elections in Ukraine 1994. Printed in: Tismaneanu, 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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