Corruption is rife. Political allegiances change fast enough to make voters and pundits’ heads spin. The figures dominating the political landscape are familiar. The “Big Three” of Ukrainian politics, President Viktor Yanukovych, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and the figurehead of the United Opposition coalition, imprisoned ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, are all pre-2004 veterans. All have dirty hands.
The Melnychenko tapes – the hundreds of hours of audiotapes allegedly recorded by ex-President Leonid Kuchma’s bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko – purportedly exposed Azarov as using his position then as head of the State and Tax Administration to pressure officials, ensuring Kuchma’s re-election in 1999. Azarov and Kuchma have consistently denied those and other allegations stemming from the disputed Melnychenko tapes made in 1999-2000.
Tymoshenko, who made her fortune in the murky gas-trading world of the 1990s, leads the opposition Batkivschyna Party, from behind bars. Although undoubtedly no angel, her incarceration is believed in the West to be politically motivated revenge by President Viktor Yanukovych, a charge that he denies.