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Ukraine Leader May Only Look Like Lame Duck : Politics: On eve of U.S. visit, Kravchuk says scheduled early presidential election would be ‘illegal.’ Some suspect he is after Washington’s support.

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The man on whom the Clinton Administration has pinned its hopes for Ukrainian nuclear disarmament may look like a lame duck when he arrives in Washington for an official visit Thursday. But President Leonid Kravchuk isn’t nicknamed “the wily fox” for nothing.

Kravchuk’s surprise announcement last week that he will not seek reelection in June raised alarming questions about who might next lead this potentially unstable country with a huge, if aging, nuclear arsenal that Washington wants eliminated.

On the eve of his departure for Washington, Kravchuk declared at a news conference Tuesday that the early presidential election planned for June would be illegal because he was coerced into agreeing to it under pressure from striking coal miners. “If I take part . . . it would mean I agree with such illegal acts,” he said.

Because Ukraine’s cloudy laws require the president, the Parliament and the national Election Commission to agree on electoral dates, if Kravchuk doesn’t assent to the Parliament-sought vote, he might serve out his five-year term.

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Kravchuk was elected Ukraine’s first president Dec. 1, 1991. But in October, after he agreed to early elections, the conservative Parliament that has been feuding with the president scheduled a presidential election for June and parliamentary elections for March.

Volodimir Marchenko, a socialist lawmaker, said Kravchuk will probably get away with reneging on his promise to hold an early presidential election--just as President Boris N. Yeltsin did in Russia. “This is not Kravchuk’s funeral,” Marchenko said. “It is the opposite. It will increase his power.”

His announcement’s timing, just before his second official visit to the United States, raised suspicions that Kravchuk is seeking U.S. help to bolster his failing political influence at home. President Clinton spent a few hours in Kiev’s airport on his way to Moscow in January to congratulate Kravchuk for agreeing to give up Ukraine’s nuclear arsenal, and he invited him for a second state visit to Washington.

Kravchuk predicted the visit “will be a turning point in U.S.-Ukrainian relations,” during which he expects to sign agreements on U.S.-Ukrainian technical and economic cooperation. Besides $310 million in U.S. aid to be given Ukraine in return for its cooperation in disarming, Kravchuk will reportedly seek American backing for a $3-billion stabilization fund for a new Ukrainian currency.

Some analysts here say Kravchuk will survive only by bringing home a fat American check to wave in front of his increasingly disenchanted constituents.

Ukraine is an incumbent’s nightmare. Production has fallen 30% since last year, and unemployment is believed to be double-digit. A December poll found only 17% of voters would reelect Kravchuk.


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