Big Switch In Ukraine

In a major upset, Ukrainian voters have tossed out President Leonid Kravchuk, a do-nothing former Communist boss, and have replaced him with the more dynamic but also controversial former Prime Minister, Leonid Kuchma.

Kuchma resigned in disgust as Prime Minister last fall, after the Ukrainian Parliament blocked his plans for free-market reforms. Now, the former missile-factory executive has returned to take another stab at getting his program through. Although he is not a shock therapist, it is likely that Kuchma will push for major reforms including lower taxes, privatization of industry, tight money, and a new currency.

Ukrainians appear to be ready for these economic moves, having watched the economy fall into steep decline while Kravchuk dithered. Kuchma's election should also help cool down the country's tense relations with big neighbor Russia.

The question is whether Kuchma can also heal the split in his own country. He was mainly backed by the pro-Russian eastern Ukrainians, who applaud his plans to reintegrate the economy with Moscow's. Ukrainian nationalists are deeply opposed to such schemes. In fact, there are already rumors that terrorists plan to bump the new president off.

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