It Is Not True that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma (1994-2005) was еxactly Pro-Russian

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Social network posts claim the alleged closeness of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma (1994-2005) with RussiaAlthough Kuchma tried to sustain normal relations with Russia, his foreign policy was far from being pro-Russian, especially since the country officially expressed interest in becoming a NATO member state during his term. That’s why other claims suggesting that Ukraine was entirely pro-Russian at the time, with the West somehow solely responsible for souring relations, don’t hold water. The Kremlin’s propaganda has been pushing this same claim for years


From: Vangel Basevski-Barmi


The following Facebook posts: from 12.4.20241.3.202227.2.2022and 1.2.2022 contain the same narrative – that former Ukrainian President, Leonid Kuchma, supposedly, was close with Russia. Some see the fact that he supplied weapons to the Republic of Macedonia during the conflict in 2001 as a move of a pro-Russian politician, which is not quite true. In 2003, Kuchma nearly started a war against Russia because of the usurpation of the island Tuzla near Crimea and published the book ”Ukraine is not Russia”, where the title speaks for itself. Now, Kuchma is strictly committed to defending Ukraine from the aggression. 

Intentionally, or out of ignorance, these posts do not reveal key facts from Kuchma’s CV, such as the fact that he went back and forth from the East to the West, and that was called multivector politics. 

Kuchma was even going to associate Ukraine with NATO. On 8.2.1999, led by his predecessor Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine became part of NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program that, to a large extent, was treated as the first step forward towards future membership in the Alliance. Kuchma even went a step further, and at NATO’s Madrid Summit on 9.7.1997, Ukraine signed a Charter on a Distinctive Partnership with NATO and participated in its military training. 

Russia too became a member of the Partnership because it had good relations with NATO at the time, but they deteriorated in 1999, especially after Vladimir Putin took over the presidency of Russia after Boris Yeltsin. From Putin’s viewpoint, the close relations between Kuchma and NATO were decidedly not pro-Russian politics. 


On 23.5.2002, the Security Council of Ukraine adopted a strategy for entering NATO, that went into effect with the Kuchma Decree No.: 627 dated 8.7.2002, whereby the country officially expressed such a desire. In 2003, Ukraine sent approximately 1,700 troops to the Americans in Iraq (third in size contingent after those from the USA and the United Kingdom). However, Ukraine sold military equipment to Saddam Hussein in 2000. But that was the so-called multivector politics. 

This multivector dimension in the foreign policy of Ukraine at the time, which meant cooperation with all, was the reason why our country purchased weapons exactly from Ukraine. Therefore, Ukraine did not exactly “help us in 2001”, considering that the military equipment from Ukraine was paid on a commercial basis. The head of the delegation for procurement of military equipment at the time, Marjan Gjorcevspoke about that in “Fokus”. The reasons why we purchased equipment from Ukraine and not from another country are twofold. The first, as Gjorcev put it, was the fact that we already had economic relations with Ukraine because most of the raw material for the Ironworks Plant (“Zhelezara”) was imported from there. 

The second reason was that Ukraine at the time had a surplus of equipment and weapons left from the Soviet Union which was still modern and contemporary at the end of the 90s and the beginning of the 2000s. That surplus, apart from being beyond the formation of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, was also sold for a favorable price because, after the Cold War, surpluses in weaponry showed up in both the East and the West. On the other hand, in terms of procurement of weapons from Russia, Gjorcev says that with Russia then (and today) we did not have developed economic relations and that then (as today) Russian economic representatives in the region were Serbian companies, which had preferential treatment. 

In October 2003, an incident close to Tuzla Island occurred when Russia usurped the island for constructing a dam. Ukrainian Forces were on alert, and they seized the Russian ship “Truzhenik”, while Kuchma visited the island and ordered Ukrainian troops to shoot if necessary. Russia gave up on the plan, which was a small victory for Ukraine at the time. 

Nevertheless, Kuchma had his pro-Russian moments. According to some, he did not vote in favor of the Declaration of Independence of Ukraine in 1991, while his election motto in 1994 was: “Ukraine and Russia: fewer walls, more bridges”. He agreed with Russia and leased bases in Crimea, while the armies of both countries performed joint military training. Kuchma’s support facilitated the rise of the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovich to Prime Minister and later President. 


Kuchma was accused of favoring the Russian language, which is a sensitive topic in terms of the assimilation of Ukrainians in the Russian Empire and within the USSR. But that was just a game played by Kuchma – he gave different promises to different audiences, so he promised the Russian speakers an official Russian language, which was interpreted as a state language, on an equal level with Ukrainian. Kuchma was thinking of something else but did not fulfill even that. Finally, he stated that the Russian language should not be official and that it will not be a state language either. 

Kuchma, above all, cared about his own interests and flirted with both the East and the West just to maintain power. He was accused of corruption and willfulness, even for the murder of members of the opposition, which brought about the demonstrations “Ukraine without Kuchma” (15.12.2000 – 9.3.2001). 

Some of the posts we are fact-checking claim that most of the votes for Kuchma came from Crimea and Donbas, described as pro-Russian, hence the conclusion about Kuchma. He, however, was successful there only during the elections in 1994, while in 1999, he was most successful in Western Ukraine, which is more oriented towards the European Union. 


The Donetsk and Lugansk regions (or Donbas) are not exactly pro-Russian. In 1991, approximately 83 percent in each region voted in favor of an independent Ukraine. Russians in both regions numbered approximately 39 percent and, although the Ukrainians there spoke Russian, that does not necessarily mean they had a pro-Russian orientation. DPR and LPR encompass only about 30 percent of each region, which changed only after the invasion in 2022. Not even Crimea is fervently pro-Russian, and in 1991, 54.19 percent of the votes there were in favor of independent Ukraine. 

Some of these posts stress the fact that Kuchma was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (KPSS), thereby suggesting that Kuchma was close to Moscow, but this does not prove anything per se. Even Kuchma’s rival and first President of independent Ukraine, Kravchuk, was once a member of the KPSS. There were no other parties in the USSR. 

Some of the fact-checked posts claim that the pro-Russian communist Kuchma opposed the Ukrainian nationalists. But, on the other hand, he was an independent Presidential candidate, not a candidate of the KPSS which did not even exist, while his opponent in 1999 was Petro Symonenko from the Communist Party of Ukraine, who was born in Donetsk. 

However, he ran as an independent presidential candidate, not as a candidate for the Communist Party of the Soviet Union which no longer existed, while, in 1999, his opponent was Petro Symonenko from the Communist Party of Ukraine – a Donetsk native.

Due to all of the abovementioned arguments, one cannot conclude that the former President of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma, was exactly pro-Russian. Therefore, the posts subjected to fact-checking are assessed as partially untrue.