Leonid Danylovych Kuchma (Леонід Кучма) (born August 9, 1938) was the second President of Ukraine from July 19, 1994 to January 23, 2005.
Kuchma was born in Chaikyne village in the Chernihiv region. His father was killed at the front in 1944, during World War II. Kuchma studied at Dnipropetrovs'k university and got a degree in rocket engineering. He was a leading engineer at Baikonur, and moved into senior management posts as well as the Communist party elite. Kuchma played an important role in Soviet strategic missile and space rocket programs as an executive of "Yuzmash" industrial company in Dnipropetrovs'k . From 1990 to 1992 he was a member of the Ukrainian parliament (Committee on Defence and State Security), and became Prime Minister of Ukraine in 1992.
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, he 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.
His Prime Minister from 2002 until early January 2005 was Viktor Yanukovych, after Kuchma sacked Anatoli Kinakh, his previous appointee.
He stepped down after a run-off election in November 2004 between his prime minister, Yanukovych, and the opposition candidate, ex-prime minister Viktor Yushchenko. Although it appeared that Yanukovych had won the election, overwhelming reports of election fraud caused the opposition and independent observers to dispute the results, leading to what is being called the Orange Revolution. On November 27, the Ukrainian parliament declared the result invalid and passed a motion of no confidence against the election commission that ratified it. Yushchenko won a re-run of the election and was sworn in as president on January 23, 2005.
Kuchma was an amateur guitar player in his young years. He was also known for being good in the complicated card game called "preferans".
- 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.