1991-1994: Early Instability under Leonid Kravchuk
August 1991: As the putsch against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is taking place, the Verkhovna Rada in Kyiv adopts the Declaration of Independence of Ukraine, establishing a formally independent state on 24 August. Verkhovna Rada Chairman Leonid Kravchuk resigns from the Soviet Communist Party.
September 1991: The post of First Secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine is abolished, and Gorbachev ally Stanislav Hurenko is its last occupant.
December 1991: Over 90% of the citizens of Ukraine take part in an all-Ukrainian referendum and vote for independence. Kravchuk easily wins election as president, defeating a range of candidates including Vyacheslav Chornovil.
In the same month, Stanislav Shushkevich (the head of state of the Belorussian SSR), Boris Yeltsin (president of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, or RSFSR) and Kravchuk dissolve the Soviet Union, proclaiming the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Ukraine is quickly recognized as an independent state by Poland, Hungary and Canada, and other countries soon follow. The Verkhovna Rada approves the national flag, emblem and anthem of the Ukrainian People’s Republic of 1918-20.
1992: The Ukrainian economy quickly becomes paralyzed and unemployment rises sharply. The Russian Central Bank ceases supplying rubles to Ukraine, and the government in Kyiv starts printing provisional cash – kupony (coupons). Hyperinflation ensues, and basic goods disappear from the shops.
Kravchuk appoints Leonid Kuchma as prime minister. Kuchma had risen to the commanding heights of Soviet Ukraine from within the Soviet military-industrial sector, becoming general director of the largest missile manufacturing plant in the USSR, Yuzhmash, in the eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipropetrovsk. During the period 1975-82, Kuchma had served as Communist Party secretary at Yuzhmash.
1993: Kuchma resigns as prime minister, supposedly out of discontent with the slow pace of reform.
1994: Kravchuk agrees to transfer Ukraine’s Soviet-era nuclear arsenal to Russia in exchange for huge promises of money and fuel. Apart from Ukrainian politicians who come out against the deal from left and right on grounds of national security, pride and prestige, some of Ukraine’s more politically informed citizens suspect Kravchuk has cheated the republic by ferreting away several million dollars, while never seriously trying to use the weapons as a bargaining chip to improve Ukraine’s economic lot.
Kravchuk then virtually handpicks Kuchma as an opponent in the 1994 presidential race, apparently intending to set Kuchma up as a dummy candidate who will take the fall. But Kravchuk underestimates Kuchma, who mobilizes all the personal and financial machinery he has built up over decades in the Soviet military-industrial complex and Communist Party, and has even proven savvy in winning allies abroad.
In the atmosphere of social tension, the date of the presidential election is brought forward. In the first round of the election on July 3rd, Kravchuk receives 9,977,766 votes and 38%, while Kuchma claims 8,107,626 and 31%. In the run-off only a week later, Kravchuk wins 12,111,603 and 45%, while Kuchma’s vote jumps to 14,016,850 and 52%.