First president of Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk, dead at 88

Former Ukrainian president, Leonid Kravchuk, played a pivotal role in the demise of the USSR before holding the presidency from 1991 to 1994 Photograph: Efrem Lukatsky/AP

The 88-year-old first president of Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk, who decided to give up the third-largest nuclear arsenal in the world, has passed away.

"Sad news and a great loss," presidential adviser Andriy Yermak wrote on Telegram, referring to Kravchuk as "a wise Ukrainian patriot and a truly historical figure in achieving our independence."

Kravchuk was the leader of the Ukrainian Communist Party during the dying years of the Soviet Union and played a significant role in the dissolution of the USSR before serving as president of Ukraine from 1991 to 1994.

In 1991, he was a driving factor behind Ukraine's declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. He later joined the leaders of Russia and Belarus on 8 December 1991 to sign an agreement declaring the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

President Kravchuk agreed to transfer the remaining Soviet nuclear weapons on Ukrainian territory to Russian authority in a deal supported by the United States.

Former premier Leonid Kuchma defeated him in the 1994 presidential election. In 2020, he returned to politics to negotiate a settlement for the crisis in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-backed separatists had been fighting Ukrainian soldiers since 2014.

The previous year, Kravchuk underwent a heart procedure due to his bad condition.

Oleksii Reznikov, the Ukrainian minister of defense, stated on Twitter that with Kravchuk's signature on the accord disbanding the Soviet Union in 1991, "the Evil Empire disintegrated."

"We appreciate the peaceful restoration of our independence. Reznikov wrote, "We are now defending it with weapons in hand."

In a post on Telegram, Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, praised Kravchuk, who served as president from 1991 to 1994, for his "talent, strength of character, and knowledge."

According to his wife, Kravchuk died a week after the first post-Soviet president of Belarus, Stanislav Shushkevich, who died at age 87 following treatment for Covid-19.

Kravchuk was the sole surviving of the three leaders who signed the 1991 agreement after the death of Shushkevich. President of Russia Boris Yeltsin died in 2007 at the age of 76.

Since annexing Crimea from Ukraine and supporting the 2014 separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has sought to cast doubt on Ukraine's statehood and falsely portray the country as an artificial construct of Communist rule – rhetoric that paved the way for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In a televised address on February 21, three days before the invasion, Putin attributed the demise of the Soviet Union to the "historic, strategic errors" of Communist leaders. Putin made an apparent reference to Kravchuk's administration when he stated that Ukraine "requested financial assistance from us on numerous occasions from the moment they declared independence."

Some participants at the historic 8 December conference in a hunting lodge in the Belovezha forest in what is now Belarus credited Kravchuk with playing the most significant role in the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

After an August coup by hardline Communist Party members damaged the power of Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev, Ukraine declared its independence. A week before the Belovezha accord, Kravchuk was elected president of Ukraine in a vote that also decisively endorsed the country's independence from Moscow.

According to participants in the Belovezha negotiations, Kravchuk rejected any efforts to further changes in the Soviet Union.

Last year, Belarusian leader Shushkevich, who participated in the negotiations and signed the agreement, told The Associated Press, "Kravchuk was focused on Ukraine's independence." "On 1 December 1991, he was elected president and was proud that Ukraine had declared its independence through a referendum."

Publish : 2022-05-11 07:23:00

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