Leonid Kravchuk, independent Ukraine’s first president, dies at 88

AGREEMENT THAT BROUGHT DOWN THE SOVIET UNION

In December 1991, he signed the Belovezha accords with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Belarusian leader Stanislav Shushkevich, which effectively triggered the Soviet Union’s collapse.

“I understood Ukraine could never be really independent if the USSR still existed,” Kravchuk said. “I came there knowing Ukrainians’ aspirations to be independent. I was fulfilling their will.”

Yeltsin died in 2007 while Shushkevich died last week.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said Kravchuk’s role in placing Ukraine on the path to independence was especially important in view of the country’s current struggle.

“With his signature, the evil empire disintegrated,” Reznikov tweeted. “Thank you for the peaceful renewal of our independence. We’re defending it now with weapons in our hands.”

In 1994, with Ukraine mired in economic crisis and corruption and Kravchuk facing accusations of “plundering” the country, he was defeated at the polls by former missile factory boss Leonid Kuchma. He remained in parliament until 2006.

In 2020, by then a white-haired elder statesman, Kravchuk was appointed to represent Ukraine in efforts to end the conflict that broke out in 2014 between Russian-backed separatists and pro-government forces in eastern Ukraine.

Taking a tough stance against Moscow, he said it was not worth expecting anything from Russia because its objective was “to destroy Ukraine”.

In January 1994, he signed an agreement with US President Bill Clinton and Yeltsin, securing US$1 billion in compensation in exchange for Ukraine giving up its post-Soviet nuclear arsenal – the world’s third largest.

As president, he also signed a cooperation accord with the European Union.

Kravchuk was born near Rivne in western Ukraine on Jan 10, 1934.