Back in 2000, following the disappearance of journalist Georgiy Gongadze, Melnychenko became famous for leaking some of the recordings of Kuchma's conversations, which implicated the outgoing Ukrainian president and his close associates in Gongadze's murder and large-scale corruption. A few days before Oleksandr Moroz, the Socialist Party leader, made the tapes public, Melnychenko had fled Ukraine with his family and was eventually granted political asylum in the United States. The Melnychenko Tapes, soon to be used as evidence in Pavlo Lazarenko's case, have played a significant role in raising the Ukrainian people against Kuchma's regime.
In the Radio Liberty interview, Melnychenko mentioned, among other subjects, the recent New York Times story on the role of the Ukrainian security services in the Orange Revolution:
- Mr. Melnychenko, you'd like to return to Ukraine. But what are you going to do about your safety? This issue has to be solved, perhaps, at the level of the state. Can you imagine yourself taking a walk on, I don't know, Khreshchatyk, or in Podol, just like that, without bodyguards?
Mykola Melnychenko: Without bodyguards? I imagine myself walking with a doggie - only this has to be a very big doggie and, in addition, I'll have to be wearing a bulletproof vest, because many people are tempted [to attack me]. Do you know that in the United States alone I was warned four times officially that my life was in danger - and the danger was coming from the head of the SBU, Smeshko. That's why I don't think I'll ever be safe, but I'd like to add that the issue of safety - and not just mine but also that of Yelyashkevych and [Myroslava] Gongadze - is a Ukrainian issue, the issue primarily for Ukraine's president Yushchenko to deal with.
- Mr. Melnychenko, you've mentioned Smeshko... I wasn't going to ask you this question, but today one American newspaper has written that this very Smeshko rescued Ukraine from bloodshed during the Orange Revolution.
Mykola Melnychenko: I have to tell you that, very unfortunately, (and this has to be mentioned in the American court, in the Lazarenko case in California), the mafia's money, Kuchma's and others', is making things happen in the United States. Public officials, journalists and politicians are being bribed with this money - and they are doing what's good for Kuchma.
It is common knowledge that Smeshko was in Washington, and it's also known that he's got his people here. I do not exclude a possibililty that this article appeared as a result of lobbying by these people, or that certain information was deliberately leaked in order for Smeshko to appear white and fuzzy [harmless].
- Is that his desire to remain in office?
Mykola Melnychenko: Yes, it is, likely, because we see the following facts: Yushchenko attends a dinner at which Smeshko is present, and then he is poisoned. We see that Smeshko comes to Washington and then the FBI is sounding an alarm, saying that Melnychenko's life is in danger and the threat is coming from Smeshko.
What I find very interesting in all this is that the New York Times' C. J. Chivers has been quite consistent if not truly successful in providing both the Russian and the Ukrainian security services with a rather cute human face: one of his Russian stories, co-authored with Steven Lee Myers, had an unfortunate timing and was, in general, way too subtle; his December piece on Yushchenko's poisoning was somewhat too melodramatic to be taken seriously; but his most recent spy story looked almost perfect - until the controversial Melnychenko showed up...
Here's more stuff on Melnychenko:
- February 27, 2001
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Ukraine: Ex-Bodyguard Says There Is No Greater Criminal Than Kuchma:
Part 1: Motivations
Part 2: The Gongadze Case
- May 30, 2002
Melnychenko Accuses Officials
- January 31, 2003
Bodyguard Who Bugged a President Speaks Out
- December 24, 2004
The Chicago Tribune
Ukraine Vote Might Revive Murder Probe