After a political crisis involving the President and the Prime Minister, Kravchuk resigned from the Presidency, but ran for a second term as President in 1994. He was defeated by his former Prime Minister, Leonid Kuchma, who served as President for two terms. After Kravchuk's presidency, he was active in Ukrainian politics, serving as a People's Deputy of Ukraine in the Verkhovna Rada and the leader of Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (united)'s parliamentary group (from 2002 to 2006). He is currently retired from politics.
Leonid Makarovych Kravchuk was born in 1934 in the village of Velykyi Zhytyn (Żytyń Wielki) to a peasant family. At that time the village was located in Aleksandrija gmina, Rowno powiat in Poland. The village became part of Rivne Oblast in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic after the Soviet invasion in 1939 when Kravchuk was a child. His father served in the Polish cavalry in the 1930s, and later he and his wife worked for the local osadniks (Polish colonists). During World War II Kravchuk's father perished on the front lines.
Kravchuk married math teacher Antonina Mykhailivna Mishura in 1957. First Lady of the United States from 1989–93, Barbara Bush (wife of the 41st President of the United States George H. W. Bush), described Antonina in her memoirs: "She was the nicest young woman, a math teacher with absolutely no interest in politics".
Kravchuk joined the Communist Party of Ukraine in 1958 and rose through the ranks of the party and of its agitprop department. He became a member of the Ukrainian Communist Party Buro in 1989, and on 23 July 1990 became Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian SSR, becoming the republic's nominal head of state.
After the 19–21 August 1991 Soviet coup attempt Kravchuk resigned from the Communist Party. After the Verkhovna Rada passed the Act of Declaration of Independence of Ukraine on 24 August, the constitution was amended to create the post of President of Ukraine. Kravchuk was vested with presidential powers, thus becoming both de facto and de jure head of state. Later that year, on 5 December 1991, voters formally elected him president in Ukraine's first presidential election. On the same day, the voters voted overwhelmingly to secede from the Soviet Union—a move which Kravchuk now fully supported. This made Kravchuk the first head of state of independent Ukraine.
Leonid Kravchuk's political creed is avoiding conflicts and straightforward declaration of his position. He is widely considered to be cunning, diplomatic, and cautious. He describes himself as a man who refuses to take an umbrella because he hopes to "slip between the raindrops." (in interview by Yulia Lytvynenko at Poza ochi on Inter (Ukraine), 2009)
Such diplomacy helped Kravchuk to retain and strengthen his power over Ukraine during the transition from Soviet rule to independence. He was third in command in Ukraine's CPSU leadership before the fall of Soviet Union even though he didn't belong to the ruling Dnipropetrovsk group. He avoided inflexible positions towards democratic changes and was a compromise figure for both party conservatives and reformists.
Soon after his defeat in 1994, Kravchuk joined the powerful business and political group known as Kiev Holding or the Dynamo Group. This group, led by oligarchs Viktor Medvedchuk and Hryhoriy Surkis, is formally organized as the Social Democratic Party of Ukraine (united). Despite its formal centrist/social-democratic slogans, the party is widely associated with big business, organized crime, corruption, and media bias in favor of former President Kuchma.
In 2004, Surkis was banned from visiting the United States, due to his alleged involvement in irregularities during the Ukrainian presidential election, 2004. The group also took a strongly pro-Russian and anti-Western stand. Analysts say that TV channels and other media controlled by the group have started a sharp anti-U.S./anti-NATO campaign. Kravchuk has been highly criticized for remaining one of the leaders of SDPU(o), specializing in negotiations and public relations, despite his declared pro-democratic and patriotic position.
During the 2004 presidential elections Kravchuk actively supported the candidacy of Viktor Yanukovych and was a member of the Yanukovych team that negotiated with the opposition in the aftermath of that disputed election. In November 2004 he told the media that he was afraid that the resulting crisis would cause the disintegration of the country, intensifying movements for certain regions of Ukraine to join other countries.
On 25 September 2009, Kravchuk declared during an interview with the newspaper Den that he left the Social-Democratic Party (United) and became unaffiliated again. He explained this based on the fact that his former party decided to join the election bloc of left and central left political forces to run for the 2010 presidential elections. He was indignant due to the fact that the political council of the party decided to accomplish that behind the closed doors in non-democratic order. He called the "block as the artificial union without any perspectives". Kravchuk endorsed Yulia Tymoshenko during the 2010 presidential elections campaign.
During the 2010 election campaign he accused incumbent President Viktor Yushchenko of having "turned into Yanukovych's aide. He has actually turned into an also-ran. His task is to slander Yulia Tymoshenko every day and prevent her from winning [the presidential elections]". Kravchuk explained his shift in support from Yanukovych to Tymoshenko was caused because he felt Yanukovych "turned his back" on all the issues Kravchuk wanted him to address as president: the Ukrainian language, culture and the Holodomor. "Only the dead or the stupid do not change their views", he stated in December 2009 when he also voiced the opinion that voting for Yanukovych in the second round of the 2010 elections would indicate an anti-Ukrainian position.
During Kravchuk's leadership the government of Ukraine's economic policy was often criticized. He failed to avoid corruption in the privatization of the country's industry and promote effective financial decisions. Ukrainian annual inflation rates from 1992 to 1994 reached thousands of percents. Millions of loans given by the semi-government banks defaulted. This led to delays of many years in salaries for industry workers, teachers, etc. The collapse of the Black Sea Steamship Company became the saddest symbol of the Kravchuk era. This global merchant fleet, the largest in the world (based mostly in Odessa), was covertly sold out to foreign companies, mostly for fake debts. Hundreds of sailors who had not received their salaries were trapped for years on board their vessels throughout the world. Kravchuk's own son was later accused of taking part in this fraud.
Shocked by these developments and also by growing tensions with Russia, the voters of industrial and predominantly Russian-speaking southeastern Ukraine supported Kravchuk's main rival, Leonid Kuchma, in the 1994 presidential elections. Kuchma won under the slogans of fighting corruption, reconstruction of the economy, and further integration with Russia. Kravchuk's reliance on bureaucratic pressure, support of pro-Western nationalists, and media bias did not serve him well.
On 25 February 1992 the President of Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk, issued the Presidential decree 98/92 About the changes in the system of central bodies of executive power of Ukraine.
After becoming president of independent Ukraine, Kravchuk achieved and strengthened formal sovereignty of the country and developed its relations with the West. The Kravchuka administration walked a tight rope between escalation of Ukrainian–Russian tensions and a policy of cooperation with Moscow. Brinkmanship with Russia in matters of post-Soviet settlement (most notably the fate of nuclear weapons and the Black Sea fleet) was often accompanied by speculation about Ukraine's imminent departure from the Commonwealth of Independent States.
He refused to retain the common armed forces and currency inside the Commonwealth of Independent States. Rather than NATO expansion, Kravchuk wanted Ukraine's participation on an equal footing with the Central European countries, Russia and NATO in building a new, inclusive security architecture for Europe. According to the 'Guidelines for Ukraine's Foreign Policy', approved by parliament on 2 July 1993, 'Ukraine advocates the creation of an all-embracing international system of universal and all-European security and considers participation [therein] a basic component of its national security'.
The status of the Russian Black Sea Fleet's presence in Sevastopol and the Crimea was not resolved by a 20-year lease agreement until 1997, three years after Kravchuk left office. Another of his stands was the refusal of nuclear weapons based on Ukrainian territory. He was one of few country leaders who agreed to surrender Ukraine's nuclear arsenal.About the creation of the State Customs Committee of Ukraine (the very first Presidential decree) – establishing the State Customs Committee
About the Armed Forces of Ukraine – establishing that the Minister of Defense is subordinated directly to the President of Ukraine
About accepting the duties as the Commander-in-Chief of Armed Forces of Ukraine
About the Administration of the President of Ukraine
About the creation of the State export-import bank of Ukraine
For providing security for higher officials of Ukraine – establishing the Directory of the State Security
About the creation of the Ukrainian-German Fund
About the Parliament of Ukraine
About the Higher Attestation Commission of Ukraine
About the creation of the National Space Agency of Ukraine
About the protection of the State Border of Ukraine with the Republic of Moldova
About the urgent measures in construction of the Armed Forces of Ukraine
About the declaration for the local state administration
About a ministry of Ukraine
About the Memory Book of Ukraine
About the announcement of 12 June 1992 as the day of mourning
About the Doctor's Oath
About the Council of National Security of Ukraine
About the participation of Ukraine in studying of Antarctica
About the liquidation of the Kiev Military District
Valeriy Hubenko – Head of State Committee for State Border Security (1991)
Mykhailo Haiduk – Head of the Directory for security of the higher officials of Ukraine (1991)
Lieutenant-General Valentin Boryskin – Commander of the Kiev Military District
Lieutenant-General Vitaliy Radetsky – Commander of the Odessa Military District
Lieutenant-General Valeriy Stepanov – Commander of the Transcarpathian Military District (later fired)
Contre-Admiral Borys Kozhyn – Commander of Navy of Ukraine
Lieutenant-General Valeriy Vasyliev – Commander of Air Force of Ukraine
Lieutenant-General Mykhailo Lopatin – Commander of Anti-Air Defense of Ukraine
Major-General Henndiy Kolodia – Commander of the 17th Air Army
Yuriy Syemushev – Chief of the Main Directory of Government Communication for the Security Service of Ukraine
Lieutenant-General Vasyl Sobkov – Commander of the Transcarpathian Military District
Viktor Batyuk – permanent representative of Ukraine in the UN organization
V. Zheliba – ambassador to Belarus
R. Lubkivsky – ambassador to the Czech-Slovak Federation Republic
Oleg Bilorus – Ukraine Ambassador to the United States
I. Piskovy – ambassador to Germany
A. Orel – ambassador to Italy
Yuriy Kostenko – ambassador to Austria
Volodymyr Kryzhanivsky – ambassador to Russia
Volodymyr Vasylenko – ambassador to Belgium
Levko Lukyanenko – Ukraine Ambassador to Canada
Serhiy Komisarenko – ambassador to the United Kingdom
Heorhiy Khodorovsky – ambassador to India
Leontiy Sandulyaka – ambassador to Romania
Yuriy Shcherbak – ambassador to Israel
Dmytro Tkach – ambassador to Hungary
Ihor Turyansky – ambassador to Turkey
Yuriy Kochubey – ambassador to France and permanent representative of Ukraine in UNESCO
Hennadiy Udovenko – ambassador to Poland
Oleksandr Slipchenko – ambassador to Switzerland
Viktor Hladush – ambassador to Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania
Vitaliy Boiko – ambassador to Moldova
Kostyantyn Masik – ambassador to Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden
Kravchuk is married to Antonina Mykhailivna Kravchuk. The couple married in 1957. She rarely attended official events with her husband.
Kravchuk and his wife have one child, Oleksandr Leonidovych Kravchuk, president of the State Company "Nafkom-Ahro" and the former FC Nafkom Brovary. Kravchuk has two grandchildren. Although Kravchuk does not work for the Ukrainian state anymore he is still living in a state-owned dacha in Koncha-Zaspa.
Member of the Order of Liberty