The London Times has just reported that the doctors who treated Ukraine opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko for a suspicious mystery illness during his campaign are now certain that he was poisoned, and are "within days of identifying the substance" used in what was plainly an assassination attempt:
MEDICAL experts have confirmed that Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine’s opposition leader, was poisoned in an attempt on his life during election campaigning, the doctor who supervised his treatment at an Austrian clinic said yesterday.
Doctors at Vienna’s exclusive Rudolfinerhaus clinic are within days of identifying the substance that left Mr Yushchenko’s face disfigured with cysts and lesions, Nikolai Korpan told The Times in a telephone interview.
Specialists in Britain, the United States and France had helped to establish that it was a biological agent, a chemical agent or, most likely, a rare poison that struck him down in the run-up to the presidential election, he said. Doctors needed to examine Mr Yushchenko again at the clinic in Vienna to confirm their diagnosis but were in no doubt that the substance was administered deliberately, he said.
Confirmation is likely to send shock waves through Ukraine's upcoming election that could travel as far as Moscow:
Proof that Mr Yushchenko was deliberately poisoned would be a devastating blow for his rival, the Prime Minister, Viktor Yanukovych, as the two candidates prepare for a repeat of a presidential run-off on December 26.
It would raise questions about whether the poisoning was ordered by Mr Yanukovych, his allies, or even the Kremlin, which fears that Mr Yushchenko will take Ukraine out of its sphere of influence by joining Nato and the EU.
Could there be a starker clash and contrast between the old ways and the new? Could anything make it clearer that the old guard is fighting to the death -- and knows that in a fair fight, it is doomed?
P.S. The young pro-democracy demonstrators camped out in Kiev's tent city will need a lot of staying power. No doubt their hearts sank and the cold bit deeper into their bones when Kuchma reneged on his apparent agreement to two out of three opposition demands. I think along with all the election observers and nonviolent-action trainers, we ought to send over Yogi Berra, to remind them that "It ain't over till it's over."
UPDATE: OR WAS HE? Apparently Yushchenko's Vienna doctor spoke too soon for his clinic's liking. From Yahoo! News:
The Times newspaper in Britain on Wednesday quoted West-leaning Yushchenko's personal physician in Vienna, Mykola Korpan, as saying that the opposition leader had been poisoned in an attempt on his life. . . .
On Wednesday Korpan did not repeat his comments to The Times that he was sure Yushchenko had been poisoned.
Instead, he told reporters at a news conference that he had at least three theories about what caused Yushchenko's illness and said "yes" when he was asked if all three theories involved poisoning.
Korpan, who supervised Yushchenko's treatment at Vienna's Rudolfinerhaus clinic, said he was awaiting test results from experts in France, the United States and Germany to shed light on his patient's illness.
The head of the Vienna hospital where Yushchenko was treated said there was still no proof of what caused the illness, which left Yushchenko's previously smooth face pocked with cysts and lesions.
"I want to make clear that up till now, no proof, zero proof, has been furnished of the influence of a poison," Dr Michael Zimpfer, head of the Rudolfinerhaus hospital, told a news conference.
"The poisoning hypothesis has neither been proven conclusively nor disproven," Zimpfer said.
Zimpfer said the hospital was still having tests conducted by specialist laboratories abroad.
Hmm. You have to wonder: is this backtracking based on medical or political prudence?
UPDATE, 12/10: Yushchenko is going to Vienna for final tests that should provide definitive evidence of what sickened him. The good news: his chief of staff says he's fully recovered, that the gruesome effects on his face are residual.