Yushchenko Chooses the Lesser Evil

MOSCOW, Russia -- Ukraine’s Supreme Rada is to endorse Viktor Yanukovich as prime minister on Friday. President Viktor Yushchenko has given in, agreeing to nominate his long-standing rival for prime minister.

Viktor Yanukovich (C) finally got Viktor Yushchenko make a choice and submit his candidacy to the Supreme Rada.

Yanukovich’s comeback in office means not only the defeat of the Orange. Ukraine is also in for a new redistribution of property that the White and Blue will certainly launch.

Capitulation

Viktor Yushchenko was hesitant Wednesday night, thinking what to do to solve the tangled political dead-lock. Night callers visited him every hour. The office greeted Yulia Timoshenko, leader of the bloc of the same name, Party of Regions’s leader Viktor Yanukovich, the parliament’s speaker Alexander Moroz and Communists leader Pyotr Simonenko.

Comments of Yushchenko’s associates were changing drastically, depending on the last person the president had spoken to. After Yulia Timoshenko’s visit, for example, president’s legal advisers started speculating the dissolution of the Rada.

After Yanukovich left Yushchenko, the president’s legal aide, Nikolay Poludenny cited reasons why the head of state is free to nominate the Regions’s leader to the parliament.

The president made his choice only late at night. He went out to the press at two o’clock in the morning and announced that he would not dissolve the Rada. “I decided to nominate Viktor Fyodorovich Yanukovich as prime minister.

I am aware of complications that appear both in the East and the West over any candidate, but I would like to ask the nation to try to comprehend my decision. We have a unique chance to do the thing that we were dreaming of in the Maidan –bring the two banks of the Dniepr together,” the president said.

The news came as a surprise for the most influential members of the president’s Our Ukraine. The bloc started mentioning a split after the news that Yushchenko let his old rival to rise to power again appeared.

Parliamentary deputy Nikolay Katerinchuk pledged he would not support Yanukovich’s nomination. He also promised to create an inter-faction group to go into opposition in case Our Ukraine sets up a coalition with the Party of Regions.

“I cannot find reasons for this action of the president. It’s the surprise for us that is hard to give a comment on,” Katerinchuk told Kommersant. He announced Thursday that ten allies of his were walking out from Our Ukraine.

Viktor Yushchenko suffered new defeats in the morning. The Party of Regions made him sign the national unity agreement with their terms. Points suggested by the presidents were revised and re-written by Yanukovich’s associates.

For instance, the mention of the course to join NATO got an addition saying that the accession to the organization is possible only after the national referendum. The leader of the Regions insisted that the universal agreement also have an article on Ukraine’s meeting engagements of the Common Economic Space and its members, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

This is how the document was signed at a round-table session that had all political forces represented. Later, Viktor Yushchenko had to find excuses speaking with U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, trying to convince him that the document focuses on the idea that Ukraine will keep to its present foreign policy.

Yulia Timoshenko was the only one to decline to sign the agreement, calling the document a deed of capitulation of the Orange. “Treachery is becoming a common practice in Ukrainian politics, and it is growing into an infectious disease which passes on by an unknown method but does not contaminate women.

It will not affect our political party. We will not let shadow lobbyists work,” she said. Viktor Yushchenko interrupted her speech abruptly. “Breast-beating, speaking about patriotism and love but doing nothing about the situation is all empty politicizing,” he retorted.

Bargaining

The Yulia Timoshenko Block said they were going into intransigent opposition. Yulia Timoshenko labeled the national unity agreement “just a screen to hide insider dealings of dividing posts and distributing businesses.”

Ukrainian experts believe that economic issues rather than ideological ones were the thorniest in the talks to create a coalition. But it was not Viktor Yanukovich who took decision on the Party of Regions’s behalf but Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man and number seven in the party’s election list.

Akhmetov is reputed to be the main instigator of the split in the Orange coalition. He is the most interested in Yulia Timoshenko staying away from the premier’s seat. Ms. Timoshenko made it clear during her tenure of the post that she was not going to consider vested interests of the eastern Ukrainian tycoon.

Having risen to the premiership in 2005, she mounted an all-out offensive on business in Donetsk. Yulia Timoshenko promised to return 3,000 enterprises to the state. Rinat Akhetov’s business empire was to become the main prey of the strike. First, Krivorozhstal, owned by him and Viktor Pinchuk, ex-President Leonid Kuchma’s son-in law, was seized.

Later, Ms. Timoshenko began eyeing Akhmetov’s ore mining enterprises. At the same time, criminal cases were open against the businessman on charges of tax evasion and fights that happened ten years ago. Rinat Akhmetov had to leave the country for some time to stay at large.

Chances of Yulia Timoshenko regaining the prime minister’s seat increased after the parliamentary elections when the Yulia Timoshenko, Our Ukraine and the Socialist Party formed the Orange coalition.

This development could bring with a new round of reprivatization, which Rinat Akhmetov could not possibly let happen. The Party of Regions launched a mighty counter-attack on the coalition. A wave of protests rocked Ukraine; regional authorities in the country’s east and south adopted bills on the national status of the Russian language; plans about NATO military exercises were foiled.

At the same time, the Party of Regions made a try to drive a wedge into the coalition. Alexander Moroz proved to be the weakest link in this chain. The leader of the Socialists rushed to the anti-crisis coalition of Viktor Yanukovich and Communists at the decisive moment when Yulia Timoshenko was close as never to bargain out premiership for herself.

For this, Moroz not only received the post of the Rada’s speaker, but got a promise to have Socialists-controlled business in peace, according to unofficial sources in Kiev. Election rolls of the Socialists do not contain names of tycoons but the party is well fed by Red Directors of quite a number of enterprises. That is why the Socialist Party vehemently opposes privatization of plants.

After the Rada confirms Yanukovich as prime minister on Friday, Rinat Akhmetov and other major businessmen of the Party of Regions will get a strong protection. In contrast, the Yulia Timoshenko Bloc and Our Ukrain will lose from it.

The Regions will surely remind Yulia Timoshenko of last year’s re-privatization and the Krivorozhstal story. It is of note that less ideologically-minded deputies have already gone away from the Timoshenko Bloc as they had run to be in the parliament to defend their business interests.

Our Ukraine will be at the losing end as well. The Party of Regions is sure to send Our Ukraine’s leaders away from senior posts in lucrative state monopolies such as Naftogaz Ukrainy.

Giving in to Viktor Yanukovich, Yushchenko, however, has chosen the less evil. Had Yulia Timoshenko been appointed prime minister, the president’s people would have been driven from their seats more quickly and tougher, while Our Ukraine can still come to terms with the Regions.

Outcome

Members of the new government are likely to be named on Friday. Viktor Yanukovich will head the government but he will merely act a formal premier, Ukrainian experts note. Rinat Akhmetov will be as a real one.

Our Ukraine will probably get one set of a deputy prime minister. Anatoly Kinakh, known for his ability to work under any rule, is the likeliest candidate for the position. The Party of Regions will apparently get the whole economic bloc. However, they said it was possible that acting Economic Development Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk be asked to work in their government.

Nikolay Onishchuk, member of Our Ukraine, said Thursday that his party hopes to obtain posts of justice and interior ministers at the new cabinte. Portfolios of justice and interior ministers, head of the Ukrainian Security Service and Defense Minister are declared to be free of politics and are under the president’s jurisdiction, according to the national unity agreement.

Therefore, Boris Tarasyuk, Anatoly Gritsenko and Igor Drizhchany are likely to retain the former three posts.

Acting Interior Minister Lutsenko will probably lose his position. Firstly, he was personally involved in persecution of Boris Kolesnikov, a leader of the Party of Regions, and repeatedly stated that lifting previous convictions from Yanukovich was against the law.

Secondly, the Socialists already released a list of their demands Thursday. They would like to appoint transportation and education ministers as well as the head of the State Property Fund.

The latter position is a key one, given a possible re-distribution of property. It is the State Property Fund that is in charge of privatization, so Rinat Akhmetov evidently prefers to see a compliant person at the post. The incumbent head of the agency, Valentina Semenyuk from the Socialist Party dropped a hint to Akhmetov on Thursday that she is what he needs. Semenyuk mentioned that Krivorozhstal, seized from Rinat Akhmetov and his business partner, Viktor Pinchuk, might be given back.

Should an inspection find that Mittal Steel, the new owner of the plant, does not meet any obligation the contract – say, on workers’ wages – Krivorozhstal may be returned to the state at any moment, Ms. Semenyuk warned.

We can also suppose that the new government will rigorously protect interests of Donetsk-based businessmen who are mostly interested is in low prices on Russian gas. Therefore Viktor Yanukovich will evidently raise the issue of reducing gas prices for the friendly government during Moscow visit. Gazprom, however, is unlikely to respond to Kiev’s request. It has not recently met anybody half-way.

All the more, Ukraine’s new government is not going to be Russia-friendly. The claim of making Russian the second national language – a motto that the Party of Regions has used in the campaign – has already gone to the background and will probably be forgotten soon. Leonid Kuchma, by the way, acted in the same way. His promises for Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine were discarded right after the election victory.

Furthermore, Viktor Yanukovich and Rinat Akmetov will have to make efforts to please the West. American partners have repeatedly hinted to Viktor Yushchenko lately that Washington considers Yanukovich a totally unacceptable prime minister. The Party of Regions’s leader will have to try hard to change this viewpoint.

Rinat Akmetov has already begun restoring relations with the United States. As Ukrainian press report, he went to have talks with the U.S. administration this week. In an effort to get the West’s approval and create favorable conditions for their business Donetsk people may soon grow to be even more pro-West politicians than the Orange. It is particularly probable as they have three years till the next election for this.

Source: Kommersant

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