Ousted Ukraine Prime Minister Will Be Back In Post

MOSCOW, Russia -- Ousted from government last year amid the collapse of Ukraine's Orange Revolution movement, Yulia Tymoshenko will regain her post as prime minister under an accord reached Wednesday with President Viktor Yushchenko's party that preserves the country's pro-West agenda.

Yulia Tymoshenko is back as PM

The agreement between Ukraine's three Orange parties: Tymoshenko's bloc, Yushchenko's Our Ukraine Party and the Socialists - ends nearly three months of tense, contentious talks that ensued after the March 31 parliament election gave no party a clear majority.

Yushchenko's rival, Viktor Yanukovych, engineered a strong showing in that election, which marked his comeback in Ukrainian politics. But the pro-Russian political leader failed to win enough votes to form a parliamentary majority.

Suffering a humiliating third-place finish in that election, Yushchenko's party was forced to begin talks on forming a government with Tymoshenko, the ally he fired from the prime minister's post last year, and even held consultations with Yanukovych, his nemesis in the rigged presidential election that triggered the Orange Revolution in 2004.

Ultimately, Yushchenko chose to reunite with Tymoshenko, the charismatic 45-year-old Ukrainian whose fiery speeches inspired thousands gathered in Kiev's Independence Square to protest Yanukovych's fraudulent presidential win. The Ukrainian Supreme Court reversed Yanukovych's victory, and Yushchenko later won the election rerun.

The agreement creates an Orange coalition of 243 lawmakers, a majority in the 450-seat parliament, and keeps on track Yushchenko's pro-West program, which includes integration into Europe and independence from the Kremlin.

Yanukovych, whose Party of Regions won 186 parliament seats in the March 31 election, garners most of his support from Ukraine's pro-Russian eastern half and favors a strong relationship with Moscow.

"We have rescued democracy for Ukraine by approving this decision today," Tymoshenko told parliament.

Since his inauguration in January 2005, Yushchenko and his administration have been rocked by a series of scandals and fierce infighting that cleaved the Orange coalition and ultimately led to Tymoshenko's dismissal as prime minister in September. Yushchenko also accepted the resignations of top aides, including National Security and Defense Council chief Petro Poroshenko.

Crisis dents trust

The political crisis eroded public trust in Yushchenko's leadership, a trend reflected in polls showing Ukrainian confidence in government plunging to 15 percent.

After Yushchenko fired her, Tymoshenko formed her own opposition movement and made regaining the post of prime minister her primary aim. It remains to be seen whether the two, who barely are on speaking terms, can set aside their differences.

Tymoshenko also will have to reconcile differences with Poroshenko, another Orange coalition rival and a Yushchenko ally who is expected to be named parliament speaker.

"I don't know if she has reservations about this on a personal level," said Tymoshenko spokesman Vitaly Chepinoga. "I just know that she is sure she will work with the president to reanimate the public's trust in the Orange coalition and in government."

Yushchenko's press secretary, Irina Gerashchenko, said "mutual distrust and back-and-forth accusations once killed this coalition, and we must do whatever necessary to avoid this in the future."

The agreement on a new coalition is expected to be formalized by parliament Thursday. Once in place, the new government will inherit several thorny issues, including nationwide resistance to Yushchenko's call for the country to join NATO and the prospect of a second conflict with Russia over natural gas prices.

NATO membership

Ukraine's desire to join NATO is a cornerstone of Yushchenko's pro-West agenda. However, a recent poll by Kiev's Razumkov Center showed that nearly 70 percent of Ukrainians oppose NATO membership.

The appearance this month of U.S. Marines at Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula for routine exercises ignited a furious backlash, among pro-Russian Ukrainians and Russian leaders in Moscow who warned that Ukraine's accession to NATO would constitute a "colossal geopolitical shift" that Russia would not ignore.

Just as problematic for the revamped Orange coalition will be the potential for new increases in natural gas prices imposed by Russia's gas monopoly, Gazprom. When Ukraine balked at paying a fourfold price boost imposed by Gazprom last winter, the Russian state-owned gas utility shut off gas to Ukrainian consumers.

Gazprom leaders said this week that the price both sides agreed to last winter is valid for only six months and Ukraine can expect more increases this year.

Yanukovych's team doubts the new coalition would be able to weather such challenges.

"With the current economic situation and the political crises in the country," said Rodion Myroshnyk, a spokesman for Yanukovych's party, " I don't think the coalition can survive for a long period of time."

Source: Chicago Tribune