Ukraine's Orange Bust

KIEV, Ukraine -- It is Oleksandr Moroz, the Socialist leader and newly minted parliament Speaker, who will endure the greatest share of criticism for the collapse of the so-called Orange coalition in Ukraine last week. Deservedly so.

Oleksandr Moroz (L) and Yulia Tymoshenko (R)

The Moroz-led defection of the Socialist Party to the pro-Russia bloc in parliament could jeopardize efforts to enact further democratic reforms and build stronger ties with the West - both essential to Ukraine's further development and well-being.

Against such stakes, it seems churlish to point out that the move has also nullified a signed agreement Moroz himself negotiated.

Yet Moroz should not be made to bear the burden alone. His decision was preceded by months of deceitful talks among the putative Orange allies, culminating in an agreement that was marked for failure.

And one ought look no further than President Viktor Yushchenko for the blame here. His disdain for one-time ally Yulia Tymoshenko, whom he fired as prime minister last year, was the central animating feature of the talks, which in reality could only have ended with her reappointment.

Throughout negotiations, in fact, Yushchenko advisors let it be known, sotto voce, that they would or could or should or might be more amenable to a coalition with Viktor Yanukovich and his Party of the Regions - an absurd notion for a party devoted to joining NATO and integrating with Europe.

In any case, it seems Moroz and his Socialist bloc beat them to it.

Once the embodiment of Ukraine's hopes for prestige and modernization, Yushchenko has turned inward and insolent in his year-and-a-half as president. The warning signs were apparent early in his administration.

Wary of Tymoshenko, he moved a top ally into the role of state security chief in order to balance out her power. The ensuing clash of wills dominated the first nine months of his presidency, ending only when Yushchenko accepted the resignation of the security adviser, Petro Poroshenko, and dissolved Tymoshenko's government.

By this point, Yushchenko was already exhibiting an unhealthy fixation on enemies - not an unusual trait among leaders in this region, but also not quite the spirit of "Maidan," as the Orange protests are widely known in Ukraine.

In mid-summer last year he hinted darkly that opponents in the state secret service were behind reports about the lavish lifestyle enjoyed by his 19-year-old son, Andriy.

In truth, Andriy's pampering was no less than the ordinary Ukrainian expects from a scion of the elite; it was the news coverage of it that was so unusual, in a country where fear once (in fact, quite recently) controlled the media.

Yushchenko botched an excellent teaching moment about the democratic values he often extols.

All of Yushchenko's flaws and failures might have been forgivable were it not for his handling of the coalition talks. Having been pummeled in the March parliamentary elections by both Yanukovich and Tymoshenko, Yushchenko nevertheless struck a defiant stance.

He and his aides dragged their heels throughout the negotiations, evidently in the hope that, facing a parliament deadline for organizing the new government, Tymoshenko and her forces would accept something less than her reappointment as prime minister.

No such luck. So in an act of jaw-dropping petulance, Yushchenko accepted her reappointment - on the condition that Poroshenko be made Speaker of the Rada. As if adopting the lioness meant adopting the lion-tamer.

Beyond the plain cynicism of this move, it also revealed that Yushchenko had no idea how far Ukraine has traveled since the Orange Revolution. His countrymen no longer view him as the heroic figure atop the stage in the orange scarf, but rather as an inept and somewhat beleaguered administrator who is perhaps in over his head.

His party's 14 percent at the polls in the recent round of elections should have been a clue to that. Yet now he was reassembling the same inevitable mess he created when he first came to office, as if his position had strengthened over time.

Even if the ploy had succeeded, it sent an awful message to weary Ukrainians who lost their faith in Yushchenko during the first period of infighting.

Tymoshenko ought to accept her own share of the blame for the troubles. (There's plenty of blame for everyone, natch.) As the figure-head of her eponymous party, she stressed the need to root out corruption in government during the campaign season.

Which is all well and good, since Ukraine continues to struggle mightily with the problem. Except that when Tymoshenko spoke of corruption, she cited not the faceless multitude that populates Ukraine's bureaucracy at every level, trolling for bribes, but rather the circle of advisers surrounding Yushchenko.

This, in fact, was a continuation of the same quarrel that brought about the collapse of the first post-revolution government - a battle over who was using his or her office for personal aggrandizement. Coming in the wake of Tymoshenko's grandstanding on the crisis-averting gas agreement between Ukraine and Russia - she charged that the pact "sold out" Ukraine - her attacks during the campaign were especially unhelpful, not to say short-sighted.

They alienated the very same people she would need to deal with after the elections. (On the other hand, Tymoshenko's appeal comes from her fiery manner and willingness to attack the powerful. A strong case could be made that her party would have failed to muster its 25 percent in the parliamentary balloting if she had held back.)

Moroz was undoubtedly correct when he averred, after his election as Speaker, that the arrangement of personalities in the new power structure would have inevitably - and quickly - brought about its collapse. (Less clear is Moroz's claim to have a document, which he has referred to but not revealed, that "proves" the collapse was a foregone conclusion.)

But he made the agreement with the other Orange parties, without any stipulations in that area. And his refusal to take his name out of consideration for Speaker after Poroshenko did so suggests that concern about the durability of an Orange majority coalition was the pretext for a move that had been already settled.

The new majority coalition, which includes Regions, the Socialists and Communists, is likely to have an even tougher time reaching any sort of common accord, beyond degrees of opposition to further integration with the West. The Communists never expected to be part of any coalition.

Now the 22-member bloc is the linchpin of the majority coalition. Tymoshenko has taken to declaring that the new coalition will be "ruled by the Communists." It is just as likely that the Communists will bring about its quick demise.

The real fallout from the Socialist defection is more psychological than political. In the sense that the Socialists have formally aligned themselves now with Regions and the Communists - at least, the larger segment of Socialists that didn't resign from the party hierarchy in protest - it is the first real schism in the three-hearted Coalition of Democratic Forces that formed during the Orange Revolution protests.

Yushchenko has threatened to dissolve parliament (perhaps as soon as July 20) and call new elections if the new majority coalition in parliament can't form a government. There are plenty of reasons to doubt its ability to do so.

Yet even if Yushchenko calls early elections the outcome would probably not lessen the existential confusion for Ukraine. There is not likely to be any sense of what constitutes a "pro-Western" majority or mandate in the near future.

Moroz himself said last week: "Today, we are living not in Asia and not in Europe. It is shameful to name a place where we are living." The confusion will ensure that every policy decision of government is weighed against the paranoia it might elicit in Russia.

That is a recipe for paralysis. It is a reversion to the state of affairs that existed for the 13 years of unsettled independence that preceded the Orange Revolution.

Source: RealClearPolitics.