The Two Viktors Who Wrestle For Control Of Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko and his rival Viktor Yanukovich have almost nothing in common apart from their first name, but fate keeps throwing them together.

Viktor Yanukovich (L) and Viktor Yushchenko

Yushchenko reluctantly nominated Yanukovich as prime minister on Thursday, setting up an unlikely alliance between the two men whose rivalry has become the defining theme in Ukraine's stormy political scene.

The two Viktors have become a metaphor for the divisions in Ukraine itself: between the Ukrainian-speaking west that looks towards Europe, and the Russian-speaking east that links its destiny with Russia.

They were on opposite sides of the barricades in the "Orange Revolution" two years ago. Then, Yanukovich was declared winner in a presidential election and Yushchenko mobilised thousands of protesters to have the result declared void.

Yanukovich was humiliated but he staged a comeback. His party's strong showing in a March parliamentary vote gave Yushchenko little choice but to work with him running their ex-Soviet republic of 47 million people.

Yushchenko is a smooth former central banker with an American wife who is most comfortable speaking Ukrainian and wants to take his country into NATO and -- eventually -- the European Union.

Yanukovich, 56, is a rough-hewn man from the Donetsk region, a coal mining centre in the east and wants to maintain historical ties with Russia.

Yanukovich, who has a reputation as an awkward public speaker and stumbles when speaking Ukrainian, wants stronger rights for regions, especially those where Russian-speaking population forms a majority.


The 51-year-old Yushchenko has a disfigured face: the result of poisoning just before the "Orange Revolution" that he says was carried out by his opponents.

When he triumphantly took office after the revolution, he promised to remake Ukraine, sweeping out corruption and cronyism and taking the country into the European mainstream.

"If burning myself to ashes could help Ukraine ... I would be happy," Yushchenko once said.

But he has disappointed many erstwhile supporters.

The economy has spluttered. He sacked his "Orange Revolution" partner Yulia Tymoshenko as prime minister after a bout infighting. His Our Ukraine party finished third in the inconclusive parliamentary election.

Critics say the four months of political paralysis and uncertainty that followed that vote has exposed Yushchenko's lack of decisiveness.

Yanukovich has already served as prime minister, from 2002 to 2004 under former President Leonid Kuchma.

In that period Ukraine enjoyed strong economic growth, but he was accused of having cosy relations with powerful business interests.

During his youth Yanukovich was imprisoned twice for theft and assault. His aides said the charges were struck from the record and no documents are available on the issue.

Since his defeat in 2004, Yanukovich has rallied his supporters and had coaching from Western political consultants to make him more telegenic. His Regions party took the biggest share of the vote in the March election.

He has even embraced some of the liberal ideals of the "Orange Revolution." Addressing a rally on Wednesday he said the events of 2004 "were of benefit to everyone ... We all want to live in freedom."

Source: Reuters