Viktors May Make A Good Team

MOSCOW, Russia -- "CONSTRUCTIVE, we have to be con-struc-tive," President Viktor Yushchenko spelt out, as if talking to small children, at a roundtable of Ukrainian politicians.

Amazing frienship between two former enemies

Yulia Tymoshenko, his former Orange Revolution partner and prime minister, wore a sour expression. Viktor Yanukovich, his erstwhile rival, who will now become prime minister, looked smug.

The Supreme Rada, or parliament in the capital, Kiev, had confirmed Mr Yanukovich as Prime Minister on Friday, ending a political crisis that had dragged on since March.

"Thank goodness we have some solution. It seemed as if the politicians had gone mad and forgotten all about the people," said Valentina, who comes from Kharkov in eastern Ukraine but earns her living selling meat in Moscow. The Russian capital is full of Ukrainian guest workers like her, who cannot make ends meet back home.

Investors were also breathing a sigh of relief. Ukraine, which looked so promising after the 2004 Orange Revolution, had become less attractive by the day since the elections in March with politicians often physically scuffling as they tried to form a coalition government.

Unless they fall out - which is quite possible - the two Viktors might make a good team. Potentially, it is a better tandem than the cautious Mr Yushchenko made with radical Ms Tymoshenko.

The US indicates it is willing to work with Mr Yanukovich, saying he had campaigned cleanly in the elections and won by democratic means. Since the Moscow-backed Mr Yanukovich's humiliation in the Orange Revolution elections in 2004, the Kremlin has been careful not to interfere in Ukrainian affairs and Mr Yanukovich has re-invented himself.

Mr Yushchenko, who retains control over foreign policy and is likely to reappoint the pro-Western Boris Tarasyuk as foreign minister, will ensure that the Kremlin does not exert undue influence over Ukraine.

For his part, Mr Yanukovich, whose power base is the Russian-speaking regions, would be "the dealmaker" with Russia, said Sergei Markov, a political analyst with connections to the Kremlin. This is vital if Ukraine and Europe are to avoid another fuel scare like last northern winter, when gas supplies were cut during a price dispute between Moscow and Kiev.

New gas talks are looming so there are hopes that Mr Yanukovich will be well placed to get the best deal for Ukraine. Gazprom says it is willing to hold prices in exchange for control over the pipelines.

Ukraine walks a fine line between East and West. Russia swallowed former Warsaw Pact countries such as Poland joining NATO but it would not be happy if Ukraine also moved to become part of the pact.

Demonstrations in Crimea forced the cancellation of planned NATO naval exercises earlier this northern summer and showed that not all Ukrainians share Mr Yushchenko's aspiration to join the bloc.

Mr Yanukovich has committed himself to co-operating with NATO but Ukrainians would have to vote in a referendum on possible membership.

The demonstrations also might mean NATO is less keen to absorb Ukraine. And until Ukraine makes significant economic progress, the overstretched European Union is also unlikely to hold out a welcome.

The economy is the key in this large, potentially rich country that languishes in poverty and sees so many of its people going as guest workers to Russia. But with Mr Yanukovich's appointment, Mr Yushchenko said Ukraine now had the prospect of five years of stable government.

One day, perhaps Valentina may be able to afford to go home.

Source: The Sidney Morning Herald