Implications Of Our Ukraine’s Withdrawal From The Government

BOSTON, MA -- On 19 October, Viktor Yushchenko’s People’s Union-Our Ukraine (PUOU) party announced that all of its ministers within the government had resigned and that the party’s political bloc had moved into opposition (with 79 parliamentary seats).

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This included Justice Minister Roman Zvarych, who was appointed on the personal quota of President Yushchenko, but is a founding member of PUOU: Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, appointed on the Socialist Party quota, but now supporting President Yushchenko, also reportedly submitted his resignation.

Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, representing the People’s Movement of Ukraine, which is a member of the Our Ukraine parliamentary bloc, did not resign, nor did Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko, who is not a member of any political party, but a strong Yushchenko ally.

What are the implications of this action? What might it suggest about Ukraine’s future domestic and foreign policy course? What are the ramifications for Ukraine’s nascent political opposition?

President Viktor Yushchenko now has only two representatives – Tarasyuk and Hrytsenko – in the cabinet of ministers, which has primary control over domestic policy and some control over foreign policy.

On the surface, therefore, it appears that Yushchenko may lose important leverage within the cabinet. However, Our Ukraine’s ministers had been unable to work effectively within Yanukovich’s cabinet and were often left watching as policies in opposition to Yushchenko’s positions were enacted. This is particularly true of Foreign Minister Tarasyuk, who has been unable to protect his portfolio.

A move to opposition may allow these former ministers more effectively to criticize the government and to provide clear alternatives. Their influence outside the government may be far greater than it was within it.

Yushchenko’s remaining allies in the government will have difficulty influencing government policy in any measurable way.

Already in the past month, Foreign Minister Tarasyuk was left at home both during Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich’s first visit to Brussels and during all of his visits to Russia as prime minister.

During the visit to Brussels, Yanukovich backtracked on Ukraine’s stated goal of speedy entry into NATO – a primary goal of Tarasyuk’s and Yushchenko’s foreign policy. The Foreign Minister also has been unable to push the government to move forward quickly on reforms which are necessary to enter the WTO.

Now, with his allies out of the cabinet, the situation likely will become even more difficult for him.

The Defense Minister is in a more advantageous position. Hrytsenko is a strong leader and effective manager and has been able to continue Western-style military reforms.

He has vigorously attacked the notorious corruption within the ministry and forged important alliances by doing so. However, recent personal attacks on him from the ruling coalition partner Communist Party suggest that the core governing coalition is not content to ignore him.

Although he is in this position to remain a relatively effective force for reform, the best position is not necessarily secure.

Concerns regarding the effectiveness of the “Declaration of National Unity” were well-founded.

On 2 August 2006, Yushchenko, Yanukovich and the leaders of the Communist Party, Socialist Party and Our Ukraine Bloc, signed the “Declaration of National Unity.” This five-page document was said to provide the foundation for all future policy decisions in the country.

“The basics of the definition of Ukraine's domestic and foreign policy, of its continuity, have been completed,” Yushchenko said at the time. “I am convinced that in Ukraine's political practice, at any rate among the signatories, there will be no more … discussions and misinterpretations.”

Those discussions, of course, had been based on the fact that Yanukovich leaned toward a Russo-centric foreign policy while Yushchenko was committed to a West-leaning policy.

Following the signing of the declaration (called a “Universal” in Ukraine), and buoyed by his apparent belief that all questions of Ukrainian’s future policy direction had been answered, Yushchenko nominated Yanukovich to become the country’s new prime minister.

When questioned by the media about differences that seemed to exist between the two men – particularly about the country’s general foreign policy and its specific goal of joining NATO – Yushchenko said that foreign policy would remain entirely his right, and asserted: "I am pursuing the policy toward [NATO] integration without adding anything else to it."

However, on 17 October, Our Ukraine’s leadership suggested that under the Yanukovich government, "Ukraine's process of integration into the WTO is being wrecked, the program of Ukraine's accession to the EU has been basically stopped and there has been a fundamental block on Ukraine's entry into NATO.”

It is true that Yanukovich and his coalition have halted preparations for NATO entry, slowed preparation for the WTO and paid little attention to EU reforms – all in opposition to Yushchenko’s wishes. But, given Yanukovich’s previous anti-NATO rhetoric and his consistent caution towards the WTO and the EU, this should not be a surprise.

In fact, the “Declaration of National Unity” provides no timetable for NATO and EU preparation – Yanukovich had refused to sign it if these were included. And, although the document states that the Yanukovich government and parliamentary majority will enact reforms “necessary for entering the World Trade Organization by the end of 2006,” the coalition partner Communist Party has always refused to endorse this particular article of the agreement, immediately calling it into question.

The ability of the new opposition to influence policy is questionable, as the country’s two opposition blocs will have difficulty creating an effective mechanism to promote their agendas.

Our Ukraine’s leadership historically has been uncomfortable in opposition-oriented alliances. Through the final years of the Kuchma administration, Our Ukraine often had difficulty deciding whether or not to join anti-Kuchma protests.

Yushchenko himself, as late as 11 October suggested that he did not want Our Ukraine to move to opposition. Within the bloc, there are also a number of important members who have business connections to business interests within Yanukovich’s Party of Regions, and these members previously have blocked attempts to move into opposition.

Furthermore, Our Ukraine’s members lead the governments in at least 75 regional and local councils, placing them technically in opposition to the federal government, but leaving them financially dependent upon it. This suggests that the bloc’s leaders will hesitate to confront the authorities.

In contrast, the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko (BYUT), which controls 122 seats in the parliament, moved into “radical opposition” on 3 August, soon after Yanukovich was nominated.

Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko then attempted to create an inter-faction opposition, but Our Ukraine balked at joining. BYUT will not hesitate to confront the government whenever necessary, which sometimes places it in conflict with the more moderate Our Ukraine.

Our Ukraine leader Roman Bezsmertny has hesitated to work in opposition with Tymoshenko. “Our Ukraine does not conduct any negotiations,” Bezsmertny said on 17 October. “If Yuliya Volodymyrivna [Tymoshenko] makes relevant proposals, we are ready to renew a dialogue,” he added. However he underscored that they will not approach her and suggested that there should be only one opposition bloc.

The two opposition forces likely will have difficulty working together to create an effective mechanism for representing their interests and the interests of Yushchenko.

Source: Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology and Policy