Pro-Presidential Our Ukraine Moves Closer To Joining Opposition

KIEV, Ukraine -- Following months of fruitless negotiations with the pro-Russian majority in parliament, the president and his faction have finally begun to reassert themselves in the hope of preserving some of their former authority and image.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko

The chances of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine faction joining the coalition led by the Donetsk-based Regions party look slimmer than ever, following an Oct. 4 announcement by faction leader Roman Bezsmertny that negotiations have broken down.

“In the situation that has come about, where the Universal and signed memorandum aren’t being fulfilled, where criminal cases are opened against Our Ukraine ministers, we don’t see any possibility of continuing dialogue or talks,” Bezsmertny said after a meeting of faction heads.

The so-called Universal is a list of shared policy points that Regions agreed to in August as a condition to Our Ukraine backing Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych as premier.

Prosecutor-General Oleksandr Medvedko, closely associated with the Donetsk political clan, recently opened a case against Our Ukraine Sports Minister Yuriy Pavlenko for allegedly misusing funds when he and a group of officials attended the World Cup recently.

“Thus, it can be said that the negotiations process has effectively ended. I don’t know if this is good or bad, but all the participants in this process have made up their minds – there is a government led coalition and Our Ukraine, which is in opposition to the government coalition.”

An official statement by Our Ukraine is expected to follow Bezsmertny’s announcement, which will likely mean the resignation of Our Ukraine’s appointments to the Yanukovych government: Justice Minister Roman Zvarych, Sports Minister Yuriy Pavlenko, Health Minister Yury Polyachenko and Culture Minister Ihor Likhovy.

Two other Our Ukraine ministers – Defense and Foreign Affairs – are appointed by the president according to the Constitution and are subject to change only by him.

Following the March 26 general elections, many supporters of the Orange Revolution expected Our Ukraine to join a coalition with its former Orange comrades – the Socialists and the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko. Instead, the pro-presidential party has consistently signaled that it prefers a grand coalition with Regions, its enemy during the revolution, which already has a majority with the Communists and Socialists.

The only faction currently calling itself the opposition is BYuT, the bloc of Yushchenko’s fiery former ally Yulia Tymoshenko.

BYut has continually challenged Yushchenko and Our Ukraine to form an opposition, despite Tymoshenko being passed over for the premiership last summer.

BYuT is now consolidating its position as the focal point of the official opposition by saying it will hold a forum to include all opposition forces. According to BYuT, which includes a healthy collection of nationalists, the Regions-led coalition is beginning to show cracks. One crack is that the Communists have always been against Our Ukraine joining a grand coalition.

Following Bezsmertny’s Oct. 4 announcement, Communist leader Petro Symonenko said: “This gives only one impression – that Our Ukraine isn’t going to join the coalition or take responsibility for what is happening in the country.”

As the smallest faction in parliament, the Communists would lose their “golden share” status: The Regions and Socialists don’t have enough MPs without the Communists to form a majority.

On the other hand, BYuT has already reiterated its interest in forming a united opposition with the pro-presidential faction.

One of Tymoshenko’s main banners of opposition is the nation’s fear that Russia will again raise the price of the gas it sells to Ukraine, as happened earlier this year. On Oct. 2 Tymoshenko accused Ukrainian and Russian officials of misleading the public by telling them the price of gas would stay unchanged this year in a bid to win political capital.

Russia's state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom said last week that it would maintain the price of natural gas for Ukraine at $95 per 1,000 cubic meters till Dec. 31. However, Tymoshenko was not impressed, and said "It is political deception ... the de facto gas price has already been raised," citing unidentified sources in the Russian energy industry.

Tymoshenko did not reveal what she thought the new price would be, but said Moscow had agreed to let Kyiv wait to pay the difference in 2007. She called the Russian move an attempt to build up support for Yanukovych, who is perceived as more pro-Kremlin than President Viktor Yushchenko.

In another sign that the president and his former Orange ally may yet find a common language, Tymoshenko welcomed news that the presidential secretariat has been staffed with new faces. Viktor Baloha, recently appointed by Yushchenko as his chief-of-staff, introduced his deputies on Sept. 26.

With Yanukovych challenging the president on domestic matters and trying to rewrite foreign policy on NATO, Yushchenko has responded by reinforcing his secretariat, which he sees as a counterweight to the Regions-dominated cabinet.

Two former ministers, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Viktor Bodnar, economics and transport ministers, respectively, of the previous Orange government, have been rewarded with senior posts. Yatsenyuk will serve as Baloha’s first deputy.

The series of appointments comes as Yanukovych tries to grab more powers from the president. Yanukovych is now threatening the president’s traditional prerogative to hire and fire regional governors.

At a meeting of the cabinet also attended by governors on Sept. 28, Yanukovych said five governors, all of them from Our Ukraine, should be dismissed. He claimed the five have not done enough to tackle socioeconomic problems in their regions.

But the Regions may find it easier to take power than to wield it. The Donetsk-based political force is now trying to solve a potentially embarrassing political banana skin regarding the new moratorium on utility tariff hikes after a presidential veto was defeated last week by the majority in parliament.

The moratorium, which is valid only till the end of this year anyway, leaves the Regions party, which is packed with eastern industrialists, confused. Regions supported the moratorium, but its industrialists will be most hurt by having to shoulder gas subsidies to households.

Now, with the president asking for the law to be submitted for him to sign, the cabinet is beginning to back down. In an obvious about-face, the cabinet now wants to annul the bill.

On Sept. 29, the day after parliament defeated the veto, Deputy Prime Minister for Regional Policy Volodymyr Rybak announced a proposal to lift the moratorium on raising gas, heating and electricity prices for the public. Rybak said parliament could reconsider the issue, which would involve revoking the law.

Socialist speaker Oleksandr Moroz is also confused, and as the Post went to print, was refusing to pass the law for signing by the president, who now says he is ready to approve it. Taking advantage of the pro-Russian majority’s predicament, both Our Ukraine and BYuT insist that the moratorium bill be handed over for the president’s signature.

Before Bezsmertny’s Oct. 4 statements, Regions continued extending Our Ukraine the hand of cooperation while snatching at much of the president’s authority with the other hand. Senior Regions MP Yevhen Kushnaryov was confident that Our Ukraine would join the pro-Russian parliamentary majority during comments he made on Oct. 2.

Kushnaryov assured Our Ukraine that Regions and its leftist coalition partners would honor the so-called Universal, which among other things supports the Western integration course charted by Yushchenko.

Taras Kuzio, an adjunct professor at the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University, told the Post that “this is simply a no-win situation, as Our Ukraine is split 50-50 over joining the coalition [the preference of the business wing and Yushchenko], or the opposition [the preference of the national democratic wing].”

“I do not believe the Regions will evict the Communists, as with them they have a parliamentary majority. But, without them they do not,” Kuzio added.

“The Regions are angry at Yushchenko and Our Ukraine for betraying them during coalition negotiations in April-June. They were then ready to compromise and give Our Ukraine the prime minister’s post, but Yushchenko chose Orange over the grand coalition,” he said.

“If Our Ukraine joins any coalition with the Communists, it will be the end of Our Ukraine. Our Ukraine’s best option is to go into opposition.”

Political analyst Andriy Yermolaev agreed that Our Ukraine was split, but underlined that “Our Ukraine and Yushchenko will never agree to Yulia Tymoshenko leading a united opposition bloc,” adding that, nevertheless, “Yushchenko will have the last word in the decision on the coalition by Our Ukraine.”

Svitlana Kononchuk, a political specialist at the Ukrainian Center for Independent Political Research, told the Post that it is clear that differences exist between Our Ukraine and Regions.

The former now finds itself on the back foot, as the coalition formed at the start of July has already formed a cabinet, and “the creation of a broad coalition is unjustified from the point of view of the need for the creation of a government.” After all, a coalition already exists, Kononchuk said.

She also said that the main thing now is the 2007 state budget, as access to state funds is vital for the personal enrichment of businessmen of all political persuasion. If Our Ukraine is not part of the broad coalition then the interests of such businessmen will not be taken into consideration.
Asked about Our Ukraine joining the coalition, Kononchuk said that “if such a broad coalition involving Our Ukraine is formed, it will only be an artificial coalition.”

Source: Kyiv Post