Ukraine's Parliament Summons Foreign, Defense Ministers In Challenge To President

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's parliament on Friday ordered the foreign and defense ministers to appear before the legislature to answer questions about their performance in office, lawmakers said.

Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk (L) and Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko (R)

The ministers are among the three most prominent Cabinet members appointed by President Viktor Yushchenko to remain in their jobs under the president's political rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Their summoning before parliament on Nov. 15 has led to speculation that lawmakers could hold a vote of confidence to dismiss them.

On Thursday, parliament recommended that Yanukovych suspend another Yushchenko ally in the Cabinet, Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko.

Earlier in the week, parliament accepted the resignations of two other ministers from Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party who had asked to step down after the president's party declared it was moving into opposition.

The party's two other ministers have also submitted their resignations but are waiting for parliament to vote to release them from their duties.

Relations between President Yushchenko and the governing coalition led by his rival have deteriorated recently.

The pro-Western Yushchenko and the more Russian-leaning Yanukovych share power in an awkward arrangement that was initially billed as an effort to unite Ukraine.

Instead, it has turned into a tug-of-war for influence, with the president largely on the losing end.

Calling Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk and Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko to appear before parliament was viewed as another challenge to the president's authority.

Some members of the governing coalition have accused the two ministers of trying to undermine the work of Prime Minister Yanukovych's Cabinet.

Tarasyuk and Hrytsenko have championed Yushchenko's efforts to push Ukraine into NATO and set it on a firm pro-Western course, whereas Yanukovych has said Ukraine is not ready yet for NATO membership and has made improving ties with Russia a priority.

"We will demand that these ministers carry out the policies of the ... coalition, as one cannot have his legs in the government and his head in the opposition," said Yevhen Kushnaryov, a lawmaker from Yanukovych's Party of Regions.

Yushchenko's chief-of-staff, Viktor Baloha, insisted that the president was unconcerned about the summons of his foreign and defense ministers. "It's a normal thing," Baloha said.

Yanukovych has made it clear that he does not like working with Tarasyuk, who is one of the strongest champions of NATO membership and Yushchenko's pro-Western course, and he publicly suggested that Tarasyuk should go.

But Yanukovych has taken a cautious approach to openly challenging Yushchenko, and it was unclear how far he would push it. Yanukovych has so far ignored parliament's request to suspend the interior minister.

Source: AP