Ukraine's Yushchenko Raising Stakes In Clash With PM

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yushchenko on Friday launched an offensive against the government headed by his rival, vowing to give no ground in a struggle for power two years after mass protests that swept him to office.

Can Yushchenko win the war against Yanukovich?

Yushchenko has been increasingly at odds with Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich, the rival he appointed prime minister in August after an electoral setback and months of failed attempts to form a government of his "orange" backers.

Subject to constant attempts to undermine his authority and attack his few remaining cabinet allies, the president marked out his territory days before the second anniversary of the "Orange Revolution" that led to his election.

He renewed his denunciation of a government bid to regulate grain export markets and threatened to veto a bill demarcating powers of the cabinet and president unless it underwent change.

Analysts predicted further confrontation giving way to backroom talks and compromise or a new parliamentary election.

"The president and prime minister have a rational understanding of what has to be done to act constructively, but the instinct of power is much stronger," said Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Penta think tank.

"This is cold war. Sooner or later choices must be made. Either there will ensue a sort of detente or the cold war will pass into a more active phase, resulting in early elections."

Pro-Western Yushchenko defeated Yanukovich, friendlier to Moscow, in the rerun of a rigged 2004 presidential poll after three weeks of mass rallies in his favour.

But Yanukovich staged a comeback when his Regions Party came first in a March parliamentary election and the president reluctantly appointed him premier after four months of deadlock.

With the battle for influence raging, it is unclear whether Ukraine will even mark the revolution's anniversary next week.


Yanukovich has pointed to robust growth, improved ties with Moscow and relatively stable gas prices as achievements since returning to office. But analysts say that has been offset by lack of transparency and attempts to regulate the economy.

On grain, Yushchenko demanded urgent moves to resume exports stalled by restrictive government quotas intended to stabilise bread prices after a worse than expected harvest.

"This could create unpredictable consequences, a serious slowdown in the integration of the Ukrainian economy....with tensions emerging in relations with countries importing Ukrainian grain," he said in a press statement.

Hours later, the agriculture ministry said the first export shipments had resumed after a more than two-week stoppage.

Western ambassadors want quotas lifted, saying they could hurt Ukraine's bid to join the World Trade Organisation.

The confrontation is rooted in constitutional changes, approved during the 2004 protests, that reduced presidential powers, including the right to appoint most ministers.

New differences flared over parliament's initial approval this week of a bill on the rules of government which further cut presidential powers. Yushchenko said the draft was divisive.

"I will not allow the bill to go through in its current form and will use my veto," he told reporters.

Source: Reuters