Ukrainian President: Firing Foreign Minister Would Damage Nation's Pro-Western Course

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yushchenko on Monday defended embattled Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, warning that firing him could put Ukraine's pro-Western course at risk.

Borys Tarasyuk (L) with President Bush at the White House

Yushchenko's comments signaled open disagreement with Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who said over the weekend that Tarasyuk should resign and that he could be forced out if he didn't comply.

Tarasyuk heads a nationalist party that is a strong advocate of NATO membership and of lessening Russia's influence over this country of 47 million.

After the party declared itself in opposition to the governing coalition, Yanukovych called Tarasyuk's position in his Cabinet untenable.

Yushchenko, however, on Monday gave Tarasyuk his verbal backing, saying firing him would "weaken the tempo of our country's Euro-integration," a course he said which "fully corresponds to the strategic interests of Ukraine."

Tarasyuk was appointed to head the foreign ministry after the 2004 Orange Revolution, and remained in the Cabinet even after the more pro-Russian Yanukovych returned to power this summer.

Yanukovych's supporters in parliament summoned Tarasyuk and Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko for questioning Wednesday, and many analysts expected the session to end with a vote to sack the ministers.

The Constitution is unclear, however, on what would happen if Yushchenko simply re-nominated them.

Relations between pro-Western Yushchenko and the Russian-leaning Yanukovych have deteriorated recently. The two 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.

Source: AP