Ukraine's Leaders In Bitter Fight

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko yesterday placed a debilitating power struggle squarely at the feet of his bitter political rival, Viktor Yanukovych, saying he had done his best to work with the new prime minister.

"There has been a lot of discussion about peacemaking," Mr. Yushchenko told a small group of foreign journalists. But he indicated it has been increasingly hard to find "common ground" with Mr. Yanukovych.

"I am not the author of the situation that has been created," the president said. "This is not constructive."

Mr. Yanukovych defeated Mr. Yushchenko in a tainted 2004 presidential election that was overturned by the courts in the face of massive protests known as the Orange Revolution.

Mr. Yushchenko won the rematch, only to see his opponent come back as prime minister last summer after a year and a half in which the president's coalition was itself accused of ethical failures.

Since then, the two have clashed over the president's efforts to bring Ukraine into major European institutions, including the European Union and NATO.

"The course of Euro-Atlantic integration is irreversible," Mr. Yushchenko said yesterday. "We are going into the European Union to create conditions for the development of the national economy, for better standards, for a system of defense and security."

During a visit to Washington last week, Mr. Yanukovych said he and the president did not differ on whether to join the two organizations, but only on the timing. Mr. Yanukovych said he favors gradual integration, while Mr. Yushchenko favors a fast-track approach.

At home, however, Mr. Yanukovych and his Regions Party, which hold the majority in parliament, have publicly taken strong stands against European integration and NATO membership, proposing closer relations with Russia instead.

Mr. Yushchenko and Mr. Yanukovych, often dubbed the two Viktors by the press, have also fought over next year's budget, constitutional issues and the price Ukraine is paying Russia for natural gas.

Most recently, Mr. Yanukovych spearheaded parliament's sacking of the Western-oriented foreign minister, Boris Tarasiuk, who under the constitution is appointed by the president. Although a Kiev court ruled this week that the firing was illegal, Mr. Tarasiuk has been barred from entering Cabinet meetings.

Political analysts in Ukraine have seen Mr. Tarasiuk's dismissal as a direct assault by the prime minister on the president, who has so far refused to appoint a new foreign minister. "I have rejected candidacies the prime minister has submitted. This is my position," Mr. Yushchenko said.

Ukraine's political bedlam has resulted in lower poll ratings for both the president and prime minister. Numerous opinion polls show nearly half of Ukrainians distrust the country's political leadership.

Source: Washington Times