Ukraine's Restored PM Makes First US Visit

WASHINGTON, DC -- Viktor Yanukovich, cast as the villain in Ukraine's Orange revolution, this week tried to portray himself as a statesman on his first visit to Washington since making a remarkable return as prime minister this ­summer.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych (L), meets with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on Capitol Hill in Washington

However, his visit was overshadowed by an escalating power struggle with Viktor Yushchenko, the increasingly marginalised pro-western president. Their tussle over foreign and domestic policy has left many diplomats unsure as to which Viktor is in charge.

Mr Yanukovich, who, in spite of backing from Moscow, suffered a humiliating loss in the 2004 presidential elections, met Dick Cheney, US vice-president, and Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state. He unsuccessfully sought a meeting with President George W. Bush – a signal that Washington prefers to keep its distance from the prime minister and recognises Mr Yushchenko as Kiev's top statesman.

In the first days of the trip, Mr Yanukovich played down the wrestling match over authority with Mr Yushchenko, who was received with highest honours in Washington during a post-Orange revolution visit.

Despite his support for ties with Moscow, Mr Yanukovich in Washington pledged support for European integration. He also hinted that many of the differences with his arch-rival are simply a matter of timing.

"I don't consider there to be, practically, any differences with the president with regards to the strategic goals for the next 25 years. All questions lie in tactics," he said. "Our actions in the international arena should be based on pragmatism. We should not promise more than we can do."

Following his talks in Washington, he said Russia and Ukraine would not be friends against Europe and the US, but neither should the US and Ukraine be friends against Russia.

"No one will try to push anyone, anywhere," he said, rejecting pressure on Ukraine to accept early membership of Nato.

The prime minister also said his coalition was close to passing the last of two legislative bills required to allow Ukraine to join the World Trade Organisation.

However, Mr Yanukovich's words cannot conceal the deepening rift with Mr Yushchenko over control of foreign and domestic policy. Last week, his governing coalition in parliament fired Borys Tarasyuk and Igor Lutsenko, Ukraine's pro-western foreign and interior ministers respectively and both Yushchenko allies.

A bill registered this week by Mr Yanukovich's camp called for the ousting of Anatoly Hrytsenko, the defence minister and Mr Yushchenko's last ally in the government. Meanwhile, prosecutors launched a criminal probe into alleged corruption by Oleksiy Ivchenko, a close associate of Mr Yushchenko who chaired the state energy group.

This week, a Kiev court and a presidential decree reinstated Mr Tarasyuk. Mr Yushchenko's team believes the constitution gives him authority on foreign policy but Mr Yanukovich last week said parliament formulated foreign policy.

Mr Tarasyuk was fired after nearly spoiling Mr Yanukovich's Washington visit. Just days before the trip, the ministry informed US officials that the premier's visit would be postponed after he refused to seek presidential approval on the trip's foreign policy initiatives. Mr Yanukovich conceded to presidential approval for the trip at the last minute but fired Mr Tarasyuk in retaliation.

In a further indication of how petty the power struggle has become, Mr Yanukovich's government on Wednesday refused to admit Mr Tarasyuk to a cabinet meeting, saying it did not recognise him as foreign minister.

Mr Yanukovich has gradually taken away authority from Mr Yushchenko since forming a coalition government. He has also tried to revamp his image. In Washington, he pledged to support democracy, dubbing allegations linking his camp to fraud during the 2004 presidential vote as spin.

The deepening rift between Ukraine's two leaders could set Kiev on a path for repeat parliamentary elections and a constitutional stand-off. Mr Yushchenko's allies have accused Mr Yanukovich of backing out of promises to support speedy western integration and liberal economic reforms and hope to return Ukraine to stronger presidential rule.

Ukraine's parliament on Wednesday approved the long-awaited privatisation of ­Ukr-telekom, the country's largest telecommunications company, which officials hope will repeat last year's highly profitable sale of Kryvorizhstal, a flagship steel mill.

Source: Financial Times