Ukraine's One-Time "Orange Revolution" Allies Reunite Amid Standoff With Pro-Russian PM

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's one-time "Orange Revolution" allies said Tuesday they had reunited in opposition and called for early parliamentary elections.

Yulia Tymoshenko

The development comes amid a growing standoff between the increasingly sidelined pro-Western president and Ukraine's powerful Russian-leaning prime minister.

President Viktor Yushchenko's party Our Ukraine and the party of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko signed an agreement late Monday on creating a joint opposition force in parliament, a statement said Tuesday.

The parties called for early elections and the canceling of constitutional changes weakening the powers of the presidency.

"We and Tymoshenko's party agreed over a range of issues regarding the future of the country. We understand that political chaos and disorder initiated by the governing coalition can be stopped only through early elections," said Vycheslav Kyrylenko, head of Our Ukraine in parliament.

However, analysts say the two parties do not have enough votes in parliament to force through their intiatives.

Our Ukraine and the Tymoshenko bloc were allies during the "Orange Revolution" protests which ushered pro-Western Yushchenko into power in early 2005, but the following year their team collapsed due to infighting.

After parliamentary elections last March, they tried and failed to form a governing coalition, opening the way to power for their political rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Since Yanukovych became prime minister, he has suspended the president's goal of NATO membership, expressed interest in joining a Russian-led ex-Soviet trade bloc and responded favorably to Moscow's proposals for joint ownership of Ukraine's gas transit pipeline network.

In the struggle with Yushchenko, Yanukovych appears to have the stronger hand, particularly after a new law on the cabinet of ministers, which weakens the powers of presidency, came into force last week.

Under the law Yushchenko sees his right to appoint the foreign and defense ministers limited, and his influence over regional leaders weakened.

The law also gives legislators the right to appoint the premier without the president's approval if the president does not approve parliament's nominee within 15 days.

Yushchenko complained that it gives more authority to Yanukovych and appealed against the law to the Constitutional Court.

"It is a violation of the Constitution. It is a usurpation of power," said Yushchenko in comments released by his office Tuesday.

Last week, the resignation of pro-Western Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk after a monthlong struggle with the Yanukovych government was another blow for Yushchenko.

Yushchenko on Monday asked parliament to approve career diplomat Volodymyr Ohryzko as the new foreign minister, but he is seen as close to the ousted Tarasyuk. An ally of the prime minister suggested that Ohryzko might not give adequate attention to Russia as the nation's top diplomat.

Analysts predicts a sharpening of the struggle between the two top figures in the country would continue, noting that it would not be in favor of Yushchenko.

"Yushchenko will continue to protect his image as his real power will decrease," said Mykhailo Pohrebynsky, a political analyst with the Center for Political and Conflict Studies.

Tymoshenko's party on Tuesday briefly blocked access to the speaker's podium, for a time preventing lawmakers from starting a new session. She demanded that parliament discuss the gas pipeline plan as well as the possibility of increasing salaries and pensions.

Later in the day Deputy Prime Minister Andriy Klyuev denied that the government intended to transfer to Russia control over Ukraine's gas transport system.

"The government has no plans to transfer our gas transport system to Russia, EU or to Belarus," Klyuev told lawmakers.

After his speech parliament approved a law prohibiting any handover of Ukraine's gas transport system to another country.

Source: International Herald Tribune