Ukraine Leader Says Rival Seeks Revenge

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yushchenko on Wednesday accused the Cabinet of Ukraine's prime minister, his bitter rival, of seeking revenge for the victory of the Orange Revolution almost two and a half years ago, and said some of its decisions seem aimed at satisfying Moscow.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko during an interview with The Associated Press in Kiev, Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2007.

Yushchenko, an advocate of closer ties to the West, beat Viktor Yanukovych for the presidency in 2004 after leading mass protests, called the Orange Revolution.

But last year, Yushchenko was forced into a power-sharing arrangement with Yanukovych, whose pro-Russian party won the most votes in parliamentary elections and assembled a ruling coalition.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Yushchenko said decisions by his rival's Cabinet and governing coalition have been "taken with such insufficient consideration that they can be based only on emotions and the desire for some primitive revenge."

"I hope that ... the government will see the light," he said.

Yanukovych was in Germany on an official trip Wednesday and unavailable for comment. An ally of the prime minister, though, said Yushchenko was overreacting.

The Ukrainian president's face is still pockmarked from the mysterious case of dioxin poisoning he suffered during the 2004 presidential race.

During the 40-minute interview, he spoke quietly, leaving a cup of tea untouched on the table in front of him and fumbling with a pen.

Yushchenko said he hopes "the time will come" when the mystery of his poisoning is solved.

He refused, though, to be drawn into a discussion of a similar incident last year - the radiation poisoning death in London of Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian KGB agent.

Since Yanukovych returned to power as prime minister, his coalition has reduced Yushchenko's authority and sought to counter the president's strongly pro-Western foreign policy.

Yanukovych has put Ukraine's move toward NATO membership on hold and forced the ouster of the government's pro-Western foreign minister.

Parliament, dominated by Yanukovych's party, refused last week to endorse the president's new nominee for the post.

Yanukovych's party has also supported regional movements to make Russian a second state language - an idea that Yushchenko has strongly opposed.

The president insists that promoting Ukrainian is key to protecting the country's sovereignty.

Yushchenko suggested that some Cabinet decisions seemed to be made with an eye on the Kremlin's interests, not Ukraine's.

Yanukovych, the president alleged, had failed to fulfill any of the pledges made when he signed a document aimed at promoting national unity last year.

Yushchenko also said some lawmakers still have a Soviet mind-set, 16 years after the collapse of the U.S.S.R.

Some government officials, he said, make decisions "based on the ideology of the period when Ukraine was not free or independent."

Hanna Herman, a legislator and senior adviser to Yanukovych, insisted his Cabinet was only fulfilling promises made to voters, and accused Yushchenko of overreacting.

"If the president calls the choice of the people a revenge, then I have a big question: Isn't that an emotional reaction from the president?" Herman asked.

Yushchenko, meanwhile, has been criticized by his allies for nominating Yanukovych for the prime minister's post last year.

The decision, he said, was guided by electoral law, the results of the March parliamentary elections and the makeup of the majority coalition formed in parliament months after the vote.

"What legal choice did we have?" Yushchenko said. "I was guided exclusively by law, so I live very calmly."

Yushchenko said he would continue to push for dialogue with Yanukovych's Cabinet, but suggested that Ukrainians would eventually turn against the ruling coalition.

Source: AP