There Is A New War, Says Analyst

KIEV, Ukraine -- With his pro-Western allies confirmed winners of a bruising election battle against their Russia-backed rivals, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko is struggling to win the peace.

Ukraine's most popular politician - Yulia Tymoshenko

Parliamentary election results released on Friday marked a clear defeat for Yushchenko's arch-rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, after a years-long power struggle that has mired the country in political turmoil.

But with most of the pro-West camp's gains in the September 30, elections coming from fiery populist Yulia Tymoshenko, Yushchenko faces domination at the hands of an ally he cannot control, analysts said.

"There is a new war, but this time it is behind the scenes," said Volodymyr Malinkovych, a Kiev-based political analyst. "Yushchenko won the war against Yanukovych, but, in the new battle, Tymoshenko is clearly stronger."

At stake is political stability in this former Soviet republic of 47 million on the European Union's eastern edge that has been riven by political infighting since the 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution.

That struggle saw mass protests led by Tymoshenko and Yushchenko overturn a rigged presidential election victory by Yanukovych in what many saw as a decisive turn West by a country with traditional ties to Russia.

The effect of the latest shake-up on Yushchenko's aspirations to wrest the country from Russia's orbit and into the European Union and the Nato military alliance remain to be seen.

But some observers see the likely return to prime minister's office of Tymoshenko, widely loathed in Moscow political circles, as the cause of Russian gas company Gazprom's threat last week to cut gas supplies to Ukraine over unpaid bills.

According to election results released on Friday, an alliance of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc won a slim majority of 228 of 450 seats in Ukraine's Rada, or parliament.

But instead of basking in a clear victory, Yushchenko greeted the results with repeated calls for cooperation with the opposition. Analysts said this masked a desire to play the two dominant parties against each other.

Yanukovych's Regions Party secured 175 seats against the Tymoshenko Bloc's 156, both more than double the 72 secured by Yushchenko's Our Ukraine, results indicated.

"Yushchenko is trying to position himself as an honest broker who is not dependent on either of the two major forces," said Ivan Presnyakov of the International Centre for Policy Studies in Kiev.

"He wants to be close to the opposition to build support against Tymoshenko," Presnyakov said. Tymoshenko or Yanukovych could use the prime minister's office to boost their presidential ambitions, analysts said.

"The coalition process is being dragged out... for Yushchenko's strategic goal, to avoid either Yanukovych or Tymoshenko coming to power as prime minister," said Volodymyr Fesenko, from Kiev's Penta analytical centre.

While a coalition agreement between the the Tymoshenko Bloc and Yushchenko's Our Ukraine could be achieved quickly, negotiating peace with Yanukovych's Regions Party could take longer, Fesenko said.

Under Ukrainian law, a government has to be formed within 60 days of a parliamentary election.

But even before the coalition talks, some observers saw Yushchenko as already having lost in his struggle for dominance with Tymoshenko.

"Yushchenko is already totally dependent on Tymoshenko, if he tries to control her she will slam the door in his face, go into opposition and win the presidential elections from there," said Malinkovych.

"The strongest politician in the country now is clearly Tymoshenko."

Source: AFP