In Ukraine's Tymoshenko, Winning Looks Match Steely Determination

KIEV, Ukraine -- Yulia Tymoshenko's party logo may be a red love heart, but with her approval by parliament as prime minister yesterday, she has once again proved a steely will to dominate politics in this strategic state.

Prime Minister elect Yulia Tymoshenko in a file photo.

The photogenic firebrand known for her traditional gold braid and uncompromising personality was the driving force of the 2004 Orange Revolution in which tens of thousands of people came onto the streets to protest a rigged presidential election.

The uprising achieved its goal, securing an election re-run that brought President Viktor Yushchenko to office and in turn led to Tymoshenko's first appointment as prime minister in 2005, the first time a woman had held the job.

A figure who has long courted controversy, Tymoshenko made a fortune in the gas industry in the 1990s before serving as deputy prime minister from 1999 until 2001, when she was briefly jailed on charges that were subsequently dropped.

As prime minister from February to September 2005 she struggled with the messy business of day-to-day government in this sprawling ex-Soviet state, which lies sandwiched between Russia and the European Union.

She irritated investors by threats to overturn post-Soviet privatisations and by introducing price controls on fuel and other products.

But since her sacking by Yushchenko that year, Tymoshenko has strengthened her position as an outspoken critic of both the president and a series of successors in the prime minister's role.

Her Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc took over 30 percent at September elections that were called to resolve an impasse between Yushchenko and the pro-Russian prime minister Viktor Yanukovych.

Once perceived as an outspoken nationalist, she no longer derives her support exclusively from the west of the country, where cultural ties to neighbouring Poland traditionally go hand-in-hand with antipathy towards Russia.

At the latest elections she crucially built support in the industrial east and above all in central Ukraine, home to the capital Kiev.

She has remained vague on the issue that crystallised the east-west divide in Ukraine after the Orange Revolution: whether the country should join the NATO military alliance.

While Yushchenko has spearheaded efforts to join NATO, the alliance is seen by many in eastern Ukraine and Russia as a vehicle of American imperialism.

Not that Tymoshenko will avoid ruffling feathers in the prime minister's post.

While she may take more care over any move that threatens the country's economic foundations, she has sworn to look into one highly contentious issue: the murky financial mechanism by which Ukraine obtains its gas from Russia.

She has said she would scrap a new deal on the price the country will pay for gas from next year. Last year, Russia briefly interrupted supplies as the two countries wrangled over pricing, causing knock-on disruption in the European Union.

Gazprom has warned there could be a similar dispute if Tymoshenko attempts to revise the existing gas price deal.

As for the rivalry between Tymoshenko and Yushchenko, that may only get fiercer as the country approaches presidential polls in 2010 or 2011.

While she recently suggested she would support a re-election bid by Yushchenko, this great survivor of Ukrainian politics may find entering the contest an irresistible challenge.

Source: Macao Daily News