Battle For Political Power Making Sick Man Of Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine -- One of the victims of a swine-flu epidemic now raging, apparently, across Ukraine could well be the illness itself. As people succumb to the vicious flu, there is growing suspicion in the country that the H1N1 virus has also succumbed to a bitter battle for political power that now poisons all aspects of political life and threatens to wreak serious damage on the former Soviet state.

Can Ukraine's two leaders (Yushchenko and Tymoshenko) ever bury the hatchet?

As news broke over the weekend of a suspected swine flu outbreak in western Ukraine, the two politicians at the heart of the battle for power sprang into action.

Announcing a series of drastic measures Yulia Tymoshenko, the prime minister, said that schools would close, regions be quarantined and public gatherings banned. Not to be outdone, her arch-enemy and Ukraine president, Viktor Yushchenko, rushed to an airport to take delivery of a consignment of medical supplies.

The feverish activity prompted widespread speculation that the two were treating the outbreak as a timely excuse for political point scoring as they prepare to fight it out in Ukraine's presidential election in January.

Once allies in the Orange Revolution, the relationship between the two has been poisoned by a mutual mistrust and dislike that now appears to verge on loathing.

While some might regard allegations that Ukraine's leading politicians have not only exploited people's fears over swine flu but also fanned them, as far-fetched, it would not be the first time that political infighting has sullied serious issues in an election contest.

In the very first days of campaigning a number of senior politicians faced accusations of sexually abusing children at a summer camp.

While a criminal investigation has been launched, many in Ukraine have asked why the accusations surfaced when they did, even though the alleged assaults took place months ago.

The fragile state of the country's finances has also come under a pressure from the dispute.

The possibility of political strife pushing Ukraine further into the economic morass could have serious implications not just for country but for the region as a whole.

A big country with a 47-milllion-strong population, since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 Ukraine has served as a magnet for foreign investment, with Western banks and funds queuing up to pour money into an economy predicted to grow and grow.

But the economic crisis saw Ukraine's economy unravel, and any further damage wrought by political instability could see many of the once prized Western European investments turn to dust.

And then there is the problem of energy. Russia has already warned that the Tymoshenko-Yushchenko quarrel could threaten gas supplies, and Europe could once again experience the shortages and disruptions to supplies it witnessed last winter.

Last week, Vladimir Putin, Russia's prime minister, accused Mr Yushchenko of risking disruption by interfering in the affairs of Ukraine's national bank, the body that ultimately ensures Ukraine can pay its gas bill.

Unless Ukraine's two leaders can, if not bury the hatchet, at least try to put the country's serious problems before petty rivalries, it could not just be Ukrainians who feel the consequences.

Source: The Scotsman