Behind the Breaking News
A briefing from the Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology and Policy
Volume V, Number 2 (31 January 2007)

Ukraine’s Yushchenko Under Siege

by TAMMY LYNCH
Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology and Policy

On 30 January, Ukraine President Viktor Yushchenko suffered a major blow when he was forced to accept the resignation of his pro-western Foreign Minister and longtime ally Borys Tarsyuk. (1)  The resignation is the latest salvo in a political struggle that has left Yushchenko isolated and under a continuous barrage not only from Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, but also from his former ally and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.  In the process, Yushchenko, largely through his own actions, has lost most of the authority he won during the Orange Revolution. 

The political struggle also has caused confusion in foreign capitals; it is unclear who is directing foreign policy, it is unclear who speaks for Ukraine internationally, and it is unclear if either the president or the prime minister has the ability to follow through on promises made to potential international allies. 

The Tarasyuk saga

Borys Tarasyuk had been in the middle of a tug of war between the president and prime the minister for almost two months.  On 1 December, at Prime Minister Yanukovych’s request, parliament voted to dismiss Tarasyuk, who had been appointed by Yushchenko.  The president strenuously objected to the move and maintains that the vote was invalid. (2)  This dispute between the president and prime minister centered on Tarasyuk’s unfailing pro-western orientation and his determination to pursue European Union and NATO membership for his country.  Yanukovych has rhetorically supported Ukraine’s pro-Western orientation, but rejects NATO membership and has stopped all concrete movement toward the EU. 

Until his resignation, Tarasyuk continued to represent Ukraine on foreign trips at Yushchenko’s behest, while at the same time being barred by government security from entering his office or participating in cabinet meetings.  (3)   However, possibly in reaction to a decision by a Ukrainian district court to call Yushchenko to testify during Tarasyuk’s appeal, the president backed down.  The retreat likely signals a major foreign policy shift, with only one Yushchenko ally remaining in the government – Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko.  Although the constitution allows Yushchenko to appoint a new foreign minister, the parliament must approve the nomination. 

Law on cabinet shifts powers to Yanukovych

The domestic situation in Ukraine became significantly more confusing on 12 January, when parliament extended its attack to include not only Yushchenko’s foreign minister, but also Yushchenko’s most basic influence on the government.  The chamber voted to override Yushchenko’s veto of a bill that drastically reduces his power.  (4)  In particular, the Law on the Cabinet of Ministers allows the parliament to appoint the prime minister without presidential approval, taking away Yushchenko’s ability to influence the formation of the cabinet.   The bill also grants the prime minister the authority to appoint and dismiss the foreign and defense ministers, removing this prerogative from Yushchenko’s purview.  This latter provision directly contradicts the country’s constitution and likely would be overturned in any constitutional legal challenge.

Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine political bloc is challenging the legality of the Law on the Cabinet override, based on what the party says are differences in the wording of the bill originally vetoed by the president and the bill sent to the president after the override vote.  The president received new wording of the bill, his press service said, and therefore, parliament’s vote cannot be considered an override. (5) On 22 January, following an Our Ukraine complaint, the Mukacheva District Court agreed with the president and issued an injunction against implementation of the law, pending further review. (6) 

Prime Minister Yanukovych and his ally, Parliamentary Speaker Oleksandr Moroz, deny that the wording of the bill was changed and have vowed to implement the law, despite the court order.  On 30 January, Moroz published “information about the official publication” of the law in the government and parliament newspapers, but has refrained from publishing the text. (7)  One day earlier, he suggested that parliament may be ready to support the president's amendments to the law. (8)  The president responded weakly by calling for a “roundtable” to search for “compromise.” (9)  Given the lack of success at past presidential roundtables, and his retreat over Tarasyuk, it is doubtful that such a move would do much to ease Yushchenko’s plight.  It is clear, however, that Ukraine remains mired in a legal and political morass.

Tymoshenko sends Yushchenko a message

The override removing many of Yushchenko’s powers succeeded only because his former Orange Revolution ally Yulia Tymoshenko chose to support the measure.  With this vote, it became apparent that the president no longer can expect the unilateral support of her bloc on any piece of legislation – even a measure on which they were united previously.  The vote against the president seemed unexpected to members of Our Ukraine, who marched out of the parliamentary chamber in protest. (10) Yushchenko can now count on the support of only 80 out of 450 deputies for his proposals – on a good day. 

The move by Tymoshenko prompted cries of “betrayal” from Our Ukraine, and suggestions that Tymoshenko and the 125 members of her parliamentary bloc had turned away from the “orange ideals.” (11)

The vote also shocked many of those who had stood in Ukraine’s Independence Square, watching their two leaders arm in arm, during what would become known as the Orange Revolution.  Although the two have endured strained relations throughout most of their political careers, a vote by Tymoshenko to remove significant powers from Yushchenko and turn them over to revolution opponent Yanukovych seemed unimaginable.  This is particularly true since, in 2004, Tymoshenko fought vehemently against constitutional reforms that granted the prime minister’s office greater powers – reforms which Yushchenko ironically supported. 

But much has changed in Ukraine. Since the Orange Revolution, Yushchenko has seen a significant diminution in public support, while both Yanukovych and Tymoshenko have seen their popularity ratings surpass the president’s. 

Some history

Instead of moving quickly to consolidate his power directly after taking office, Viktor Yushchenko chose to separate himself from his closest allies, while reaching out to his former opponents.  In the process, he alienated his revolution partner Tymoshenko and allowed Yanukovych gradually to undermine his power. 

Despite the current suggestion from Our Ukraine that Tymoshenko has betrayed them with this latest vote, the first break in the “Orange” team, as Yushchenko and Tymoshenko became known during the revolution, actually occurred when Yushchenko dismissed Tymoshenko from the post of prime minister in September 2005.   The dismissal came during a purge of several Yushchenko allies who had been accused of corrupt or inappropriate activities (none were ever proven) in their positions. 

Neither Tymoshenko nor anyone in her cabinet was mentioned in these allegations, but the prime minister had used her position successfully to increase her popularity and had bumped heads with Yushchenko's aides on a number of issues.    When the president dismissed his tarnished aides, in one broad sweep, he dismissed Tymoshenko and her allies, too.  (12)

Shortly thereafter, Yushchenko signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Viktor Yanukovych, resuscitating the political career of his former presidential and revolution opponent.  In return, Yanukovych agreed to vote to confirm Yushchenko’s new choice for prime minister. (13)  The president was criticized heavily for the agreement, which included support of an amnesty for electoral fraud and the introduction of immunity from prosecution for local deputies.  (14)

The voters took their first revenge during the March 2006 parliamentary elections, as Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc (14%) was beaten soundly by The Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYUT) (23%).  Yanukovych, meanwhile, placed first with 32%.  But instead of actively supporting a reuniting of the “orange coalition,” which would have controlled a parliamentary majority, Yushchenko introduced Yanukovych’s name into parliament for confirmation as prime minister.   Our Ukraine joined an ill-fated coalition government with Yanukovych, and Tymoshenko announced her “radical opposition” to the government.   

Reading the tea leaves

Given the history of the two since the Orange Revolution, it is no surprise that Tymoshenko’s reflex reaction to support Yushchenko was not in top form.  Nevertheless, the vote by Tymoshenko is more than a bit perplexing.  As longtime Ukraine analyst Taras Kuzio wrote in his recent BBC blog, “Those of us who have been following Soviet and post-Soviet developments have become used to reading between the lines and figuring out what is really going on behind the scenes.  This ability is now seriously stretched.” (15)  Surely, there must be more of a reason for the vote than irritation over Yushchenko’s past treatment of his former ally. 

Tymoshenko quickly suggested that this vote "absolutely did not" represent any alliance with Yanukovych and named several reasons for the action.  First, in return for assisting in the override of the President’s veto, the ruling coalition supported, in the first reading, the Law on the Opposition.  This bill, which guarantees the political opposition a number of important rights, could be a major step forward in Ukrainian politics.  If passed into law in the second reading, it would place Ukraine securely in the realm of Western European, pluralistic, parliamentary republics.  Tymoshenko said, “What you have seen is an interim position in order to secure gains for Ukraine’s long-term future.”  (16)  But even Tymoshenko admitted that passage of the Law on Opposition in the second reading is not guaranteed. 

BYUT's Law on Imperative Mandate for local councils also was passed in the second reading.  The law will make it virtually impossible for a local deputy elected on a party list to oppose the wishes of the party leadership, for fear of being expelled.  This could be a major improvement, eliminating the potential for bribery, extortion and coercion of individual deputies.  This will only be the case, however, if the provision to expel members is not abused by party leadership.  

Tymoshenko also suggested that the vote would “end the constitutional crisis” between the president and the prime minister by placing power securely in the hands of one, and that this vote is meant to set the stage for a dismissal of parliament by the president.  (17) In fact, at a meeting congress of 3,000 BYUT local deputies, Tymoshenko announced that she already had begun creating a new election list for a new election.  (18)

It seems unlikely that this vote by BYUT will end the constitutional crisis, since constitutional challenges are likely to ensue if the law comes into force as passed.   Moreover, it seems even less likely that Yushchenko will embrace Tymoshenko’s idea to dismiss parliament, which would necessitate working with Tymoshenko during and following any new parliamentary election.  In the past, Yushchenko has demonstrated an almost pathological aversion to working with Tymoshenko, even to his own detriment and to the detriment of his programs. This likely will increase after the latest vote.

It may be possible that Tymoshenko doesn’t have any real expectation that the president will dismiss parliament, especially given the lack of any legal reason to do so.  Instead, with the vote, Tymoshenko forces Yushchenko into a choice—enter into further agreements and compromises with Yanukovych or begin working in a collaborative manner again with her to push forward his agenda. 

The situation resembles that of September 2005, when Tymoshenko refused to support Yushchenko’s choice to replace her as prime minister.  The president then chose to sign the soon-to-be-broken Memorandum of Understanding with Yanukovych.  This move drastically undermined voter support for him and his party, and would not have been necessary had Tymoshenko supported him.   Tymoshenko used that memorandum effectively in her parliamentary election campaign.

To this end, BYUT deputy head and foreign policy advisor Hryhoriy Nemyria suggests that Tymoshenko was attempting to block any possible new agreements between Yushchenko and Yanukovych, thus clarifying once again the choice facing the president. (19)

Regardless, in Internet chat rooms and on the streets of Kyiv, voters now are expressing not only irritation with Yushchenko, but also with Tymoshenko, for voting “with” the man she has always fought, and against the man she has always supported.  She, no doubt, is trusting that her oratory and political skills, which have served her in good stead in the past, will help her explain her position and calm the criticism of this vote.  Should Tymoshenko quickly return to “radical” opposition tactics, voters may overlook this “situational” alliance with Yanukovych—as they did after the September 2005 prime minister vote.  But there is no doubt that the strategy is a risky one.

The next steps of both Tymoshenko and Yushchenko will determine what effect this vote may or may not have on their popularity and on the future direction of the country.  While nothing is certain in Ukraine, given the President’s past inability to outmaneuver opponents politically, prospects for his political career seem bleak.  And prospects for Ukraine’s Western orientation also seem dim in the near future.

“Frankly speaking, we do not understand who represents Ukraine,”  said Poland’s Ambassador to Ukraine Jazec Klyuchkovsk recently. (20)  Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga was even more blunt during the Davos World Economic Forum on 26 January.  "The Ukrainian people deserve much better than what they have,” she said.  (21)

 

 Source Notes:
(1)  “Ukraine's foreign minister resigns,” Associated Press, 2025 CET, 30 Jan 07 via Yahoo! News, and “The president to advocate for Tarasyuk in court,” Ukrayinska Pravda, 11:11 CET, 30 Jan 07 via www.pravda.com.
 (2) “Ukraine's FM, interior minister sacked by parliament,” Xinhua General News Service, 1400 CET, 1 Dec 06 and Ukrainian President’s Chief-of-Staff Insists Foreign Minister Not Dismissed,” Interfax-Ukraine news agency, 1627 GMT. 26 Dec 06 via Lexis-Nexis.
(3) “Ukrainian Foreign Minister Blocked from Attending Cabinet Session Again,” TV 5 Kanal, 0900 GMT, 20 Dec 06 via Lexis-Nexis. 
 (4) “Tymoshenko Contributes to Overriding the Veto on the Law On the Cabinet,” Ukrayinska Pravda, 2257 CET, 12 Jan 07 via www.pravda.com.ua/en.
 (5) Ukrainian News Agency, Kyiv, Ukraine, 19 Jan 07.
 (6)  “Mr. Kril appealed to the court to stop tug-of-war,” Press Service of the Our Ukraine Bloc, 1302 CET, 23 Jan 07 via www.razom.org.ua/en.
 (7) ForUm, 11:50 CET, 30 Jan 07 via www.en.for-ua.com.
 (8) ForUm, 14:35 CET, 29 Jan 07 via www.en.for-ua.com.
 (9) “President wants compromise,” Press Office of Viktor Yushchenko, 14:47 CET, 29 Jan 07 via www.president.gov.ua/en.
 (10) “Our Ukraine Walks Out of Parliament,” Ukrayinska Pravda, 2258 CET, 12 Jan 07 via www.pravda.com.ua.
 (11) “Liliya Hryhorovych:  BYUT has betrayed democracy in Ukraine,” Press Service of the Our Ukraine Bloc, 1000 CET, 18 Jan 07; “Anton Klimenko: BYUT has helped the ‘anti-crisis’ coalition to usurp power,” Press Service of the Our Ukraine Bloc, 1158 CET, 18 Jan 07 via www.razom.org.ua/en. 
 (12)  Lynch, Tammy, “Orange Revolution: Round Two?,” Behind the Breaking News, A briefing from the Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology and Policy, 14 Sep 05 via www.bu.edu/iscip.
 (13) “Yushchenko praises accord reached as triumph of democracy,” ITAR-TASS, 22 Sep 05 via Lexis-Nexis.
(14) Committee of Voters’ of Ukraine, “Statement on the memorandum signed by President Viktor Yushchenko and the Party of Regions,” 22 Sep 05.
(15) “Legal Chaos or Bardak in Ukraine,” Taras Kuzio Official Blog, 05:36 PM EST, 18 Jan 07 via http://blog.taraskuzio.net, originally published at http://www.bbc.co.uk/ukrainian/forum/
(16) BYUT Inform (a newsletter of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc), Issue 27, 24 Jan 07.
 (17) Ibid.
 (18) “Timoshenko to press for early parliamentary election in Ukraine,” ITAR-TASS, 17:50 CET, 30 Jan 07 via www.itar-tass.com.
 (19)  BYUT Inform (a newsletter of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc), Issue 27, 24 Jan 07.
(20)  ForUm, 18:03 CET, 25 Jan 07 via www.en.for-ua.com
(21) “Ukraine's Prime Minister Touts Country's Credentials - but Gets Lukewarm Response,” Associated Press, 11:59 AM EST, 26 Jan 07.