Yanukovych scores two important victories

Viktor Yushchenko nominates Arsenii Yatsenyuk after the ruling coalition blocked the candidacy of Valery Ohryzko. Meanwhile, Anatoly Kinakh switches sides and is appointed Minister of Economy in the Yanukovych government.

By Ilya Khineyko

Yet another round of the Ukrainian political imbroglio began on March 13 when Our Ukraine and the Tymoshenko Block agreed to present a joint list of seventeen demands to the anti-crisis coalition of the Party of Regions, the Socialists and the Communists. In particular, the opposition demanded to hold a referendum on the form of government in Ukraine and the creation of an independent constitutional commission. It also demanded some personal changes to be made in the government: for Verkhovna Rada to confirm the appointment of the candidacy of the Foreign Affairs Minister and a new chief of Security Services (SBU), as well as the resignations of the Minister of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor General. If implemented such changes would have reversed the tide in the political evolution of Ukraine, which has seen the gradual erosion of the real powers of President Yushchenko since the collapse of the Orange coalition and Yanukovych’s appointment as Prime Minister. Although the compromise formula of political reform was only meant to curtail the unabridged power of the presidential office as it existed under Kuchma, Viktor Yanukovych has been able to exploit its ambiguous provisions to limit the real influence of the president even further, practically rendering the position a pure ceremonial one. For example, even though the political reform agreement would leave it to the president to determine the country’s foreign policy, Yanukovych has de-facto managed to bring under his control the most important aspect of it – relations with Russia. On February 22 the PR-controlled majority of the Verkhovna Rada refused to confirm the nomination of Volodymyr Ohryzko as Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Should these demands not be met, the opposition vowed to paralyze the work of the Parliament and bring about its dissolution. Our Ukraine deputy Mykola Katernchuk even claimed that the opposition was planning to organize Maidan-2, Orange revolution-like mass rallies against the anti-crisis coalition in May. “Our goal is to force the government to resign, hold new parliamentary elections, and cancel the political reform” he was quoted as saying. However, unlike some rank and file hotheads in Our Ukraine and the fiercely belligerent Tymoshenko and her party, Viktor Yushchenko was not prepared for a full scale political battle. While putting some pressure on the anti-crisis coalition, he tried to work out a suitable compromise with Yanukovych and Speaker Oleksandr Moroz. Ukrainian pundits opined that Yushchenko’s timid behavior was a result of his unwillingness to become a hostage to Yulia Tymoshenko’s political ambitions. Furthermore, Yushchenko was evidently aware that opinion polls indicated that if new elections were to take place, the political landscape would remain essentially the same. He met with Yanukovych and Moroz twice: on March 14 and on March 19, after the vote had been postponed, trying to mend fences and to persuade them to approve the Ohryzko candidacy.

After the March 19 meeting a buoyant Yushchenko told journalists that he had no intention of changing his mind on Ohrzyko and that his candidacy “has been agreed upon.” However, the morning of March 20 brought another defeat for the presidential camp. Only 195 deputies, instead of the required majority of 226, voted for Ohrzyko, thus leaving the position vacant again. It was rumored that Ohrzyko appeared too pro-Western to the Party of Regions or even that his candidacy was rejected at the behest of Moscow. However, what had infuriated some PR deputies was Ohrzyko’s insistence on speaking Ukrainian even during official visits to Russia. In an interview with UNIAN, Yaroslav Sukhii compared Ohryzko to “that imbecile Ivchenko [who] would come to Moscow to negotiate on gas issues and ask for a translator to talk to [Aleksey] Miller [head of Gazprom].” (Several days later, when the controversy was already over, Sukhii retracted his statements and apologized to Ohryzko. He said that he had been misinformed and blamed Yulia Tymoshenko for spreading falsehoods about the translator issue. ) After the Ohryzko candidacy was turned down, Roman Zvarych, presidential representative to the Verkhovna Rada, stated that “The president now has the political right to dissolve the parliament on March 30.” However, Viktor Yushchenko opted to acknowledge his defeat instead and on the evening of the same day proposed the candidacy of Arseny Yatsenyuk who was triumphantly approved the next day with 426 positive votes.

There is a Russian saying: misfortune never comes alone; and Our Ukraine was soon to see it come true again. After the foreign minister fiasco, another blow was dealt to the opposition forces when Yanukovych announced that Anatoly Kinakh would join the cabinet and a handful of Our Ukraine deputies would cross the floor to join the anti-crisis coalition. Kinakh, leader of the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Ukraine, who served as prime minister under Kuchma in 2000-2001, had always been something of an outsider in the Yushchenko camp. His appearance on Maidan alongside Yuschchenko and Tymoshenko at the heyday of the Orange revolution in December 2004 sent a definite signal that moderate elements in the coalition hastily assembled by Kuchma to prop up Yanukovych were now flocking to the winning side. It comes as no surprise that his decision was apparently not a spontaneous one. According to Ekonomicheskie Izvestia, Yanukovych and Kinakh had already reached a basic agreement with regard to the latter’s defection, and the only unresolved issue concerned the political price, i.e. what cabinet position Kinakh should get in return. Yet, Yushchenko acted indignantly when on March 21 Verkhovna Rada confirmed Kinakh’s appointment as Minister of Economy, calling it “a shame of moral type.” Yulia Tymoshenko’s closest lieutenant and head of her parliamentary faction, Oleskandr Turchinov, went even further and launched a vicious ad hominem attack. “He [Kinakh] has neither honor, nor dignity. It is evident that he is willing to occupy this post in the occupation regime [sic!] because it’s a high ranking post… He might want to read the Bible to find out what happens to traitors,” he was quoted as saying. Kinakh was kicked out of the Our Ukraine parliamentary faction and Yushchenko expelled him from the Presidential Council on National Security.

The March installment of the continuous showdown between the opposition and the anti-crisis coalition has been won decisively by the Yanukovych camp. The appointment of Arsenii Yatsenyuk rather than Valery Ohryzko has confirmed that in the political jungle of Ukrainian politics “to the victors belong the spoils” regardless of any constitutional agreements. Mr. Yatsenyuk will remember how he was appointed and will behave accordingly and cooperate with Yanukovych if he wants to avoid the fate of his predecessors, Borys Tarasyuk and Valery Ohrzyko. The floor crossing by Anatoly Kinakh is a largely symbolic act which, however, can result in more serious ramifications for the opposition. Other opposition deputies may follow suit, enabling the coalition to form eventually a constitutional majority. Boris Kolesnikov, a well known political heavyweight from Donetsk, has already opined that such a majority can emerge in the coming summer. Such predictions may turn out to be overly optimistic, but for the moment the future of the opposition looks bleak indeed.



Distinguished University Professor, University of Alberta

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