MOSCOW, September 12 (RIA Novosti political commentator Peter Lavelle). Viktor Yushchenko's decision to fire the government of Yuliya Tymoshenko puts to an end Ukraine's "post-orange" order. The coalition of revolutionaries who stirred the imagination of millions of Ukrainians in the name of fair elections and transparent government has shown itself to consist of inept and selfish civil servants.
Their failure to deal with what plagues Ukraine most - an economy controlled by oligarchs - raises the question of whether the "Orange Revolution" has any juice left to fulfill its promise.
During the days before and immediately after Tymoshenko's government was dismissed, Ukraine's political elite engaged in a round of divisive finger-pointing. Few have been spared over charges and counter-charges of corruption and abuse of office - not even Yushchenko. The leading personalities of the revolution and Yushchenko's strongest supporters - Petro Poroshenko, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Tymoshenko - are no longer in government, and it is difficult to foresee them ever working together again on the same team. This should come as no surprise: the pillars of the "Orange Revolution" have made the same mistake as the old regime - they have used the state to pursue personal interests and political agendas at the expense of good governance and professional economic management.
Tymoshenko's claim that a parallel government headed by Petro Poroshenko competed with her official duties as prime minister is doubtless true. Nonetheless, her populist politics, short attention span and unchecked political ambitions won her few friends in government. Poroshenko's considerable business interests appear to have blinded him to any acceptable meaning of the term "conflict of interest." Both have their faults, but their greatest collective sin was to jockey for power at the expense of real economic and political reform.
Yushchenko is not blameless. Up until the government's dismissal, he showed little real leadership. Indeed, he was forced to act as a "nanny" (to use his own term) to balance competing interests in his entourage instead of leading as a president with the popular mandate needed to make hard decisions. Too busy playing nanny, Yushchenko overlooked the tasks which were most expected of him - fighting corruption, and disentangling big business from politics. He allowed Poroshenko and Tymoshenko, to name just two public figures, to act as conduits representing oligarchic economic interests, just as his predecessor did.
What is truly disappointing is how little the "Orange Revolution" has moved away from Leonid Kuchma's corrupt style of politics, and the privatization of the economy for the benefit of the few. Instead of breaking with Kuchma's oligarchic system, Yushchenko's team - due to the lack of any team spirit - has only continued it. In principle, there was never anything wrong with Tymoshenko's plans to re-visit the opaque privatizations of state-owned property under Kuchma. What was disturbing was the perception that they were simply reversing some privatizations in order to punish some oligarchs and benefit others. Instead of doing away with corrupt practices, the "orange" elite appears to be more interested in re-gigging Kuchma's failed system in its favor.
This approach now appears to be part of official policy. Acting Ukrainian Prime Minister Yury Yekhanurov has ruled out the possibility of re-privatizations. He stated that "Where there are problems caused by election campaign promises of rivers overflowing with milk and honey, there will be a negotiation process, there will be a negotiating table, and, I think, there will be out-of-court settlements... I think our friends will understand the government's policy, and we will try to conduct negotiations as professionally as to not have problems afterward. So that they should live in Ukraine and not hide away on some islands." What sounds more like deal-making behind the scenes is now official policy.
Kuchma must be laughing up his sleeve. His successor is endorsing, out of weakness, the corrupt political and economic system that he created - after all, that was what Viktor Yanukovych was supposed to do. Yushchenko needs to tear a page from Russian President Vladimir Putin's book - take the economic oligarchy head on; he should not be open to negotiations with them until they acknowledge the supremacy of the state.
Negotiations with the oligarchs will only serve to further split the "orange coalition". Allowing the oligarchs to be the most meaningful point of reference energizes the political and material ambitions of the "orange coalition", who will be courted by them as the March 2006 elections approach. No doubt, Ukraine's oligarchs welcome this arrangement.
On the upside, Yushchenko and Yekhanurov have stated that the new government will be technocratic in profile, without prominent business people. This approach is designed to keep the oligarchs and their conduits directly out of government. This is a positive first step, but may now be immaterial. The oligarchs will deal with the political opposition to Yushchenko - including Tymoshenko. Yushchenko has done the right thing, but it may be too late. The "post-orange" order is finally on track in principle; the question that remains is whether it is still relevant.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board.