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Time to Rally // Viktor Yushchenko tries to hold crumbling team together

    26 January 2021 Tuesday

    The Struggle for Power
    Since the resignation of State Secretary Alexander Zinchenko, comparative political quiet has settled over Ukraine. The vacant post of state secretary was taken over yesterday by Deputy Prime Minister and presidential adviser Oleg Rybachuk. The crisis has wound down, it would seem, although observers think that the calm is temporary and that anything is still possible, even the resignation of Yulia Timoshenko's cabinet. After scandal of Zinchenko's resignation, which was announced on Monday, Ukraine spent two days waiting for new leadership changes. These changes were most expected to happen to Prime Minister Timoshenko or Secretary of the Security and Defense Council Petr Poroshenko. Their mutual antipathy is the subject of much talk. However, after they spent several hours together with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, they made it known that the appropriate decisions had been made. “I had a very constructive discussion with the prime minister. I am sure that we are significantly closer today to a general understanding than ever before,” Poroshenko stated late Tuesday evening. In response to opponents of the Ukrainian government who have reacted sharply to the wave of resignations, he said, “Today leaving the government is a weak move that is easy to make. It is a little harder to take responsibility and fulfill the obligations that the governing team took on themselves on Independence Square.” Poroshenko intends to sue Zinchenko in response to the accusations made by him.

    Another move intended to reduce the division in the Ukrainian leadership was yesterday's closed session of the cabinet of ministers, in which Yushchenko took part in alongside Timoshenko and her ministers. Details from that meeting have not been made public. Yushchenko's press secretary, Irina Gerashchenko, stated only that ways of consolidating power were examined at the meeting. Evidence of just how hard that task will be was Timoshenko's confession before the meeting that various scenarios are possible in the present situation, even the resignation of the cabinet. She called the present cabinet the most effective in Ukraine's history, as if indicating that she had succeeded in doing more as prime minister than Yushchenko had.

    Zinchenko, the chief disturber of the peace in high Ukrainian political circles, made it known yesterday that he did not intend to leave politics. Speaking at a roundtable discussion entitled “Does Ukraine Need a State Secretary?”, he was severely criticized by members of his pro-presidential party, Our Ukraine, which had urged all party member to boycott its disgraced member the day before. Zinchenko said that that advice “was reminiscent of 1937.”

    In spite of the fact that Zinchenko's resignation has brought questions about the role of the state secretary into the public spotlight, the eponymous question at the roundtable was not answered. Zinchenko's post was not vacant for long, however. It was made known today that Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration Oleg Rybachuk had been named to succeed him. Observers drew attention to the fact that he is a longtime adviser to Yushchenko. From December 1999 to May 2001, he was the head of then-prime minister Yushchenko's staff. A year later, he was a deputy in the Supreme Rada for the Our Ukraine Party and played an active role in the Orange revolution.

    Ukrainian experts say that, with Rybachuk's appointment, the importance of the post will increase. “Oleg Rybachuk will try to turn the secretariat into a more influential center,” director of the Sofia Center for social research Andrey Ermolaev stated. Vladimir Malenkovich, another Ukrainian political scientist, predicted, “Rybachuk is too ambitious and will not play the role of technical leader. He will more likely turn into a new gray cardinal. In that capacity, he will answer for everything, including foreign policy.”

    The efforts of Yushchenko and his team to eliminate the consequences of the scandal as quickly as possible and hold the Orange ranks together leave unanswered questions about how long the relative calm will last. Former president and head of the opposition parliament faction of united social democrats Leonid Kravchuk made a new statement with harsh criticism of the Ukrainian authorities. “The president's managerial team is reminiscence of a hive of bees without a queen. They buzz frightfully, fly frightfully, but don't make any honey. It is hard even for an experienced person to understand who is working in this country, and for whom, and who is authorized to do what. The government is incapacitated, it is coming apart at the seams,” he said. He also called Yushchenko “a hostage to the situation” ho has set up “several centers of power.” In conclusion, Kravchuk follow his example and declare early elections. (Kravchuk declared an early election in 1994 and lost it to Leonid Kuchma.)

    There is evidence that Yushchenko will not be able to put a halt to the scandal. Opposition deputies are determined to investigate the accusations leveled by Zinchenko. Deputy Nikolai Melnik has sent enquiries to the Prosecutor General's Office and the heads of the Interior Ministry and Ukrainian Security Service asking them to check the accusations of corruption made by Zinchenko against Poroshenko. Deputy Igor Shurma sent an enquiry to the Prosecutor General's Office on the revelation that by a former aide to Timoshenko of a payment of $50 million that was allegedly made by Russian businessmen to presidential aide Alexander Tretyakov and Poroshenko for the opportunity to buy the Nikopolsky Ferrous Alloys Plant. A number of deputies are preparing enquiries on local and regional officials, which may lead to a new anticorruption wave in law enforcement. Marina Ostapenko, press secretary of the Ukrainian Security Service said yesterday that that agency would react to the accusations against Tretyakov and Poroshenko within the confines of its competence.

    One event yesterday evaded most attention, although it points to the battle for power coming up in Ukraine. The Central Elections Commission announced the beginning of preparations for parliamentary elections in March 2006, the fist stage of which is the formation of voters' lists. Commission chairman Yaroslav Davydovich promised to have lists completed by November.

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