Split in Orange Leadership May Put Changes on Hold
KIEV – The resignation of high-placed officials in the Ukrainian government plunged the country’s political elite into a state of shock. “If this is not a political crisis and the collapse of the ‘orange project,’ I don’t know what else would represent a similar collapse,” said Petro Simonenko, the leader of Ukraine’s Communist party. Meanwhile, the main strike was evidently carried out against the former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Her allies are unlikely to be included in the makeup of the new government. Alexander Turchinov, her most dedicated supporter, the head of the Ukrainian Security Service, and formerly the leader of the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko parliamentary faction, was not simply dismissed by Yushchenko but also accused of incompetence.
At the same time, the followers of Petro Poroshenko, Tymoshenko’s main rival, who relinquished his post as head of the Security and Defense Council during the crisis, will probably retain their positions in the future administration. Rumors surfaced soon after Tymoshenko’s resignation that Poroshenko will in time be appointed to replace her.
The breakup of the “orange” coalition can hardly be called an accident. Several scandals served as a prelude to Tymoshenko’s resignation. The first concerned Andriy Yushchenko, the president’s son. This scandal was set off by a journalistic investigation carried out by Ukrainskaya Pravda newspaper, a publication known for its links to Tymoshenko. Its journalists established as early as July that Yushchenko’s 19-year old son, still a university student, owns an extremely expensive cell phone and a car estimated to be worth 120 000 euros, in addition to an apartment in one of Kiev’s most prestigious districts. Nikolai Katerinchuk, the deputy director of Ukraine’s tax inspectorate, announced that Andriy got hold of the money from the royalty proceeds of the brands of the “orange revolution,” such as the “Yushchenko – tak” (Yushchenko – yes) slogan. The president was forced to admit that copyrights to the brands were registered to the names of his family members. This significantly damaged his reputation as head of state.
Another scandal was connected to the Nikopol ferroalloy plant (NFP) which, according to Yushchenko himself, was unlawfully privatized by Viktor Pinchuk, the son-in-law of former president Leonid Kuchma. Tymoshenko spoke out in favor of returning NFP to state ownership. Poroshenko, however, advocated reprivatization, leading Tymoshenko to accuse him of an attempt to get his hands on this property. So the conflict between Poroshenko and Tymoshenko featured a clash of economic interests.
On Thursday, in an interview to the Associated Press, Yushchenko in fact accused Tymoshenko of having lobbied the interests of “Privat” company, a rival of Pinchuk’s holding, which is reported to have the intention to get NFP into its own hands. According to Yushchenko, “a lot of things which the prime minister did were done backstage and were aimed at solving her own problems.” Yushchenko said he was “relieved” to come to work without fearing that “some other scandal like NFP or Krivorizhstal would erupt.” Krivorizhstal is another metallurgical company which had been privatized by Pinchuk and his partner, Ukrainian businessman Rinat Akhmetov, in the summer of 2004. In the first days of her premiership, Tymoshenko said the plant was privatized “unfairly” and included it in her “reprivatization” list of plants to be returned to the state or sold to other businessmen.
Tymoshenko was quick to respond in an interview to the Associated Press on the same day. “The president’s accusations are untrue and they were a shock to me. The president is trying to reestablish the repressive machine which [former Ukrainian president Leonid] Kuchma used against me and my family,” Tymoshenko was quoted as saying.
Tymoshenko was briefly put in jail on corruption charges in 2001 after having served in the government of president Kuchma, who accused her of embezzlement. She was set free after a massive protest campaign.
Nikolay Tomenko, the former vice-premier in Tymoshenko’s cabinet, openly warned Yushchenko against initiating criminal proceeding on corruption charges against Tymoshenko. “In this case, I would not exclude that the next stage of the orange revolution will begin today and not during the parliamentary elections, as we had planned before,” Tomenko was quoted by Nezavisimaya Gazeta as saying.
On the whole, the outcome of the dispute between the two politicians will be determined in the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 2006. The earlier assumption was that People’s Power, the faction of Yushchenko’s supporters, and the Bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko will enter the electoral contest as a coalition. Now this option appears highly improbable.
“The problem is that the Upper Rada is made up of delegates elected under President Kuchma,” said Vladimir Malinkovich, the director of the Ukrainian branch of the International Institute of Social and Political Studies. “It would have been possible to create a pro-presidential majority in the parliament, which was Yushchenko’s plan, if his team remained united and proved that it intended to stay in power for a long time. The president’s team has been unable to prove that for now.”
The disintegration of the “orange” coalition puts a huge question mark over the planned constitutional reform, which was supposed to strengthen the power of the Ukrainian parliament by putting the Rada, and not the president, in charge of forming the government. The reform was part of the deal between Yushchenko and former president Leonid Kuchma, and was aimed at lessening divisions in the country, where Yushchenko won the presidential election only by a small margin. Kuchma gave his agreement to the replay of the contested second round of elections only in exchange for Yushchenko’s assurances that the parliament and the president would proceed with the reform.
Now that he is less and less likely to have the support of the Rada, Yushchenko started voicing doubts about the timeliness of the reform.
“Changes to the Constitution of Ukraine were agreed upon in the dramatic situation of December 2004,” he was quoted as saying on Wednesday. “The political reform should be put in place when people have a clear idea about it. There should be no place for intimidation. This is a specific measure which will work for millions of people.”
Dragging his feet on reform may further decrease Yushchenko’s popularity.
“With the kind of presidential powers we have now, any president turns into another Kuchma sooner or later,” said Aleksadr Moroz, leader of the opposition Socialist party.
The unfolding crisis will change the arrangement of political forces in Ukraine, giving a new chance to the representatives of the eastern regions, whom Yushchenko pushed to the sidelines last winter. “For the first time, the events in Ukraine have not proceeded according to the American scenario,” said Kirill Frolov, head of the Ukraine department in Moscow’s Institute of CIS Countries – an institution known for its unsympathetic attitude to the “orange revolution.” “If ‘orange’ politicians exhaust each other in a mutual struggle, their opponents will have a chance.”
The possibility of a union between Tymoshenko and her one-time adversaries is now actively discussed in Ukraine. In her television appearance, she did not exclude the option of such an alliance. Viktor Yanukovych, the leader of the Regions Party and Yushchenko’s rival during the last presidential elections, made clear that he would not automatically turn down this proposition. However, Ukrainian political commentators maintain that more likely is an alliance between Tymoshenko and another opposition movement forming around Viktor Medvedchuk’s Social-Democratic Party (United). Medvedchuk is the former head of President Kuchma’s administration. Another former Ukrainian president, Leonid Kravchuk, is now emerging as a leading member of this coalition. On Thursday, Kravchuk accused Yushchenko of getting financing from the anti-Kremlin Russian ?migr? oligarch Boris Berezovsky. Kravchuk said Berezovsky confirmed in a conversation with him that his companies transferred $15 million to the bank accounts of some members of Yushchenko’s team. Berezovsky did not deny or confirm this in an interview to the Moscow Kommersant daily, a newspaper he is reported to control financially. “I only found out that these payments were made by companies under my control,” Berezovsky was quoted by Kommersant as saying.
Should the events in Ukraine be perceived as the final defeat of the “orange” project? Now is too early to draw such conclusions.
“People were disappointed with the old government, now they are start to become disappointed with the new one,” said Vadim Karasyov, an expert from the Institute of Global Strategies in Kiev. “It remains to be seen which ‘third force’ will profit from it.”
It is worth remembering that other countries which experienced their own color revolutions went through outright assassinations of prime ministers or saw them perish under mysterious circumstances. Zoran Djindjic, the Serbian prime minister, was killed with a sniper shot, while Zurab Zhvaniya of Georgia was found dead in the home of a friend, a 25-year old regional governor. The official cause of death was given as asphyxiation by carbon dioxide fumes.
“One could say that Tymoshenko repeated the fate of her Yugoslav and Georgian colleagues with one difference – she remained alive,” Frolov said. “Tymoshenko was lucky largely because she turned out to be a stronger politician, more skilled at intrigues, than Zhvaniya and Djindjic.”
Whatever the consequences of the conflict between Tymoshenko and Yushchenko’s allies, in the course of 9 months of rule, the tandem managed to construct a system where journalists are not afraid to discuss the car of the president’s son and fear to lose a job or be murdered like Heorhy Honhadze, whose death was attributed by some to President Kuchma’s circles. And that is not an insignificant feat.