President Bush to Ukraine`s rescue?

President Bush to Ukraine`s rescue?

As the parties argue, reforms are stalled, important segments of the economy are underperforming, and Russian gas giant Gazprom is preparing to raise gas prices substantially beginning 1 July. 

Last week, the three potential members of an "Orange" democratic parliamentary majority voted together for the first time. Two hundred and forty deputies from the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc and the Socialist Party agreed to adjourn the Rada until June 7 in order to "complete" a coalition agreement.

But despite optimistic pronouncements from political party leaders that an agreement is all but assured, a big disagreement appears to remain - namely, who will become Ukraine`s next prime minister?

A failure to agree on this point would doom the coalition, and possibly damage international support for Ukraine`s attempts to integrate into Western structures. Western European and U.S. leaders have made no secret of the fact that they would like to see a government formed immediately, and that they view an Orange coalition as more conducive to Western integration than any other coalition permutation.

The questions surrounding a tentative June 21 visit to Ukraine by U.S. President George Bush underscore this point. U.S. officials say privately that should the stop-over in Kyiv be confirmed, Bush may be prepared to announce U.S. support for the opening of NATO accession talks and to use the opportunity to support Ukraine`s entry into the WTO this year.

The visit promises U.S. support for President Viktor Yushchenko`s agenda. It also entails pressure on Ukraine`s politicians to finally agree on a new government more than two months after parliamentary elections. Some U.S. officials have said, however, that without a reform-oriented parliamentary coalition already in place before mid-June, President Bush will not come to Kyiv.

On May 24, in a positive sign, the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYUT) and the Socialist Party initialed a joint majority coalition agreement. The agreement reportedly includes the standard European coalition provision that the biggest party in the coalition will name the prime minister.

On March 26, BYUT garnered over 22 percent of votes, Our Ukraine received slightly fewer than 14 percent and the Socialists over 6 percent. Tymoshenko has already declared that her bloc would nominate her.

But just hours earlier, Our Ukraine announced that it had finalized its own draft coalition agreement - one which did not include any provision for choosing the prime minister - and called the initialing of the BYUT-Socialist agreement "a stunt."

On 25 May, following the joint vote to adjourn parliament, Our Ukraine representatives reiterated their opposition to including the prime minister principle in any final agreement. If this position is maintained, an agreement may be unreachable.

The omission is hard to explain. Throughout Western Europe, coalition agreements routinely include mechanisms for choosing cabinet personnel. And the prime minister is routinely named from the biggest coalition  partner.

Germany - which Our Ukraine points to as an example - is a case in point. Angela Merkel, based on her party`s tiny four-seat plurality, attained a commitment to be named Chancellor before she consented to sit down for official talks over issues.

"We will not start coalition talks until they accept the democratic principle that the biggest party nominates the head of government," Governor Juergen Ruettgers, a member of Merkel`s Christian Democratic Union, said at the time. This commitment eventually was enshrined in the coalition agreement.

Our Ukraine`s refusal to accept this principle leaves a decidedly anti-European impression, and provides fodder for European representatives who do not believe Ukraine should be integrated into Europe`s economic and military unions.

Nevertheless, certain individuals within Our Ukraine have stated that they simply will not support a coalition with Yulia Tymoshenko at its head. These individuals dismiss the fact that their party finished eight points behind BYUT in the election as some sort of abnormality. But, recent opinion polls showing that Our Ukraine`s support has now dipped to 10 percent suggest  that this is not the case.

As the parties argue, reforms are stalled, important segments of the economy are underperforming, and Russian gas giant Gazprom is preparing to raise gas prices substantially beginning 1 July.

This, Acting Economics Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk recently said, could lead to a significant economic slowdown in the country, at a time when growth is already very limited. Yet, there has been little urgency to confirm a new government to tackle this problem.

And, although Yulia Tymoshenko has been criticized for speaking publicly about negotiations, it is, in fact, Viktor Yushchenko and the Our Ukraine party that have received the bulk of the criticism about the situation from foreign officials and press.

An early May appearance by Presidential Secretariat Head Oleh Rybachuk on BBC`s HARDTalk provides the clearest example. Rybachuk spent most of the interview ducking and weaving, thanks to journalist Stephen Sackur`s intense questioning over everything from the lack of a new government to the discredited January 2006 gas deal.

To Rybachuk`s credit, he maintained his composure. But he had difficulty effectively answering many questions presented to him. These included the most basic: "Yulia Tymoshenko clearly won the biggest number of votes in that [proposed] Orange coalition, 22 percent of the vote, a much bigger bloc than that which went to Our Ukraine, so she must be the prime minister, mustn`t she?"

In the midst of a somewhat rambling answer, Rybachuk disagreed, suggesting that Tymoshenko first must "convince [people] she is a different person." Sackur`s disturbing response suggested corruption around the president. "You know what many Ukrainians seem to think?" he said.

"That is, that in the past, Mrs. Tymoshenko went after some of the cronies close to Mr. Yushchenko and he does not want her back in power because he fears that she would once again go on an anti-corruption crusade that would damage people close to him."

Rybachuk called this statement a "nice fairy tale." However, the generally negative tenor of Sackur`s questions is alarming coming from one of Europe`s most respected interviewers on one of Europe`s most viewed English-language news programs. Yushchenko could use some support, and the President of the United States would like to provide it on 21 June.

But Yushchenko first must demonstrate his commitment to tackling Ukraine`s most difficult problems.  His first step must be to support a coalition agreement. To do so, he must convince Our Ukraine - which campaigned under the slogan "The Party of Yushchenko" - that it is time to accept the reality of a Tymoshenko premiership based on election results.

Should he fail, it would be a blow to Ukraine`s attempts to prove its readiness for European integration. It could also undermine generally excellent U.S.-Ukraine relations at a time when Ukraine and its president need support more than ever.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Tammy Lynch is a Senior Research Fellow at Boston University`s Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology & Policy.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

LINK

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The article was monitored by The Action Ukraine Report (AUR) Monitoring Service, Morgan Williams, Editor.

If you see a spelling error on our site, select it and press Ctrl+Enter