22 October 2017
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Orange princess tackles the two viktors in fight to ‘save the revolution’

Ms Tymoshenko has always brought firebrand glamour to Ukraine’s politics, but an added element of granite is visible now in her single-minded determination to return to power two years after Mr Yushchenko dismissed her as Prime Minister on national television.

Alone on a stage facing a crowd of 5,000 people, Yuliya Tymoshenko cut an isolated figure, the eye of a storm that is her election campaign to become Ukraine’s next Prime Minister.

Immaculate in an ivory suit, her hair wound in its trademark peasant halo, she railed for an hour against the corruption that blights Ukraine’s economy and political life.

As she spoke screens flashed pictures of the two Viktors who form, with her, the country’s three-way struggle for power — Prime Minister Yanukovych, her principal adversary, and President Yushchenko, her former partner in the Orange Revolution that promised democracy and prosperity.

The subliminal message was clear: three years on, the revolution of 2004 has been betrayed by weak leadership and an unholy alliance of oligarchs and self-serving ministers. Only Yuliya has kept the Orange faith.

Ms Tymoshenko has always brought firebrand glamour to Ukraine’s politics, but an added element of granite is visible now in her single-minded determination to return to power two years after Mr Yushchenko dismissed her as Prime Minister on national television.

That event signalled an acrimonious split in the Orange coalition that allowed Mr Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions to form a Government after parliamentary elections last year. His attempts to recruit opposition lawmakers to create a majority big enough to change the constitution and strip Mr Yushchenko of power triggered the political crisis in April when the President dissolved parliament and called early elections.

Ms Tymoshenko, 46, was nicknamed the “gas princess” in the 1990s after earning a fortune in Ukraine’s energy industry. She has transformed herself in this election into a populist scourge of venal billionaires and a champion of ordinary Ukrainians.

Her message plays well in a country where the average salary is $200 (£99) a month. She avoids accusations of rabble-rousing by pointing to a “Contract with Investors” signed at a meeting with 300 industrialists last week that promised transparent privatisations and a level playing field for business.

Her speech at the rally in Bila Tserkva, a bleak industrial city 90km (56 miles) south of Kiev, was heavy on detail but the crowd listened attentively. Later that evening she was mobbed by people who had waited for two hours to seek autographs and take pictures. Her voice has grown hoarse from campaigning for the September 30 poll, but her face betrays no hint of strain. A frantic schedule of public rallies has drawn large crowds, breeding confidence in her team that Ms Tymoshenko’s time has come.

“Every party leader believes that he is the best Prime Minister of Ukraine and I am no exception,” she told The Times, deflecting a question on whether she was ready to assume power.

Her image is everywhere, staring out from billboards urging voters to back Bloc Yuliya Tymoshenko’s (BYuT) Ukrainian breakthrough reform programme. Supporters wear white T-shirts bearing her face or BYuT’s symbol of a red heart, underlining the notion that this is as much love affair as political movement.

The Orange camp has patched up its differences. Ms Tymoshenko has agreed with Our Ukraine, Mr Yushchenko’s party, to form a coalition government if they win a majority. Rumours persist, however, that the latter may cut a deal with Mr Yanukovych.

Ms Tymoshenko dismisses the threat, saying that Mr Yushchenko would be naïve to trust a man who was within weeks of impeaching him. She added: “I don’t think the President wants to go through that again.”

The pro-Russian Mr Yanukovych remains a formidable machine politician, who repeatedly emphasises the divisions between his opponents. “The question ‘do the voters believe that the Orange forces can work together?’ has an exclusively rhetorical character,” he told reporters.

The risk for Mr Yushchenko is that voters return a parliament unchanged from the one he dissolved. He told The Times that the elections would be a “detonator for radical changes”, but he needs Ms Tymoshenko to succeed if his gamble is to pay off.

Ms Tymoshenko remains polite about her former ally — who last week accused Russia of blocking the investigation into the plot to poison him with dioxins that ravaged his features — but many around her regard Mr Yushchenko as weak and indecisive. Few doubt that she will challenge for the presidency in 2009 and she is making efforts to show her national appeal, spending most of her time pitching her pro-Western platform of EU and Nato membership into Mr Yanukovych’s power base in the Russian-speaking east of Ukraine, where many are nostalgic for the Soviet Union and close ties with Moscow.

“They want a decent way of life, but for 16 years [since independence] the country could not provide this. They have to feel that Ukraine is their home, and we will try to prove that to them,” she said.

This article was monitored by the Action Ukraine Monitoring Service for the Action Ukraine Report (AUR), Morgan Williams, SigmaBleyzer, Editor.

Published in The Times

By: Tony Halpin


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