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17 August 2017
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Ukraine foreign ministry shake-up could improve EU relations

European analysts say

The defenestration of pro-western Ukraine foreign minister Boris Tarasyuk is another symbolic blow against the Orange Revolution, but a more "pragmatic" new minister could help move EU-Ukraine integration forward more quickly, analysts say, according to an article by By Andrew Rettman, EU Observer.

Mr Tarasyuk - a staunch ally of pro-western president Viktor Yushchenko - announced his resignation on Tuesday (30 January) after an ugly, months-long row with Russia-friendly prime minister Viktor Yanukovych that saw him locked out of cabinet meetings and face a no-confidence vote in parliament.

The shift comes at a critical time in EU-Ukraine relations, with negotiations set to start in Brussels on 6 February on a new "enhanced agreement" that could create a "deep" free trade zone, pulling Ukraine`s economy into line with EU norms and making the dim prospect of future EU entry a shade brighter.

Deputy foreign minister Volodomyr Ohryzko will step in for the 6 February meeting, while the same day in Kiev Mr Yushchenko will propose a new foreign minister to parliament and Mr Tarasyuk will return to ordinary business as head of the People`s Movement of Ukraine party.

Speculation about the new FM favours Oleksandr Chalyi (a diplomat in the pre-revolution Kuchma regime and now a senior presidential aide), with Roman Shpek (Ukraine`s ambassador to the EU) and Kostyantyn Gryschenko (a senior aide of Mr Yanukovych) also in the running.

The demise of Mr Tarasyuk - a well-known face in Brussels - is the latest in a series of damaging blows to the Orange Revolution camp, which since 2005 has endured an energy crisis, corruption scandals, bitter infighting and the embarrassment of seeing Mr Yanukovych - the revolution`s arch-rival in 2004 - freely elected to power.

"The Orange Revolution has been a flop. In 2006 Ukraine had almost no government at all," CEPS analyst Michael Emerson said, calling the current coalition government "seriously dysfunctional" in its inability to agree on key issues such as NATO membership. "Yanukovych is in the ascendant," he added.

The expert - a former EU ambassador to Russia in the 1990s - warned against carricaturing Mr Yanukovych as a throwback to Soviet days. "He has not tried to turn back the clock in terms of civil liberties and there are signs that his oligarch-led Party of the Regions is serious about reform."

Despite the Orange Revolution romance of Mr Tarasyuk, his political style - pressuring EU diplomats to give promises on enlargement and hurling insults at Mr Yanukovych across the parliamentary floor - may not have been conducive to better EU-Ukraine relations or Ukraine`s internal stability, observers say.

"His concepts were not welcomed in Brussels. He was too enthusiastic about Ukraine`s entry into the EU," one EU diplomat said. "He was too much in the old line of Yushchenko versus Yanukovych, instead of the new pragmatism that focuses less on words and more on getting things done."

The contact pointed out that Mr Yanukovych`s party has pushed through WTO compliance legislation - a key step toward creating the EU free trade zone - and that rank-and-file Ukrainian diplomats in Brussels are more interested in practical economic cooperation during their private talks, despite complaining about enlargement issues in public.

"Tarasyuk`s departure is a big deal but not in terms of `the end of European integration` - it implies the end of confrontation between the president and the [Yanukovych] coalition," the Kiev-based International Centre for Policy Studies (ICPS) told EUobserver. "The government needs somebody less confrontational."

Sizing up the potential new foreign minister Mr Chalyi, the ICPS said "He is pro-western but at the same time he is realistic. He can link Ukraine`s European integration and [internal] reform processes. He is equally distanced from the ruling parties and equally respected."

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