Prague, 14 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Viktor Yushchenko still dangled an olive branch to Yuliya Tymoshenko yesterday. Return to the values of the Orange Revolution, he said, and I will welcome you back into government. But no one believed him -- least of all Tymoshenko, who countered that it was he, not her, who had betrayed those values. The battle for the moral high ground has begun with a vengeance.
The blonde-haired former icon of the revolution accuses Yushchenko of moral bankruptcy. The president's team, she says, has merely swapped one bunch of corrupt tycoons for another. Why, she demands, has the promised review of the murky privatizations of the Kuchma era never happened?
Yushchenko, though, is hitting back. When Oleksandr Zinchenko, who resigned as Yushchenko's chief of staff on 5 September, accused top government officials of corruption (see "Ukraine: A Conflict Over Gas And Power"
), Yushchenko demanded evidence.
"Those who make such allegations have a responsibility to help law-enforcement agencies find the truth about all the circumstances. If they have hard facts and it is not populism, they should honestly pass this information to law-enforcement agencies," Yushchenko said.
And Yushchenko has countered with corruption charges of his own, accusing Tymoshenko of trying to use her position as prime minister to write off $1.5 billion of debt owed by the now defunct Unified Energy Systems, a company that she and her husband used to head in the 1990s. It was not the ideals of Independence Square that had guided her government, he added, but backstage intrigues.
Many have questioned, though, why Yushchenko should have resurrected the issue of Unified Energy Systems now, when apparently it did not trouble him when he asked Tymoshenko to be his running partner in the November 2004 presidential elections. Askold Krushelnycky, a British journalist who is writing a history of the Orange Revolution, believes the real issue is an ideological dispute over economic policy.
"The issue of reprivatizations has been one of the matters at the heart of the dispute because even during the end of the election process last year, before they'd even taken hold of government, he had said that privatization or renationalization, is not a word that he liked, whereas she'd already made clear that she wanted to investigate a huge number – 3,000 privatizations under Kuchma," Krushelnycky told RFE/RL.
"The economy is at the heart of everything that Yushchenko has in his design -- a shift towards the EU, making an entry into the World Trade Organization. That underlies his motives much more than a rapprochement with the oligarchs." - Krushelnycky
No surprise then that Yushchenko should have moved so quickly this week to assert that private property is untouchable and that there will be no more reprivatizations. That's good news for the oligarchs, or business tycoons, who were the chief beneficiaries of the opaque privatizations of state assets under President Kuchma. Does this suggest then that Yushchenko is realigning himself in the political spectrum? Krushelnycky thinks not.
"Yushchenko knows that underlying all his hope for real changes is a reinvigoration of the economy," he said. "He's blamed Tymoshenko for having more populist goals. The economy is at the heart of everything that Yushchenko has in his design -- a shift towards the EU, making an entry into the World Trade Organization. That underlies his motives much more than a rapprochement with the oligarchs."
Maybe so, but there is no doubt either that the parliamentary elections in March 2006 loom prominently in the minds of both Yushchenko and Tymoshenko. She has already announced her intention to run against her former ally.
And these will be more than usually important elections. After March, many of the powers currently held by the presidency will be transferred to parliament and the prime minister. Yushchenko may feel tempted to seek allies anywhere to keep Tymoshenko out of power. The oligarchs will be watching with interest.See also:
Former Prime Minister Tymoshenko To Go It Alone
President Sacks Government, Offering More Questions Than Answers