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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: July 26, 2006

July 26, 2006, Volume 8, Number 25
WILL PRESIDENT DISSOLVE PARLIAMENT? On July 25, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko faces a critical decision -- whether to dissolve the country's parliament. The deadline comes almost four months to the day after the Verkhovna Rada was first elected.

In the interim, the legislature has been hamstrung by political infighting and power plays that have left the country without a government -- and without an "Orange coalition" that would lead Ukraine toward deeper integration with the West.

Yushchenko has several options at his disposal, and none are particularly pleasant.

As president, Yushchenko has the constitutional prerogative to dismiss parliament on July 25 -- 60 days after the resignation of the previous cabinet.

Such a move would break the political deadlock that has paralyzed parliament since elections were held on March 26

But it's an unappealing option for Yushchenko. Polls indicate his Our Ukraine bloc would see its numbers drop even lower than the 13 percent of the vote it took in its third-place finish in March.

Speaking on July 22 in his weekly radio address, Yushchenko appeared to indicate he would not opt to throw out the parliament.

He was ready, he said, to cooperate with the Verkhovna Rada "for the sake of the country's stability and development."

"The new government will be given an important and difficult task," Yushchenko said. "It has to keep up the pace of economic development and advance the living standards of our citizens. This can only be achieved by hard work, and only a team of professionals will be able to handle this task. This team should be headed by a person who can give up narrow partisan interests and take responsibility for the country's economic development. I hope for the wisdom of Ukrainian politicians."

Yushchenko may also be hoping for a situation that leaves at least some of his political clout intact.

He faces unpalatable options even if he chooses to leave the current parliament in place.

One would be for him to go into the opposition against the so-called anti-crisis coalition led by the pro-Russia Party of Regions of his political archrival, Viktor Yanukovych.

This would leave Yushchenko largely marginalized by a parliament with newly enhanced constitutional powers.

Lastly, Yushchenko could agree to a grand coalition that would ally Our Ukraine with the Party of Regions.

It's a political partnership that was unthinkable two years ago, when the Orange Revolution carried Yushchenko to victory over a disgraced and discredited Yanukovych.

Such a decision would ensure a place for Our Ukraine in the new cabinet. But it would be the final blow for many Orange Revolution supporters who have seen their dreams of Western integration sink alongside Yushchenko's popularity.

One major player in Ukraine's parliamentary drama is pushing for Yushchenko to dissolve the Verkhovna Rada -- Yuliya Tymoshenko, Yushchenko's former Orange Revolution ally and prime minister, who had been determined to serve again as prime minister of an Orange coalition linking her eponymous bloc with Our Ukraine and the Socialist Party of Ukraine.

That aspiration died in early July, when the Socialists defected to the Yanukovych-led coalition.

But Tymoshenko remains a charismatic figure and the self-described keeper of the Orange Revolution flame.

For her, fresh elections would be an opportunity to win the votes of Ukrainians disenchanted by Yushchenko's seemingly lackluster commitment to pro-Western principles.

Tymoshenko on July 24 tried to press the issue, declaring that deputies from her political bloc will give up their seats in an effort to force the dissolution of parliament.

"Being aware of the danger of a restoration in Ukraine of a communist-oligarchic government, and with the aim of providing the president with additional constitutional provisions to call for extraordinary parliamentary elections in Ukraine, we state that we are ready to end our terms as members of the Ukrainian parliament," Tymoshenko said.

Our Ukraine deputies are unlikely to take Tymoshenko up on her invitation to do the same. Borys Bespalyy, a member of Yushchenko's faction, described Tymoshenko's initiative as little more than public relations.

If Yushchenko decides not to dissolve parliament, his next deadline comes August 2, when he must endorse a candidate for prime minister submitted by Yanukovych's coalition and return it to parliament for final approval.

Constitutional changes implemented this year took the power to nominate a prime-ministerial candidate away from the president.

The anti-crisis coalition submitted Yanukovych's candidacy to Yushchenko on July 18. The constitution gives the president 15 days to consider the nomination.

A Yanukovych premiership will be pleasing for Moscow, which resented Ukraine's pro-Western orientation following the Orange Revolution.

Having a Moscow-friendly premier may mean a less punishing price rise when Ukraine renegotiates its gas contract with Russia in the autumn.

But the four-month impasse and the failure of the Orange coalition have likely dealt a setback to those in Ukraine who favor NATO and EU membership. (RFE/RL Newsroom)

POLAND DISAPPOINTED, BUT WON'T GIVE UP ON ITS NEIGHBOR. Among the countries looking with greatest dismay at the political chaos in Kyiv is Poland, with its strong cultural and historical ties to Ukraine. Polish officials have actively sought to bring Kyiv into the Western fold since Warsaw joined NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004. The ongoing parliamentary impasse in Ukraine has alarmed many in Poland, who see it as a shift away from the promise of the Orange Revolution. Eugeniusz Smolar, the president of the Center for International Relations in Warsaw, talks to RFE/RL about Poland's perspective on Ukraine's political struggle.

RFE/RL: Over the past four months, we have watched Ukraine try, but fail, to form a coalition uniting the allies of the Orange Revolution. This was no doubt a very disappointing development for many in Poland.

Eugeniusz Smolar: Poland has never tried to suggest to Ukraine how they should solve their own problems. However, of course, as democrats and those who have fought for democracy in the past, we have our own preferences. And of course, the preference for many, many people here who feel very warmly about Ukraine, who feel very passionate about it, is for the Orange Revolution camp to form a government. For many people here who do not have the opportunity to follow Ukrainian events on a day-to-day basis, [the failure to create an Orange coalition] is quite a shock, and many people can't understand why it didn't happen.

RFE/RL: How do you explain this protracted political impasse?

Smolar: To many of us, it seems that too much politics based on personality clashes, rather than programmatic differences, is actually occurring. So if you ask what we think about it, we think it's very bad, we are shocked, we don't understand the situation. We feel that some of the personalities are pushing their line very strongly, maybe even too strongly. And some other actors who should be very active, including President Viktor Yushchenko, are not doing their job properly. Full stop.

RFE/RL: Polish officials have continued to express support for Ukraine's integration into the European Union and NATO. Former President Aleksander Kwasniewski was in Kyiv as recently as last week attempting to mediate discussions, but said he emerged "pessimistic" about the fate of the Ukrainian government. In Poland's view, can a working government emerge from the chaos in Ukraine?

Smolar: Kwasniewski has the political and moral authority to get involved. He knows all the personalities. I know he talked to each and every one of them, to all the major actors. He tried to persuade them to get some kind of a working agreement. But at the end of the day, Poland, as a country -- starting with the top politician and ending with civil society here -- is going to work with anyone who has the authority to hold power and who is a democrat.

RFE/RL: The final composition of the government is still unclear, but right now we're facing the scenario of a parliament dominated by the pro-Russia Party of Regions, and with the pro-Western president, Yushchenko, in the opposition. Is it important for Poland which of the major players ends up on top?

Smolar: If the situation is Ukraine ends with the decision that the only working coalition could be a coalition of two currently warring factions, well then, let it be that way. For us, the most important thing is not who's running the country, but what the program is -- whether it's Western-oriented, whether it's aimed at European and trans-Atlantic alliance. Whether they are going to continue with the policy of democracy and respect for human rights and Euro-Atlantic integration. These are the most important questions and Poland will work with anyone who will go that way.

RFE/RL: What about Viktor Yanukovych, Yushchenko's rival in the election that sparked the Orange Revolution? Is he a man Poland can work with?

Smolar: It's very difficult to say. When I was in Ukraine I heard different stories about him, and some of what's being said is that he's a very pragmatic politician. But the only worry I have, from what I know of him, is that he's not a totally independent politician.

RFE/RL: Does Poland remain suspicious of Russia's influence in Ukraine?

Smolar: People who know more about it than I do, they say this is one of the important factors in the whole game. And of course, knowing what Moscow's reaction to the Orange Revolution was, and also the pressure that was put on Ukraine in the context of gas negotiations, I believe that the game has not ended.

RFE/RL: Ultimately, the failure of the Orange coalition appears to be due, as you said, to personality clashes -- specifically between Yushchenko and Yuliya Tymoshenko, his one-time prime minister. Are these power struggles the reason that Ukraine has no government nearly four months after parliamentary elections?

Smolar: This seems to be the basis of the existing situation. Whether this is in fact so is not for me to say. But the fact that the politics of such an important country as Ukraine is being reduced to the personal confrontation between major personalities is not helping Ukraine and its image in the world.

RFE/RL: Kwasniewski's recent remarks on Ukraine have been very bitter, almost resigned. Is there a sense that Poland has given up on Ukraine, or is there more that it can do to keep Kyiv on a pro-Western course?

Smolar: Poland will never give up where Ukraine is concerned because we believe in democracy. And we have this feeling that we ourselves achieved as much as we did not only because of our own efforts, but also because of the assistance which was provided by the government trade unions, Amnesty International, and international organizations which construct civil society. And what we are doing at the moment -- what all of us are doing -- is giving something back. We are actually trying to help those who, at the moment, are less fortunate than ourselves.

RFE/RL: How much does geographic and historical proximity affect Poland's allegiance to Ukraine?

Smolar: Ukraine for us -- and Belarus as well -- are very close to our borders, and they are very close people to us. And even if there are some political difficulties, it will not influence our general attitude. Poland will never abandon Ukraine or Belarus. More specifically, we will never abandon democracy and human rights in those countries.