Ukraine: Did West Pull Up Stakes Too Soon?
By Brian Whitmore
April 12, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Two years ago, Viktor Yushchenko was hailed as a conquering hero in many Western capitals.
The U.S. Congress, hosting the newly annointed Ukrainian president in April 2005, welcomed his arrival with boisterous enthusiasm, chanting his name and cheering as he thanked "the entire American nation" for its support.
That speech, and one in Germany's Bundestag a month earlier, were part of a postrevolutionary victory lap after the massive public protests of the Orange Revolution propelled Yushchenko into the Ukrainian presidency -- and reduced his Moscow-backed rival, Viktor Yanukovych, to political ignominy.
Now Yushchenko and Yanukovych are once again locking horns.
This time, however, Yanukovych is prime minister and head of the lynchpin party in parliament's ruling coalition. And the cheers of Western support for Yushchenko? Nowhere to be heard.
"Any political questions in Ukraine need to be resolved by the Ukraine government," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, responding to Yushchenko's dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada following the defection of opposition lawmakers to the coalition.
And in Brussels, Adrian Severin, a member of the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, said this time around, Europe was putting its support behind "values," rather than "people."
Yushchenko himself appears to acknowledge he cannot turn to the West for support on this battle. In an interview with RFE/RL on April 11, the president said Ukrainians must solve the current crisis "by themselves."
Some observers say many in the West have been disappointed by the inability of the Orange Revolution leaders to capitalize on their powerful public mandate and effectively lead the country down a new progressive path.
"The lethargy that you see, the hesitancy, or even the frustration on the part of Brussels and Washington has to do with the degree to which the Orange Revolution itself collapsed or disintegrated or eroded," says Robert Legvold, a professor at New York's Columbia University who specializes in post-Soviet politics.
"The Orange Revolution alliance quarreled so much, it didn't have the sort of inner dynamism to create a government of its own."
Just months after the Orange Revolution, Yushchenko and his charismatic political ally, Yuliya Tymoshenko, had been reduced to constant bickering. By September 2005, Yushchenko removed Tymoshenko from her prime ministerial post. That move split the pro-Western Orange forces and opened the door for Yanukovych's political comeback and the victory of his Party of Regions in March 2006 parliamentary elections.
After months of haggling, Yushchenko, Tymoshenko, and Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz appeared to revive the Orange forces and form a ruling coalition that would have returned Tymoshenko to the prime ministerial post.
But in the end, Moroz defected and instead formed a coalition with Party of Regions and the Communists. By August 2006, it was Yanukovych, and not Tymoshenko, who was confirmed as prime minister.
Yushchenko (right) with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Kyiv in December 2005 (epa)
"The Orange Revolution alliance quarreled so much, it didn't have the sort of inner dynamism to create a government of its own," says Eugeniusz Smolar of the Warsaw-based Center for International Relations, who said he watched the months of haggling with a mixture of "sympathy and horror."
The fighting, he says, "destroyed, on the one hand, the cohesion -- and, on the other hand, some of the support -- of the population toward the government."
Some analysts and politicians suggest the West could have done more to support pro-European forces in Ukraine by expediting the country's bid to join Western institutions like the World Trade Organization, the European Union, and NATO.
Brussels, which acknowledges expansion fatigue, has been firm in its refusal to bolster Ukraine's hopes of membership. But U.S. President Bush on April 10 signed legislation backing NATO membership for five countries, including Ukraine.
The fact remains, however, that Ukraine's eastern regions remain largely loyal to Russia, which adamantly opposes NATO expansion. As a result, Ukraine itself is deeply divided over whether it wants to join the EU or NATO. Some polls have indicated that most Ukrainians would reject membership in either if the issue was put to a referendum.
Yanukovych was once the clear villain, whose backers blatantly falsified election results. This time around, he is the legitimate head of government and leads the most popular party in the country.
"There is a quite a large group of public opinion in Ukraine that is not terribly interested in joining the European Union, understanding that it has an important economic, social, and cultural interest in staying close to Russia," Smolar says.
So did the West fail, or Ukraine? "It's a complex situation," Smolar continues. "I believe that the Ukrainian public and the Ukrainian elite didn't do enough. Whether the West could do more... I believe it could do more, but I am not sure it could do much more."
Ukraine's inconstancy regarding the West may prove an inconvenience elsewhere in the former Soviet Union -- particularly in Georgia, whose NATO bid also got U.S. President Bush's blessing this week.
Anti-NATO protests in Ukraine last month (TASS)
Georgia kicked off the wave of colored revolutions with its 2003 Rose Revolution, and President Mikheil Saakashvili has traditionally kept close ties with Yushchenko. But Legvold at Columbia University says Georgia's own Western ambitions may be hampered by the ongoing Ukrainian stalemate.
"I don't see any prospect that Georgia can be considered for NATO membership -- even if it seems in some fashion more qualified -- until the Ukrainian issue is settled," he says. "You can't jump over Ukraine and address the Georgian question separately."
Ultimately, U.S. and EU support for Yushchenko and Ukraine's pro-Western forces may also be muted because the current composition of the Ukrainian government is the product of elections that were universally judged to be among the fairest and cleanest in post-Soviet Ukraine.
The Orange Revolution had a clear villain in Yanukovych, whose backers blatantly falsified election results. This time around, he is the legitimate head of government and leads the most popular party in the country.
Marek Siwiec, deputy chairman of the European Parliament, said on April 11 that Yushchenko can no longer expect the unequivocal Western support he enjoyed in 2004.
"All parties have a legal democratic mandate now," Siwiec said. And that makes a "huge difference."
CIS: How Are Constitutional Courts Meant To Work?
By Luke Allnutt
Ivan Dombrovskyy, chairman of Ukraine's Constitutional Court
April 10, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- As Ukraine's political crisis continues to mount, the institution expected to help resolve the deadlock is having problems of its own.
The Constitutional Court is due to meet on April 11 to begin deliberations on the constitutionality of President Viktor Yushchenko's decree to dissolve parliament and hold new elections.
But the court has made no rulings in over half a year, and now five out of 18 judges are refusing to consider the case, citing political pressure.
Professor Wojciech Sadurski, from the legal department at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, says this development is a worrying one and suggests a certain fundamental crisis of the Constitutional Court.
Even if the five judges persist in their walkout, the Constitutional Court can still proceed with deliberations on the constitutional issues surrounding Yushchenko's decree. The court needs only 11 judges present in order to hold session. Of those, only a simple majority is needed for a ruling to be valid.
Even if a ruling is made, however, it's uncertain what the impact will be. Ukraine's Constitutional Court -- like its counterparts across the region -- does not have a long or illustrious history, and its influence remains weak.
After the collapse of communism, constitutional courts were set up in the 1990s to protect the rights of the individual against the power of the state.
The courts rule on whether laws or presidential decrees are in accordance with the constitution or constitutionally established rights and freedoms.
Constitutional courts are not accountable to electors, but they have the power to frustrate the elected bodies of parliament.
They also normally pass rulings on proposed constitutional changes and international treaties.
"[Constitutional courts] are really seen as a countervailing power, as a way of moderating the decisions of the parliament, which can be often contrary to the constitution, in particular to constitutional rights," Sadurski says.
There are two main models of constitutional courts. There is the U.S. model, where any federal court can invalidate any law that it finds unconstitutional, and the European model, with a single, specialized body, which decides whether laws are constitutional.
Most countries in the former Soviet Union have adopted the European model.
Minimizing Political Bias
In theory, constitutional courts are set up to avoid -- or at least minimize -- political bias.
President Yushchenko has ordered the dissolution of parliament
In Ukraine, the court comprises 18 justices, appointed in equal shares by the president, the parliament, and the Council of Judges, a nonpartisan judicial body.
In Ukraine, judges serve nine years and are allowed to serve only one term.
"This is a nine-year nonrenewable term, which gives them reasonable breathing space, reasonable independence, and which allows them not to think all the time about their political masters, if there are such," Sadurski says.
Other countries have different systems -- in some constitution courts, judges are exclusively appointed by parliament.
In Ukraine, Sadurski says the system creates a degree of dependency on the body that appointed the judges.
That isn't unusual. In practice, constitutional courts have often mirrored -- and been a victim of -- their political systems.
In Ukraine, deadlock in the court reflects deadlock in parliament. In Belarus, the court has been sidelined by the executive and is dependent on the president's will.
Professor Sadurski says that, on the whole, constitutional courts in Central and Eastern Europe haven't been ineffectual, but they have had to deal with a number of challenges.
"First of all, to what extent is the appointment of judges is based on merit, as opposed to political considerations. Secondly, to what extent can the other political actors activate the decision of the constitutional court. One of the greatest weaknesses written into the very function of these constitutional courts is that they are not self-activating, that there must be an initiative coming from the other side," Sadurski says.
Perhaps the biggest paradox of all is the legitimacy of the constitutional courts: On the one hand, they are not accountable to electors, but on the other they have the power to frustrate the elected bodies of parliament.
Ukraine: Focus On Constitutional Court As Standoff Continues
Supporters of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych gathering in Kyiv on April 4
KYIV, April 5, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Thousands of supporters of Viktor Yanukovych today continued to gather in central Kyiv, many traveling by bus and train from Ukraine's east to show their support for the prime minister and the ruling coalition.
But Viktor Yushchenko remained firm.
Speaking at an emergency session of the National Security and Defense Council, the Ukrainian president said anyone failing to comply with his April 2 decree -- which dissolves parliament and calls for new elections for May 27 -- would be prosecuted.
"Ukrainian law does not allow anybody to disobey this decree," Yushchenko said. "You may appeal to the Constitutional Court, you may make decisions that you consider necessary as long as they are within the framework of law, but I will never compromise and I will not allow the decree to be disobeyed."
No Common Ground
The National Security and Defense Council subsequently ordered government structures to begin preparations for early elections. Council Secretary Vitaliy Hayduk said this included an agreement, by April 7, to finance the elections from the national budget.
But Yanukovych, during a press conference later in the day, said the ruling parliamentary coalition -- led by his Party of Regions -- would make no move until the country's Constitutional Court had pronounced Yushchenko's decree legal.
The court is composed in a way meant to avoid political bias. But analysts say it is prone to outside pressure and lacks the standing in society to render important rulings.
But that, officials say, could take months.
Volodymyr Shapoval, a former Constitutional Court justice who is now the presidential liaison to the court, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service a quick vetting of the decree is unlikely. (Read the complete interview in Ukrainian.)
"Proceeding from my experience, I think [a ruling] may take no less than two months," Shapoval said.
"If the decision is taken much sooner, we'll know we have real Heroes of Ukraine at work," he added ironically, refering to an honorary award bestowed by the president.
The court -- which works at a notoriously slow pace, and has not made a single ruling in over eight months -- announced today that it will take 15 days just to make a preliminary ruling on whether there are grounds for opening constitutional proceedings into the case.
Officially, the way the Constitutional Court is composed is meant to avoid clear political bias. The court comprises 18 justices, appointed in equal shares by the president, the parliament, and the Council of Judges, a nonpartisan judicial body.
Nonetheless, analysts say the court is widely believed to be prone to political pressure and lacks the standing in society to render such an important ruling.
Ukrainian Constitutional Court Chairman Ivan Dombrovskyy is rumored to be considering resigning (TASS file photo)
Mykhaylo Syrota, a former legislator who helped draft Ukraine's 1996 constitution, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that Constitutional Court judges are "incapable" of making a decision.
"In order to make a decision in a crisis situation, they would have to be people of a high moral and ethical standing -- not only within Ukrainian society, but also on a global scale," Syrota said. "Only this would make them able to withstand the pressure that is exerted on all constitutional court judges, in every country."
Yanukovych and parliament speaker Oleksandr Moroz on April 4 alleged that the head of the court, Ivan Dombrovskyy, was being pressured to resign -- something that could throw the debate surrounding Yushchenko's decree into further disarray.
Yushchenko's office promptly denied the allegation. Contradictory reports followed that Dombrovskyy had alternately left on sick leave or tendered his resignation only to have it rejected by the court.
Dombrovskyy himself has made no public comments.
Blue Versus Orange
The situation on Kyiv's streets, meanwhile, is a contrast to the 2004 Orange Revolution, when tens of thousands of Yushchenko supporters protested a rigged election.
This time it is Yanukovych's blue-clad backers -- who brought the Party of Regions to power in a March 2006 vote universally deemed free and fair -- who are setting up tent cities in the capital.
Yushchenko says Yanukovych committed the original sin in the current political crisis by enticing opposition lawmakers in parliament to join his ruling coalition.
This, the president said, is a violation of the country's consitution, and that only parliamentary factions -- and not individual legislators -- can switch sides.
Yanukovych does not deny trying to enlarge the number of lawmakers in his ruling coalition -- but says such actions are perfectly legal.
In an article published in Britain's "Financial Times" daily, Yushchenko wrote that Yanukovych's government "has exceeded its mandate and attempted to monopolize political power."
Supporters of the parliamentary coalition gathering in Kyiv today (epa)
A statement from the pro-Yanukovych parliament, meanwhile, accused Yushchenko of "provoking legal chaos in the country" by "pushing state and local authorities to carry out mass illegal activities."
Earlier today, rumors swirled through Kyiv that Yushchenko was preparing to dismiss Yanukovych's government and declare emergency rule. But Moroz, speaking after today's meeting of the National Security and Defence Council, said there were "no grounds" for discussing a state of emergency.
Yushchenko's office denied the reports. But speaking at a meeting of the country's Security Council -- where he sat next to Yanukovych --Yushchenko said he would not "take a single step" toward rescinding the decree disbanding parliament.
With Easter celebrations approaching, it is unclear whether the standoff will reach a critical point over the weekend.
Poland, Ukraine To Co-Host Euro 2012
UEFA President Michel Platini announcing Poland and Ukraine's win
April 18, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The executive committee of UEFA, the governing body of European soccer, today announced that Poland and Ukraine have been chosen to co-host the European Championship tournament in 2012.
UEFA President Michel Platini announced the surprise decision in Cardiff, Wales.
Poland and Ukraine beat out Italy and a second joint bid, from Croatia and Hungary, to stage the finals.
Italy, the 2006 World Cup champions, gained only four votes from UEFA's executive committee, compared to eight for Ukraine.
Italy's bid had been favored to win. But the country's reputation as a soccer superstar has been hurt by a string of scandals and violent incidents.
The Croatia-Hungary bid failed to win a single vote.
Politics No Obstacle
There had been fears that the current political crisis in Kyiv would hurt the Ukraine-Poland bid.
A deadlock continues between President Viktor Yushchenko, who earlier this month issued a decree dissolving parliament following allegations that his rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, had poached opposition deputies to add muscle to his ruling coalition.
In the end, however, the standoff failed to sink the country's joint UEFA bid with Poland.
"We thought the political situation could hamper our bid. There were such speculations circulating in UEFA's corridors," Volodymyr Lashkul, the vice president of the Ukrainian Football Federation, told Reuters. "But that didn't happen. The two presidents who came to the presentation yesterday -- Viktor Yushchenko and [Polish President] Lech Kaczynski -- made a breakthrough in the situation."
Long Road Ahead
The decision will put Ukraine's financial and tactical resources to the test. Before 2012, the country will need to either renovate or construct from scratch six professional-standard soccer stadiums.
Ukraine's team will qualify automatically (epa file photo)
The Ukrainian cities of Kyiv, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, and Lviv have been chosen as match sites. Additional matches may also be played in Kharkiv or Odesa. Six cities in Poland have also been selected for matches.
Among the Ukrainians in Cardiff celebrating today's decision was boxing legend Vitaliy Klychko (whose surname is often spelled "Klitschko" in the West), who served as a member of UEFA's Ukrainian delegation.
Klychko told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that the 2012 European Championship will be "the most important sporting event" in Ukrainian history, and was a "great responsibility."
"This will have great economic repercussions," he said. "This will influence the development of our infrastructure, the tourist infrastructure, the sporting infrastructure. This will be a very significant step for us in terms of European integration."
Klychko acknowledged that an enormous amount of work lies ahead as the country readies itself to host one of the world's most popular sporting events. But was optimistic that it could be done.
"To be perfectly honest, we need to build hotels. We need to build airports. We're already building new contemporary stadiums in Dnipropetrovsk and Donetsk. We need to do the same in Lviv and Kyiv,” he said. "We need to do an awful lot and not that much time is left -- 4 1/2 years. But I'm confident we can do this. We have the time to do this."
It will be the first time that either Poland or Ukraine has hosted a major football championship.
The decision is seen as a significant boost to the sport in Eastern Europe.
Next year's Euro 2008 finals will be jointly held by Austria and Switzerland.