Accessibility links

Breaking News

Ukraine: Orange Revolution Drowns Amid Mutual Recriminations

The recent infighting has left supporters of the Orange Revolution disenchanted The Verkhovna Rada on 20 September narrowly failed to approve Yuriy Yekhanurov as head of the Ukrainian government. With 226 votes required for approval, Yekhanurov was supported by 223 deputies. The rejection of Yekhanurov represents a serious setback for President Viktor Yushchenko in the ongoing political crisis in the country.

Yushchenko nominated Yekhanurov on 8 September, immediately after dismissing the cabinet headed by Yuliya Tymoshenko. The dismissal of Tymoshenko was triggered by repeated allegations of corruption in the president's inner circle and a public feud between Tymoshenko and National Security and Defense Council Secretary Petro Poroshenko.

Charges Of Corruption

The long sequence of corruption charges was inaugurated by Mykhaylo Brodskyy, an adviser to Tymoshenko. "There is nothing but corruption around Yushchenko," Brodskyy said on 1 September, without producing any evidence. Brodskyy mentioned Poroshenko, Tretyakov, and Transport Minister Yevhen Chervonenko as the most corrupt officials in Yushchenko's entourage.

On 2 September chief of presidential staff Oleksandr Zinchenko tendered his resignation, citing increasing corruption in the presidential inner circle. The names of Poroshenko and Tretyakov were mentioned once again, in addition to that of Mykola Martynenko, head of the pro-presidential parliamentary caucus. Zinchenko also charged that the inner circle, including Poroshenko and Tretyakov, "monopolized" access to the president and restricted the number of those who could see or talk with Yushchenko.

On 8 September Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Tomenko tendered his resignation just hours before the dismissal of Tymoshenko's cabinet, saying that he does not want "to share responsibility with those people who have created a system of corruption." Tomenko added that Poroshenko had created a parallel, "oligarchic" cabinet in Ukraine, obstructing the work of the lawful one.

On 15 September the corruption allegations against Poroshenko, Tretyakov, and some other presidential aides were reiterated by former Security Service chief Oleksandr Turchynov, Tymoshenko's party comrade.

Simultaneously with Tymoshenko's dismissal, Yushchenko accepted the resignation of Poroshenko and suspended Tretyakov. In explaining his decisions, Yushchenko said the former combatants of the Orange Revolution have lost "the team spirit" and chosen to advertise their public images in their governmental posts rather than implement Orange Revolution ideals. (See "President Sacks Government, Offering More Questions Than Answers.")

Yushchenko's radical moves were well received among those Ukrainian observers who had since long predicted that the government formed of ambitious revolutionary heroes would eventually get stuck in inner rivalry and discords. It was widely expected that Yushchenko would fully dissociate himself from his feuding comrades-in-arms and make a "new start" with a government of experts rather than politicians. The nomination of Yekhanurov, an experienced technocrat with no political ambitions, seemed to confirm that expectation. However, in his further moves Yushchenko made several serious mistakes.

Yushchenko proved unable to assume the role of a detached arbiter in the conflict and took the side of his aides. He ordered an investigation into Zinchenko's corruption allegations against his aides but simultaneously stressed that he did not believe in their guilt. In the post-Soviet region, such a declaration is automatically interpreted as a veiled instruction to investigators regarding what their final conclusions should be. Predictably, Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun declared on 21 September that investigators had uncovered no evidence of wrongdoing against Poroshenko.

Moreover, apparently feeling he needed a stronger explanation for his "asymmetrical move" -- the dismissal of the entire cabinet to balance out the removal of Poroshenko -- Yushchenko began to assert that he sacked Tymoshenko and her cabinet primarily for their poor performance. Many in Ukraine remained skeptical about this excuse, particularly since in summing up the government's 100 days in power by the end of April, Yushchenko said Tymoshenko's cabinet deserved 12, the highest grade awarded in Ukrainian schools.

Yushchenko's Big Mistake

But Yushchenko's gravest mistake was to accuse Tymoshenko of abusing her office. On 13 September Yushchenko alleged that Tymoshenko used her cabinet position to write off $1.5 billion worth of state debts of the Unified Energy System of Ukraine, now a defunct company that Tymoshenko headed in 1995-97. Yushchenko also alleged that in addition to having Unified Energy System's debts to the state written off, Tymoshenko also tried to cancel its debts to Russia.

The opposite side reacted immediately, with a devastating response. On 14 September former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk, a lawmaker of the opposition Social Democratic Party-united, charged that self-exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovskii financed Yushchenko's presidential campaign. Berezovskii, in a move than many in Ukraine see as coordinated with Tymoshenko, confirmed that he had spoken repeatedly to Viktor Yushchenko by telephone, met his top aides in London, and agreed to help Yushchenko become Ukraine's president. Berezovskii also confirmed making payments in 2004 to firms belonging to Yushchenko's associates but stopped short of saying explicitly that the money were intended to support Yushchenko's presidential bid.

Financing election campaigns in Ukraine from abroad is illegal, and Kravchuk suggested that should Berezovskii's involvement in Yushchenko's presidential campaign be confirmed by investigators, the parliament could impeach Yushchenko. Since there is no impeachment procedure in Ukrainian legislation, deposing Yushchenko in such a way is completely unlikely. But it is obvious that the allegations connected with Berezovskii have shattered the president's political stature and encouraged the opposition that was defeated in the Orange Revolution.

Apart from a live appearance on the Inter television channel on 9 September, Tymoshenko kept a rather low profile during the 10 days of deeply embarrassing public wrangles between the former Orange Revolution allies. She avoided attacking Yushchenko personally, pointing an accusing finger at his associates. But many believe that she is the main backstage inciter of Yushchenko's current troubles, including the parliamentary flop with Yekhanurov. Some Ukrainian media alleged that Tymoshenko's emissaries offered lawmakers $30,000 to vote against Yekhanurov. On 21 September Tymoshenko declared that despite all that has happened in the past two weeks, she wants to make peace with Yushchenko and return to his team as the head of a new cabinet. However, the publicizing of the alleged Yushchenko-Berezovskii connection seems to be a point of no return for the previous Yushchenko-Tymoshenko tandem.

Yushchenko will most likely overcome his current gridlock, installing either Yekhanurov or some other politician as prime minister. But it is already obvious that his authority has been dealt a serious blow, from which he will be unable to recover fully. And this means that the Orange Revolution has actually come to an untimely end, leaving a lot of unfulfilled promises and a bitter taste of disappointment for many Ukrainians. The upcoming campaign for the 2006 parliamentary elections seems to be fraught with more indecorous public clashes between the pro-Yushchenko and pro-Tymoshenko followers.

The Failure And The Success

While attending the celebrations of the 25th anniversary of Solidarity in Gdansk by the end of August, Yushchenko said the Orange Revolution proved that the ideals of Solidarity are still alive. He obviously did not anticipate that two weeks later the ideals of the Orange Revolution would be shattered in such a ruthless manner. The Solidarity movement too, like the Orange Revolution, ended in a bitter internal rivalry and a return of its rivals to power. However, Solidarity left in its wake a functioning democracy and irreversible economic reforms that changed Poland for the better. There is no such comfort for Yushchenko and Ukraine. The Orange Revolution leaves the political scene with an unreformed economy and a defective democracy.

There is some hope, nonetheless. The Orange Revolution has initiated the growth of robust civil society and strengthened independent media in Ukraine. And the Orange Revolution has left a political reform that will soon shift the balance of power from the president to the parliament and the prime minister. Considered by Yushchenko as his failure, this political reform objectively seems to be pushing Ukraine closer to European democracies and away from Eurasian authoritarian systems. This legacy of the Orange Revolution, if cultivated and developed, may make the aftertaste of what happened in the past two weeks in Ukraine less bitter.

See also:

"Georgia/Ukraine: Citizens See No Improvement In Society, Economy After Revolutions"

For weekly news and analysis on Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova, subscribe to "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report."

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.