Prague, 21 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- It was a masterful political gesture. One icon of the Orange Revolution held out her hand to the other just as he appeared to be sinking in a crisis of his own making.
"I want to propose to Viktor Andriyovych [Yushchenko] simply to turn back, unite our forces again, fully join our strategies and form a government together. This should be a strong government, a real coalition government," Yuliya Tymoshenko said.
The question is whether the president is able to accept Tymoshenko's offer. Harsh words have been exchanged and egos damaged in the two weeks since Yushchenko dismissed his erstwhile ally. In parliament yesterday, he derided her performance as prime minister as inept and made a thinly veiled suggestion that she was plotting to destroy the government.
"A cynical plan has been launched in Ukraine to destroy this administration," yushchenko said. "Some of those involved were in the square [Independence Square during the Orange Revolution] and some wanted to disperse those who were there."
But if Tymoshenko was offended by that, she gave no sign of it during a press conference today. "I am ready, even today, if there is a will on the part of the president, to sit down at the negotiating table and bring back our cooperation, bring back all the programs we had planned for Ukraine," she said. "I have no negative emotions about the country's president in my heart. I want to be on the same team with him again."
Taking Tymoshenko back would mean a humiliating loss of face for Yushchenko, and grant a giant boost to the former prime minister's campaign for the critical parliamentary elections in March. But the alternative might be worse.
Yesterday, Yushchenko urged parliament to accept Yuriy Yekhanurov, a regional governor and obvious stopgap, as his candidate to replace Tymoshenko. And he warned that the stability of the state was at stake. "It is not the fate of Yekhanurov -- whether he will be prime minister or not -- that is at stake today," he said. "It is the fate of the president and parliament, whether we can react effectively and adequately in order to ensure the stability of Ukraine. That is the test that parliament has to pass."
"The president's aides and advisers kept conveying the same message to the president: 'Look, Mr. President, your rating is going down while the rating of the prime minister is going up, and she will betray you on the eve of the parliamentary elections. So you'd better act sooner rather than later.'" -- former Tymoshenko adviser
The deputies, though, weren't impressed. By rejecting Yushchenko's man, they left the president's administration in a shambles. The prospect looms of months without effective government -- perhaps even until the elections in March.
All of which may make Tymoshenko's olive branch appear more attractive than at first glance it may appear. And Hryhoriy Nemyria, a former foreign-policy adviser to Tymoshenko, believes there is still more that unites the two figureheads of the Orange Revolution than divides them. He blames Yushchenko's advisers for creating an artificial divide.
"The president's aides and advisers kept conveying the same message to the president: 'Look, Mr. President, your rating is going down while the rating of the prime minister is going up, and she will betray you on the eve of the parliamentary elections. So you'd better act sooner rather than later.' So that was the message -- playing with the ego, playing with envy," Nemyria told RFE/RL.
Nemyria maintains the gap between the former allies can be bridged in the interest of what he called a strategic compromise. "The issue is whether the president can overcome this psychological and political envy -- and that's a challenge for them both -- and then create an atmosphere somewhere down the road for the strategic compromise," he said.
Which means, he added, that Tymoshenko, on the one hand, must accept Yushchenko's emphasis on the importance of collegial government and cabinet unity. Yushchenko, on the other hand, must accept that the drive against corruption be carried out with more vigor than hitherto. Otherwise, Nemyria said, there is not much that divides them.
It sounds straightforward enough. But if egos were bruised before the dismissal of Tymoshenko's government, they're certainly more bruised now.