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Ukraine: Why Did Parliament Sack Yekhanurov's Cabinet?

Yekhanurov will continue as caretaker prime minister (file photo) (AFP) Opposition groups in Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada on 10 January voted to dismiss the cabinet of Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, pushing the country into a serious political crisis amid an ongoing parliamentary election campaign. Although the official reason for the no-confidence motion in the government was last week's deal on gas supplies to Ukraine, it appears that the opposition's desire to undermine the electoral chances of pro-government and pro-presidential forces played a no less important role in the vote.

The no-confidence motion in Yekhanurov's cabinet was backed by 250 lawmakers in the 450-seat legislature, primarily from the Party of Regions led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Social Democratic Party-united, the Communist Party, and two groups supporting parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn. Lawmakers from the pro-presidential Our Ukraine caucus and the Socialist Party, which participates in the government, did not vote.

Simultaneously, the Verkhovna Rada adopted a resolution saying that the gas deal concluded by Naftohaz Ukrayiny with Gazprom and the Swiss-based RosUkrEnergo company on 4 January represents a threat to Ukraine's national security.

Gas Deal

Under the deal, this year Ukraine is to receive 34 billion cubic meters of gas for $95 per 1,000 cubic meters from RosUkrEnergo, which in its turn is to purchase the gas from Russia's Gazprom, as well as from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan.

Ukrainian lawmakers said in their resolution that the 4 January deal violates previous gas accords between Ukraine and Russia, in particular a contract between Gazprom and Naftohaz Ukrayiny of 2002, in which Gazprom obliged itself to supply gas to Ukraine for $50 per 1,000 cubic meters from 2005-09.

The resolution criticizes the Ukrainian government for allowing RosUkrEnergo, an obscure business entity, to become the monopolist of gas supplies to Ukraine. The document also points out that last week's gas deal guarantees the price of $95 per 1,000 cubic meters for Ukraine only for the first six months of 2006, while simultaneously setting a stable tariff for Russian gas transit for five years.

Premier Yekhanurov, who spoke on the gas deal in the parliament before the no-confidence vote, argued that it was the best possible compromise under strong pressure from Moscow, which demanded a price of $230 per 1,000 cubic meters.

Yekhanurov also maintained that resorting to international arbitration over the 2002 gas-supply contract with Gazprom and previous intergovernmental gas agreements with Moscow was not a good option for Kyiv, since, he argued, both sides would have to wait for years for a ruling in such a quarrel.

Opposition lawmakers, however, did not heed these arguments and voted Yekhanurov out of his office, simultaneously charging him with the task of a caretaker until a new cabinet is formed.

Legal Reform

But the formation of a new cabinet may prove to be a tricky task. Under the constitutional reform that took effect on 1 January, it is possible for the current legislature to dismiss the current cabinet but impossible to form a new one. This can by done only by a new composition of the Verkhovna Rada to be elected on 26 March.

On the other hand, President Viktor Yushchenko cannot form a new government either, since the constitutional reform in force gives a decisive say in this regard to the parliament. Yushchenko said in a statement on 11 January that Yekhanurov's cabinet will continue to perform its tasks as if nothing has happened.

Shifting Alliances

If the opposition knew that it is impossible to replace Yekhanurov prior to the parliamentary elections, why did it decide to hold a no-confidence vote in him?

It seems that the primary reason behind the no-confidence vote was to send the strong message to the electorate that Yushchenko and his government no longer represent the people's interests and that voters should look for other depositors of their political hopes.

However, it is not presently obvious that the no-confidence vote can improve electoral chances of major opposition forces. Yekhanurov said the move against his cabinet is likely to improve the standing of the pro-presidential camp in the elections since, he asserted, Ukrainians are rather prone to take the side of a wronged party in quarrels, that is, the government in this case.

As for Yuliya Tymoshenko, the no-confidence vote -- which can be seen as an apt act of revenge for dismissing her from the post of prime minister by Yushchenko in September -- may even harm her election chances.

After her split with Yushchenko, Tymoshenko began to claim that it is her bloc, not Yushchenko's Our Ukraine, which preserves the true ideals of the 2004 Orange Revolution. It seems that she will find it much harder to ingrain this conviction in voters now, after she sided with the Party of Regions and the Communist Party -- firm opponents of the Orange Revolution -- in the anti-Yushchenko vote on 10 January.

What seems to be perfectly clear after 10 January is that Tymoshenko, who until recently remained relatively neutral in her public attitudes toward Yushchenko, has finally decided to take a path of war against him. Therefore, one should expect more anti-Yushchenko moves and statements from her side in the election campaign.

Second, the 10 January vote appears to indicate that one cannot exclude any governing alliance in Ukraine after the 26 March elections -- be it between Tymoshenko and Yanukovych or between Yanukovych and Yushchenko, or once again between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko. The stakes in the elections are extremely high, and what now can be seen as improbable and unthinkable, may become an act of political expediency after three months.



Celeste Wallander directs the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and is a CSIS senior fellow. Before joining CSIS, she was senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C., and associate professor of government at Harvard University. She is the founder and executive director of the Program on New Approaches to Russian Security. Her recent projects include work on U.S.-Russian security cooperation, the history of Russia and globalization, HIV/AIDS in Russia, and the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election. Among her books are "Swords And Sustenance: The Economics Of Security In Belarus And Ukraine" and "Mortal Friends, Best Enemies: German-Russian Cooperation After The Cold War." She is currently writing "Global Russia: Economics, Politics, And Security."

On November 29, 2005, she spoke with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service about Russia's energy policies and how Moscow might be seeking to leverage its influence over its neighbors. Listen to the complete interview.
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To read a transcript of the interview,click here.

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