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Ukraine: Our Ukraine Takes Steps Toward Unlikely Coalition

Viktor Yanukovych, leader of the Party of Regions (epa) PRAGUE, June 15, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- What had been considered an unlikely possibility has now happened: after nearly three months of futile negotiations with the parties with which it allied in the Orange Revolution, Our Ukraine has turned to the Party of Regions to discuss the formation of a new government.

If the two parties reach an agreement, the pro-presidential Our Ukraine would team up with the party headed by President Viktor Yushchenko's main rival in the bitterly contested elections that triggered the revolution, Viktor Yanukovych.
"It is becoming obvious [and] absolutely clear that all this protracted, degraded, disgraced Orange negotiating process was an absolute smokescreen to hide [its] real intentions, real plans, and real preferences."

Our Ukraine explained this seemingly improbable move by saying coalition talks with its former allies in the Orange Revolution broke down because the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and the Socialist Party "have put their ambitions regarding the key portfolios above the will of the Ukrainian people."

In particular, Our Ukraine objected to the demand by the leader of the SPU, Oleksandr Moroz, that he be offered the post of parliament speaker.

A Smokescreen?

Yuliya Tymoshenko (ITAR-TASS)

But a session of the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, on June 14 shed a different light on the coalition-building process in Ukraine.

Tymoshenko charged from the parliamentary rostrum that Our Ukraine was intentionally dragging out the coalition talks in order ultimately to abandon them and conclude a power-sharing deal with the Party of Regions.

"It is becoming obvious [and] absolutely clear," Tymoshenko declared, "that all this protracted, degraded, disgraced Orange negotiating process was an absolute smokescreen to hide real intentions, real plans, and real preferences."

The newly elected Verkhovna Rada needs to form a ruling majority by June 25, one month after it reopened. If not, the Ukrainian Constitution, which was amended during the 2004 Orange Revolution, states that the president has the right to dissolve the legislature.

Tymoshenko also claimed on June 14 that the former allies in the Orange Revolution had reached an understanding "on absolutely all" aspects of the new government's program, a statement that, if accurate, would reinforce her argument that the collapse of the talks was a premeditated ploy by Our Ukraine.

Among the key issues specifically mentioned by Tymoshenko were the sale of land, membership of NATO, and "the development of the country."

In order to rescue the talks to form an Orange coalition, Moroz declared that he would give up his aspiration to become speaker in exchange for a "proportional" distribution of other government posts among the coalition partners.

Tymoshenko and Moroz have not formally abandoned the coalition talks, but clearly indicated that they have no intention of joining a government alongside the Party of Regions, with Tymoshenko saying her bloc will play no part in such a "mishmash" coalition.

For its part, the Party of Regions responded to Our Ukraine's invitation favorably and promptly.

"We support the state's course toward Ukraine's integration with Europe."

Lawmaker Mykola Azarov, one of the party's leaders, declared on June 14 that the Party of Regions is ready to shoulder responsibility for running a government. At the same time, he sought to defuse fears that the Party of Regions, widely seen as a pro-Russia force, would obstruct Ukraine's European integration, stating that the party sees Ukraine's future "in a united European home" and explicitly declaring that "we support the state's course toward Ukraine's integration with Europe."

Another Party of Regions lawmaker revealed on June 15 that the Party of Regions and Our Ukraine have already held talks on June 14 and expect to come up with a coalition deal early next week.

Probable Gains From An Improbable Coalition

If such a coalition becomes a reality, what would Ukraine gain?

First and foremost, political power would become more stable. Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions jointly control 267 votes in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada, substantially more than the 243 votes that an Orange coalition would control.

Second, Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions are more likely to agree on a more consistent economic program than a potential Orange coalition. Both groups are essentially liberal in their economic views. In contrast, Tymoshenko is an advocate of state interventionism in economy, while Moroz and his party are in favor of planned economy.

What, then, are the main negative aspects of the Yushchenko-Yanukovych alliance?

The Party of Regions remains hostage to the promises it made in eastern and southern Ukraine during the parliamentary elections earlier this year, particularly those on forging closer ties with Russia, giving official status to the Russian language, and on putting an end to talk of Ukraine joining NATO.

These contentious issues could bring about a significant review of Kyiv's foreign-policy priorities or prompt the return of the inconsistent, "multivector" foreign policy characteristic of former President Leonid Kuchma's rule.

In either case, Ukraine's chances of integrating with European and Euro-Atlantic structures would diminish considerably.

Since politicians from the Party of Regions constituted the backbone of the Kuchma regime, which was widely criticized for antidemocratic practices and shady economic deals, it would be difficult to envision them doing anything to promoting democratic values or transparency in business in today's Ukraine.

Last but not least, a Yushchenko-Yanukovych governing alliance would put a definitive end to the expectation raised by the Orange Revolution that "bandits will go to prison." It is unimaginable that Yushchenko could prosecute his political allies for what he saw in 2004 as their involvement in vote-rigging or dishonest privatizations (or both).

The current process of building a coalition in Ukraine is a typical illustration of the cynical political mantra that there are no permanent allies in politics, only permanent interests. Many Ukrainians may find it very difficult to come to terms with what happened to the expectations nourished by the Orange Revolution in 2004. But there is still hope that at least some of the "permanent interests" of coalition-builders overlap with those of ordinary Ukrainians.

The Key Players

The Key Players

BEHIND THE IMAGES: Click on the links below to read RFE/RL's profiles of some of the key players in Ukraine's March 26 legislative elections:

Click on the image for background and archived articles about Ukraine's March 26 elections.

Click on the image to see RFE/RL's coverage of the Ukrainian elections in Ukrainian.

Click on the image to view a photo gallery of some of the key players in the Ukrainian elections.