PRAGUE, June 22, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- It was to have been a symbolic visit.
U.S. President George W. Bush had agreed to visit Ukraine ahead of the St. Petersburg summit of the G8 group of major industrialized nations in July.
The stopover would have been a show of U.S. support for Ukraine in the face of pressure from G8 host Russia.
But the White House then canceled the visit. Stuart Hensel of the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit suggests the reason may have been the protracted squabbling between Ukraine's pro-Western parties over the terms of a government coalition.
"It is hard to know why Bush canceled the visit. It has never really gotten too far along past the planning stage. But I think that the first real concern on the part of Bush was that he would show up in Kyiv and there would be no government with which to meet," Hensel said.
The Orange coalition that was finalized today -- three months after the country's parliamentary elections -- is the same Orange coalition many people envisaged immediately after the vote.
With no clear majority, it would take the political groupings of President Viktor Yuschenko, former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, and Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz to form a pro-Western government coalition stronger than the election's No. 1 winner, the pro-Russian Party of Regions led by Viktor Yanukovych.
But heated infighting over key posts -- particularly those of prime minister and speaker of parliament -- kept the former Orange Revolution allies from striking a deal in a timely fashion.
Oleksiy Kolomiyets, the head of the Kyiv-based Center for European and Trans-Atlantic Studies, says the deadlock was a serious setback for Ukraine's Western integration.
The timing is particularly poor, given Moscow's increasingly hostile pressure on Ukraine -- most notably in the form of threatened gas price hikes.
Kolomiyets says Bush's planned visit would have sent a welcome signal to those Ukrainians whose faith in the Orange Revolution is beginning to flag.
"Of course, it's a very big failure. Speaking frankly, I had hoped that Bush would come to Ukraine despite the power vacuum," Kolomiyets says.
Kolomiyets says the caretaker government of Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov is to blame for the three-month paralysis, during which jockeying for power and other intrigues took precedence over day-to-day government work.
"The government led by Yekhanurov didn't try to concentrate its inner resources in order to get through this very complicated period that followed the elections in Ukraine and start systemic reform in Ukraine," Kolomiyets says.
The failure to form a government may have also dealt a blow to Yushchenko's ambitions for Ukraine to join NATO. European ministers from the military alliance this month rejected a proposal for a membership action plan for Ukraine. The decision came at a time when Russian-backed demonstrations in Crimea forced NATO to withdraw U.S. troops who had deployed there ahead of scheduled joint military exercises.
Polls show most Ukrainians do not favor NATO membership; whatever momentum Yushchenko may have been able to gather immediately after the elections to persuade them otherwise is now most probably lost.
Ukraine's economy, already in a downward spiral, has suffered as well. Economic growth fell to 2.6 percent last year from 12 percent in 2004. Vasyl Yurchyshyn of the Oleksandr Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies in Kyiv says the prolonged inactivity over the past three months has had a chilling effect on foreign investment, antiprivatization efforts, and tackling budget and trade deficits.
President Viktor Yushchenko (file photo)
"The parliament abstained from making any decisions at all. The president, of course, was issuing decrees, but they were just recommendations," Yurchyshyn says.
Today's agreement on the Orange coalition may come as a relief to those who feared the political impasse would force a deal between Yushchenko's Our Ukraine and Yanukovych's Party of Regions.
But the weeks of negotiations -- interspersed with announcements of agreements that time and again fell through -- have frustrated many people, both inside and outside Ukraine.
Hensel of the Economist Intelligence Unit says the coalition politicians have suffered a significant loss of public respect -- and that it's no longer clear how effective the new government can be.
"The fact that [Our Ukraine] was able, or felt able, to negotiate with both the Orange parties and the Party of Regions at the same time, I think, probably didn't do anything at all in terms of its domestic audience or international audience," Hensel says.
Perhaps the primary victim of the prolonged coalition talks on an Orange coalition is the hero of the Orange Revolution himself, President Yushchenko.
Hensel says the impasse has chipped away at Yushchenko's authority. From now on, he says, few will look to the president as a stabilizing force.
"I think the three months have been fairly costly, and I think one of the persons to have lost most perhaps is Viktor Yushchenko, who once again has showed an inability really to lead his country in a constructive manner and really make the most of the limited chances he has,"Hensel said. "He has not played his game very astutely, I think."
But perhaps it is not just Ukraine's politicians who are to blame for the lost opportunities of the past three months. Hensel says Western expectations were unrealistically high as to what Ukraine could achieve after the Orange Revolution.
The past three months, he says, are a reminder to the international community that "Ukraine still has a tremendous way to go."
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