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Ukraine: Kyiv's Pro-Western Policy In Doubt

Yushchenko (left) will help determine if Yanukovych (right) will enter the inner circle (file photo) (epa) PRAGUE, July 12, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The scenes of chaos in the Ukrainian parliament on July 11 appear to have heralded a remarkable shift in the balance of power -- and questions as to the future course of Ukrainian foreign policy.

Ukraine's rudderless Orange Revolution is floundering in a crisis largely of its own making. Its once dispirited political opponents are on the brink of a return to power.

Viktor Yanukovych, the main rival of President Yushchenko and seemingly banished to the political wilderness by the Orange Revolution in December 2004, looks poised to become prime minister.

His pro-Russian Party of Regions has forged an alliance with the Communists and the Socialist Party, whose leader Oleksandr Moroz abandoned his former Orange coalition allies in return for a promise to be made speaker.

Decision Time

President Viktor Yushchenko has 15 days to consider Yanukovych's nomination and send it back to parliament for approval. Fifteen days to consider just what Yanukovych might do to his plans for political and economic reform.

Not least in foreign policy. Oleksandr Sushko, the head of the Center for Peace, Conversion, and Foreign Policy, a Kyiv-based think tank, says the whole idea of Ukrainian NATO membership could now be up for review.

"They suggest having a referendum but it is not so important, what is important is the fact that the Party of Regions is opposed to NATO membership," Sushko said.

It's a measure of just how much President Yushchenko has lost the political initiative that it is Yanukovych who now appears more closely in tune with public opinion. Recent polls suggest that Yanukovych's opposition to NATO closely reflects the views of most Ukrainians.

The EU Question

If the Yanukovych coalition comes to power, Yushchenko can also expect a shift in the government's attitude toward the idea of EU integration.

"In this field, they are proposing some kind of vague policy, which would endorse the Ukrainian objective of integration into the EU in a general sort of way without undertaking any serious obligations," Sushko said. "It would mean some kind of protracted, vague attitude toward European integration. In a sense, it could be reminiscent of the approach of [Leonid] Kuchma and his government, which was in power until 2004."

Sushko says that the Party of the Regions is more in favor of close relations with Russia and CIS countries but has no concrete program for dealing with Russia on the energy question and other important practical issues.

Oleksiy Kolomiyets, the head of the Kyiv-based Center for European and Trans-Atlantic Studies, agrees but adds that while the Party of Regions is pro-Russian, it is unlikely to establish such close relations with Moscow as Uzbekistan or Belarus.

Any new coalition, he says, will have to take into account the strong opposition of western Ukraine and many of the central regions to closer union with Russia.

And even if the Party of Regions does dominate the new cabinet, it will be constrained by political reality.

"According to the new Ukrainian Constitution, the president has complete responsibility for foreign policy," Kolomiyets said. "In addition, the foreign minister and defense minister report to him. He also has complete control over the Ukrainian Council of National Security and Defense."

Presidential Obstacle

Kolomiyets says it is very likely that any initiatives to change the pro-Western policy of Ukraine will be effectively blocked by the president, making the new cabinet ineffective.

Sushko agrees and says the likely stalemate might lead to new elections as early as the fall.

Echoing that, former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko on July 11 called for new elections, saying that that was the only way out of the crisis.

For once, she and Yanukovych were in agreement. He said he too would support the dissolution of parliament.

"We don't fear the dissolution of parliament and if it happens I think we will win a definite victory [in new elections] and will finally end this nightmare," Yanukovych said.

President Yushchenko, though, remains silent on the issue of a new vote. Perhaps because it is not clear that it would serve any purpose.

There is no guarantee that a fresh election would not reconfirm the divide between the Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, which favors closer ties with Russia, and western Ukraine, which is urging integration with the European Union.

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.