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Ukraine: Relations With The West On 'Pause'

Prof. Robert Legvold (archive) (Courtesy Photo) PRAGUE, July 28, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- For four months, Ukraine has been in the grips of a political deadlock. Robert Legvold, a professor of political science at New York's Columbia University, says that recent constitutional changes granting new powers to the Verkhovna Rada have created a situation where lawmakers are fighting over power, not policy.

RFE/RL: It's been four months since parliamentary elections in Ukraine. How would you describe the political climate there, given the protracted struggle to form a government?

Robert Legvold: I think Ukraine has now moved into a very difficult period, because in many ways the underlying trends that had been there for some time -- notwithstanding the November-December Orange Revolution in 2004 -- have now really settled in and created a kind of paralysis or political stasis within the system that I think is likely to be there for some time. I don't see an easy way out.

RFE/RL: To what degree are the current difficulties a result of the new constitutional shift in power away from the presidency toward the parliament?

"This struggle to get a government already proves the difficulty that any government that would be formed will have in actually conducting a national political and economic agenda."

Legvold: The new arrangements, by weakening the presidency and empowering both the Rada and the prime minister's slot, virtually guaranteed that with an election as close as the March election, that there would be this incredible struggle among the different political groups, particularly since the results of the elections were not decisive and it created the grounds for the struggle.

RFE/RL: Why have the various political factions been unable until now to form a government? Is this a clash of personalities, or a battle over more substantive policy issues?

Legvold: That struggle was more intense because the stakes in the political contest are essentially only over power and influence within institutions and they're not fundamental conflicts over policy. And in any political system that's well-functioning, normally you want political differences and political contests to be about political alternatives, policy alternatives, and that's not what's happening in Ukraine.

RFE/RL: Ahead of the elections, many were anticipating the possibility of a partnership between Yushchenko's Our Ukraine and Yanukovych's Party of Regions. It seemed like a compromise that Yushchenko could accept -- but only as long as Yanukovych was not made prime minister. Four months later, does Yushchenko still have the political clout he needs to say no to Yanukovych?

Legvold: I think his ability to say no and stick by it is very considerably weakened. It doesn't mean he won't attempt to do it. When I first thought about what might happen coming out of the election, one of the possibilities did seem to me to be an alliance between the Yushchenko group and the Party of Regions. But we got to it in a very cluttered fashion, not the least because of this imponderable that emerged at a critical stage -- that is, the Socialists' and [party head Oleksandr] Moroz's decision to defect from the other coalition. And that's what caused all of this to unravel, and pushed Yushchenko into what was certainly something he didn't want, which was to take seriously a cooperation with the Party of Regions.

RFE/RL: So what now? Will Ukraine get a working government?

Legvold: I think the future is not terribly promising in terms of clear and progressive, coherently pursued policy. This struggle to get a government already proves the difficulty that any government that would be formed will have in actually conducting a national political and economic agenda. We have seen now for some years inefficiency in policymaking because of the makeup of the Rada and the changing nature of the government even before Yushchenko came to power in 2004. So I think that situation that we've associated with Ukraine is likely to remain or even get worse in the near term. But it need not produce a crisis.

RFE/RL: Will a new parliament dominated by the Party of Regions mean a complete shift toward Russia, and away from the pro-Western policy that Yushchenko has made the keystone of his presidency?

An anti-NATO, pro-Russia demonstration in Crimea last month (RFE/RL)

Legvold: I don't think that Ukraine is going to engage in political donnybrook at the top level over the question of, say, Ukraine's entry into NATO, or alternatively on the other side, enormous cleavages over the question of the relationship to be built with the Russians, or even over domestic policy. That, however, doesn't add up to an efficient agenda -- that adds up to an agenda that I would describe as lowest common denominator.

RFE/RL: After the Orange Revolution, support for Yushchenko and Ukraine was very high in the West. How much has this protracted crisis hurt Ukraine in terms of Western goodwill?

Legvold: It has not lost international goodwill, but it leaves Brussels and Washington in a quandary, because it appears that any straightforward progress on Ukraine's part that would qualify them for either the EU or the next steps on NATO are under a cloud at the moment. I think what it does is put a kind of pause in Ukraine's relationship with the West, raising question marks about Ukraine. But I don't think it changes their basic attitude, hopes for Ukraine -- including hopes that it can make movement toward integration with the West.

RFE/RL: What about Russia? Moscow is sure to welcome a Yanukovych-led parliament. Does this mean a situation where Russia eases its pressure on Ukraine?

Legvold: With the Russians, it may have actually eased the situation, because I think the Russians have stopped worrying about the so-called colored revolution. I think it'll therefore ease the question of Ukraine as an issue in Russia's relations with the West. And I think given this makeup -- this stalemate in politics -- it also means that the lowest common denominator on the question of Russia and Ukraine is going to favor a civil relationship with Russia, but not one where the Ukrainians roll over, because even Yanukovych and his people are not about to concede everything to Gazprom on a gas deal.

The Orange Revolution

The Orange Revolution

An archive of RFE/RL's reporting and analysis on Ukraine's Orange Revolution.

REVOLUTION IN THE AIR: Listen to an audio portrait of the Orange Revolution from RFE/RL's archives.
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