In a live televised address, Yushchenko named Viktor Yanukovych, the head of the pro-Russia Party of Regions and Yushchenko's main rival in the 2004 Orange Revolution, as the country's new prime minister.
Yushchenko kept the nation in suspense until the last moment. August 2 was the constitutional deadline for Yushchenko to endorse or reject the nomination of Yanukovych as the new prime minister. A rejection would likely have meant the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada and a call for new elections.
A photo gallery of political developments in Ukraine since the March 26 elections (Flash required)
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Nowhere To Turn
Yushchenko, following a meeting with political leaders on the day of the deadline, appeared to hint that the impasse had left him no other options.
"The leading five Ukrainian political forces did not reach an understanding on the key Ukrainian constitutional priorities, the key priorities for national development," he said. "This is the most worrying. The road map, the [declaration of national unity], which was envisaged as an answer to this challenge, unfortunately, was not signed."
Yushchenko was referring to a document his administration had drafted that laid out some 24 priorities for the new government, the most important of which was a pledge to preserve Ukraine as "a unitary and unified state."
This left Ukraine anticipating the president would use his scheduled television address to announce his rejection of Yanukovych and the dissolution of parliament.
Yanukovych and Oleksandr Moroz, the Socialist Party leader and parliamentary speaker, came to the president for last-ditch anti-crisis talks, which continued deep into the night.
Early on August 3, two hours past the expiration of his deadline, Yushchenko announced that he had decided to endorse Yanukovych for prime minister.
"Following from what I have said, I have made the decision to put forward Viktor Yanukovych for the post of Ukraine's prime minister," Yushchenko said. "By this I want to once again stress that I understand the whole complexity in the east and the west of Ukraine, regarding this nomination for the post of prime minister. I call on the country to understand that today we have a unique chance to realize all that we talked about, and to bring the country together for a political understanding."
Yushchenko went on to say that he, Yanukovych, and Moroz -- together with caretaker Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov and Roman Bezsmertnyy from Yushchenko's Our Ukraine -- initialed a so-called declaration of national unity. He gave no details about the terms of the declaration, saying only that it preserved the essential domestic and foreign policies mapped out by his presidential election program.
Ukrainian media reported earlier this week that Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions differed on four points in talks on the declaration: the state language, relations with NATO, relations with Russia, and the status of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
The Communists Drop Out
Although the text of the initialed declaration has not yet been made known, two things are already clear. First, the Communist Party of Ukraine, which proposed Yanukovych as a candidate for prime minister jointly with the Party of Regions and the Socialist Party in July, signed the declaration, but made several important caveats. Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko said he objects to six points in the declaration.
This means the Communists will most likely drop out of the self-proclaimed anti-crisis coalition formed last month after the so-called Orange coalition of Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the Socialist Party notoriously failed to agree on a new cabinet.
Second, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, which in the past repeatedly declared it would never strike a coalition deal with Yanukovych's Party of Regions, will also go into opposition.
Bezsmertnyy and Yanukovych are reported today to have initialed an agreement bringing Our Ukraine into a coalition with the Party of Regions. The second anti-crisis member, the Socialists, is likely to stay in the fold as well.
Change Of Course?
Does the endorsement of Yanukovych for prime minister by Yushchenko mean that the 2004 Orange Revolution has suffered a total disintegration? Is Ukraine about to reverse its political course? Both concerns appear to be exaggerated.
Speaking to a crowd of supporters in Kyiv on August 2, Yanukovych was forced to admit that the Orange Revolution has radically changed the country and that there can be no return to the past.
"We have already come to understand that 2004, all things considered, has opened all of our eyes as to who we are, who stands by us, and what our country is," he said. "I think that this has brought us benefits and, of course, purification."
It is true that Yanukovych objects to Ukraine's bid for membership of NATO, which is a goal fervently pursued by Yushchenko. However, Yanukovych's objection reflects the feeling of a majority of Ukrainians about the North Atlantic alliance, rather than his own deep-seated political convictions.
In 2003, during Yanukovych's previous premiership under then-President Leonid Kuchma, Kyiv sought expanded cooperation with NATO, and declared NATO membership as a strategic goal. So there may be room for compromise between Yanukovych and Yushchenko on this tricky issue.
Yanukovych has also repeatedly declared that he is in favor of Ukraine joining both the World Trade Organization and the European Union, two other goals pursued by Yushchenko. Therefore, his premiership under Yushchenko may eventually prove to be no less "pro-Western" than those of his two predecessors, Yuliya Tymoshenko and Yuriy Yekhanurov.
Mood Of Disillusionment
However, a big setback for Ukraine's new government is the general disillusionment with political elites in the country, which was provoked by the infamous breakup of the Orange Revolution allies in 2005, the virtual lack of reforms in the country, and what is widely seen as Yushchenko's lack of political will and inability to live up to his election promises.
Many average Ukrainians are disillusioned -- and angry.
"Everybody, absolutely all of the Ukrainian people, are sick and tired of this [situation]," one Kyiv resident told RFE/RL on August 1. "Our government and Yushchenko have allowed such chaos that now they can't do anything properly, they can't divide [their] power. They are not fighting to improve the life of the people; they are fighting for posts in which they will be able to rob [the people]. This is what they are fighting for."
If the new government manages to adopt a prompt reform plan and put it into practice, Yushchenko may get a chance "to bring the country together," as he declared while nominating Yanukovych. If not, Ukraine will most likely become even more bitterly divided and exasperated.
Yushchenko supporters attend a rally in Kyiv on December 26-27, 2005
RETHINKING THE ORANGE: The March 26 elections are the first major national referendum on President Viktor Yushchenko and the ideals of the Orange Revolution that brought him to power in early 2005. Opinion polls in Ukraine indicate widespread dissatisfaction with developments in the country since Yushchenko took power. The results of the elections are expected to clarify whether Yushchenko will be able to step up the implementation of his reformist policies declared during the 2004 Orange Revolution or whether he will get mired even deeper in political wrangling with his opponents...(more)
Click on the image to view a photo gallery of some of the key players in the Ukrainian elections.