KYIV, August 4, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Lawmakers in the Ukrainian parliament have finally put an end to Ukraine's four-month political impasse, voting to approve Viktor Yanukovych as prime minister.
Speaking just before the vote, Yanukovych -- who has experienced a remarkable political comeback since his defeat to pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko in the 2004 Orange Revolution -- vowed to work to unite a Ukraine riven by discord:
"I am confident that this government will be efficient, effective, professional and responsible," he said.
The vote, which the 56-year-old Yanukovych won with the backing of 271 of the 450 deputies in parliament, comes one day after Yushchenko swallowed his pride and endorsed the candidacy of Yanukovych, his political archrival.
Two Viktors, One Ukraine?
As the onetime foes prepared to forge a political partnership, one Ukrainian lawmaker joked, "They're both named Viktor -- surely they can get along." People who are eager to see Kyiv get a working government certainly hope that's the case.
The two Viktors on August 3 signed a so-called "universal" -- a declaration of national unity that Yushchenko hopes will show skeptics that Ukraine remains on a Westward course despite the ascent of the pro-Russia Yanukovych to the premiership.
In a televised interview that evening, Yushchenko told reporters that the compromise is the best way to ensure that the visions of Ukrainians in both the east and west are met.
"Imagine if the Orange coalition installed its prime minister and built the entire vertical structure of government," Yushchenko said, referring to the would-be grouping of Orange Revolution allies which collapsed amid infighting in July.
"In the eastern regions of Ukraine, people will believe that something is not right, not fair. This is the feeling of a segment that is ambitious and has many views on how to solve Ukraine's fate, but they are not being allowed to govern."
Still Looking West
The national-unity declaration does affirm the desire to pursue Ukrainian integration with the European Union, NATO, and the World Trade Organization. It also calls for continued reforms and efforts to fight corruption.
But it also makes concessions toward those in the east who favor installing Russian alongside Ukrainian as an official state language. The document refers to Ukrainian as the state language, but includes a vow to guarantee the right to "freely use" Russian.
The declaration, however, is not legally binding. But if Yushchenko's Our Ukraine and Yanukovych's Party of Regions finalize a coalition deal, it is likely the declaration will form its basis. In that instance, it will gain some legal force.
The two parties have taken preliminary steps toward a coalition that would also include the Socialists and the Communists, whose party leaders also signed the national-unity "universal."
That coalition would exclude the bloc of Yuliya Tymoshenko. The former Orange Revolution heroine refused to sign the accord, calling it an "empty document."
"For me, the declaration of principles, whatever has been written there, is a capitulation before forces that have been allowed to come back, and that date back to the time of [former President Leonid] Kuchma," she said.
Relief, Satisfaction, Anger
Yanukovych's confirmation brings Ukraine nearly to the close of the four-month impasse that followed parliamentary elections in which no party won an outright majority.
The anticipated end to Ukraine's political torpor has sparked a range of emotions.
In Ukraine's Russian-speaking east, Yanukovych's rise from the ashes of the Orange Revolution has been met with satisfaction.
"Maybe it was difficult for the president to make this decision, but I think this is a wise choice, and we agree with it," Lyubov Chub, the deputy chairwoman of the Kharkiv branch of the Party of Regions, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.
"A preelection campaign is one thing," she added. "But when there is a threat that Ukraine could split apart, it become necessary to put personal ambitions and contradictions aside and move ahead and make decisions."
One Kharkiv man said the developments heralded a seismic shift in Ukraine's political mindset. It would be only a matter of time, he said, before people in western Ukraine would see Yanukovych as a political adversary.
"In a year or two their opinion will be just the opposite," he said. "It may be that Yanukovych will be even more popular there than he is here."
In western cities like Kyiv and Lviv, however, Ukrainians so far betray little sympathy for Yanukovych and his ilk.
But they expressed equal anger with Yushchenko -- a man they said had betrayed the thousands of people who had come out in force during the frigid winter weeks of the Orange Revolution to bring him to power.
In Kyiv -- whose Maydan (Independence) Square was the nerve center of the 2004 public protests -- Ukrainians were especially frustrated.
"I am not only disenchanted, I am offended," one man told RFE/RL. "We never believed that Yushchenko would betray those who once voted for him. We ask that he come to the Maydan and explain why he did what he did. Not on television, but in person, on the Maydan. Why did he do this? Who needs it?"
Outside Ukraine, however, the overriding sentiment appeared to be relief that Ukrainian politicians had finally put an end to the squabbles and personality clashes that have dominated the past four months.
The U.S. State Department said on August 3 it is prepared to work with Yanukovych, and praised him for abiding by the principles of free and fair elections in achieving his political comeback.
Brussels likewise welcomed the breakthrough in Ukraine. European Commission spokesman Pietro Petrucci said the body was pleased to see the sides reach an agreement.
"We, the commission, think that Ukraine [can have] a stable and reform-minded government and hope that the process of political and economical reforms will continue," Petrucci said.
Russia has yet to officially respond to Yanukovych's nomination as prime minister. The development is no doubt pleasing to Moscow, which feared an Orange coalition in the Verkhovna Rada that would turn its back on Russia in favor of the West.
But Yanukovych, despite his traditional ties with Russia, is not expected to be a completely compliant ally for Moscow. Yanukovych says Russia "is and will remain" a strategic partner for Ukraine -- but that the most important issue for him is to mend the bitter divides within his own country.
(RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, with agency reports)
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