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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: September 26, 2005

26 September 2005, Volume 7, Number 34
ORANGE REVOLUTION DROWNS AMID MUTUAL RECRIMINATIONS. The Verkhovna Rada on 20 September narrowly failed to approve Yuriy Yekhanurov as head of the Ukrainian government. With 226 votes required for approval, Yekhanurov was supported by 223 deputies. The rejection of Yekhanurov represents a serious setback for President Viktor Yushchenko in the ongoing political crisis in the country.

Yushchenko nominated Yekhanurov on 8 September, immediately after dismissing the cabinet headed by Yuliya Tymoshenko. The dismissal of Tymoshenko was triggered by repeated allegations of corruption in the president's inner circle and a public feud between Tymoshenko and National Security and Defense Council Secretary Petro Poroshenko.

The long sequence of corruption charges was inaugurated by Mykhaylo Brodskyy, an adviser to Tymoshenko. "There is nothing but corruption around Yushchenko," Brodskyy said on 1 September, without producing any evidence. Brodskyy mentioned Poroshenko, Tretyakov, and Transport Minister Yevhen Chervonenko as the most corrupt officials in Yushchenko's entourage.

On 2 September chief of presidential staff Oleksandr Zinchenko tendered his resignation, citing increasing corruption in the presidential inner circle. The names of Poroshenko and Tretyakov were mentioned once again, in addition to that of Mykola Martynenko, head of the pro-presidential parliamentary caucus. Zinchenko also charged that the inner circle, including Poroshenko and Tretyakov, "monopolized" access to the president and restricted the number of those who could see or talk with Yushchenko.

On 8 September Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Tomenko tendered his resignation just hours before the dismissal of Tymoshenko's cabinet, saying that he does not want "to share responsibility with those people who have created a system of corruption." Tomenko added that Poroshenko had created a parallel, "oligarchic" cabinet in Ukraine, obstructing the work of the lawful one.

On 15 September the corruption allegations against Poroshenko, Tretyakov, and some other presidential aides were reiterated by former Security Service chief Oleksandr Turchynov, Tymoshenko's party comrade.

Simultaneously with Tymoshenko's dismissal, Yushchenko accepted the resignation of Poroshenko and suspended Tretyakov. In explaining his decisions, Yushchenko said the former combatants of the Orange Revolution have lost "the team spirit" and chosen to advertise their public images in their governmental posts rather than implement Orange Revolution ideals (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova report," 16 September 2005).

Yushchenko's radical moves were well received among those Ukrainian observers who had since long predicted that the government formed of ambitious revolutionary heroes would eventually get stuck in inner rivalry and discords. It was widely expected that Yushchenko would fully dissociate himself from his feuding comrades-in-arms and make a "new start" with a government of experts rather than politicians. The nomination of Yekhanurov, an experienced technocrat with no political ambitions, seemed to confirm that expectation. However, in his further moves Yushchenko made several serious mistakes.

Yushchenko proved unable to assume the role of a detached arbiter in the conflict and took the side of his aides. He ordered an investigation into Zinchenko's corruption allegations against his aides but simultaneously stressed that he did not believe in their guilt. In the post-Soviet region, such a declaration is automatically interpreted as a veiled instruction to investigators regarding what their final conclusions should be. Predictably, Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun declared on 21 September that investigators had uncovered no evidence of wrongdoing against Poroshenko.

Moreover, apparently feeling he needed a stronger explanation for his "asymmetrical move" -- the dismissal of the entire cabinet to balance out the removal of Poroshenko -- Yushchenko began to assert that he sacked Tymoshenko and her cabinet primarily for their poor performance. Many in Ukraine remained skeptical about this excuse, particularly since in summing up the government's 100 days in power by the end of April, Yushchenko said Tymoshenko's cabinet deserved 12, the highest grade awarded in Ukrainian schools.

But Yushchenko's gravest mistake was to accuse Tymoshenko of abusing her office. On 13 September Yushchenko alleged that Tymoshenko used her cabinet position to write off $1.5 billion worth of state debts of the Unified Energy System of Ukraine, now a defunct company that Tymoshenko headed in 1995-97. Yushchenko also alleged that in addition to having Unified Energy System's debts to the state written off, Tymoshenko also tried to cancel its debts to Russia.

The opposite side reacted immediately, with a devastating response. On 14 September former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk, a lawmaker of the opposition Social Democratic Party-united, charged that self-exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovskii financed Yushchenko's presidential campaign. Berezovskii, in a move than many in Ukraine see as coordinated with Tymoshenko, confirmed that he had spoken repeatedly to Viktor Yushchenko by telephone, met his top aides in London, and agreed to help Yushchenko become Ukraine's president. Berezovskii also confirmed making payments in 2004 to firms belonging to Yushchenko's associates but stopped short of saying explicitly that the money were intended to support Yushchenko's presidential bid.

Financing election campaigns in Ukraine from abroad is illegal, and Kravchuk suggested that should Berezovskii's involvement in Yushchenko's presidential campaign be confirmed by investigators, the parliament could impeach Yushchenko. Since there is no impeachment procedure in Ukrainian legislation, deposing Yushchenko in such a way is completely unlikely. But it is obvious that the allegations connected with Berezovskii have shattered the president's political stature and encouraged the opposition that was defeated in the Orange Revolution.

Apart from a live appearance on the Inter television channel on 9 September, Tymoshenko kept a rather low profile during the 10 days of deeply embarrassing public wrangles between the former Orange Revolution allies. She avoided attacking Yushchenko personally, pointing an accusing finger at his associates. But many believe that she is the main backstage inciter of Yushchenko's current troubles, including the parliamentary flop with Yekhanurov. Some Ukrainian media alleged that Tymoshenko's emissaries offered lawmakers $30,000 to vote against Yekhanurov. On 21 September Tymoshenko declared that despite all that has happened in the past two weeks, she wants to make peace with Yushchenko and return to his team as the head of a new cabinet. However, the publicizing of the alleged Yushchenko-Berezovskii connection seems to be a point of no return for the previous Yushchenko-Tymoshenko tandem.

Yushchenko will most likely overcome his current gridlock, installing either Yekhanurov or some other politician as prime minister. But it is already obvious that his authority has been dealt a serious blow, from which he will be unable to recover fully. And this means that the Orange Revolution has actually come to an untimely end, leaving a lot of unfulfilled promises and a bitter taste of disappointment for many Ukrainians. The upcoming campaign for the 2006 parliamentary elections seems to be fraught with more indecorous public clashes between the pro-Yushchenko and pro-Tymoshenko followers.

While attending the celebrations of the 25th anniversary of Solidarity in Gdansk by the end of August, Yushchenko said the Orange Revolution proved that the ideals of Solidarity are still alive. He obviously did not anticipate that two weeks later the ideals of the Orange Revolution would be shattered in such a ruthless manner. The Solidarity movement too, like the Orange Revolution, ended in a bitter internal rivalry and a return of its rivals to power. However, Solidarity left in its wake a functioning democracy and irreversible economic reforms that changed Poland for the better. There is no such comfort for Yushchenko and Ukraine. The Orange Revolution leaves the political scene with an unreformed economy and a defective democracy.

There is some hope, nonetheless. The Orange Revolution has initiated the growth of robust civil society and strengthened independent media in Ukraine. And the Orange Revolution has left a political reform that will soon shift the balance of power from the president to the parliament and the prime minister. Considered by Yushchenko as his failure, this political reform objectively seems to be pushing Ukraine closer to European democracies and away from Eurasian authoritarian systems. This legacy of the Orange Revolution, if cultivated and developed, may make the aftertaste of what happened in the past two weeks in Ukraine less bitter. (Jan Maksymiuk)

PARLIAMENT COMMISSION SAYS KUCHMA BEHIND GONGADZE ABDUCTION. A Ukrainian parliamentary commission investigating the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze dropped a bombshell on 20 September, when it officially concluded that former President Leonid Kuchma organized the reporter's abduction. The commission also accused current parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn -- Kuchma's former chief of staff -- of instigating the kidnapping.

The British are generally thought to be the masters of the "stiff upper lip" -- maintaining glacial composure and showing little reaction, no matter how shocking the news. But Ukraine's political establishment could teach them a lesson or two.

The reaction to the ad hoc parliamentary commission's shocking conclusions, presented by lawmaker Hryhoriy Omelchenko, has been deafening silence.

President Viktor Yushchenko, who came into office at the start of the year vowing to resolve the Gongadze case -- no matter what the political consequences -- has not commented. Outgoing Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, asked on 21 September for her reaction, said she had other things to worry about. Neither the Interior Ministry nor any other law-enforcement agency has said a word.

When the Yushchenko administration came into office nine months ago, the situation seemed very different. Gongadze's abduction and his murder symbolized the corrupt past that Ukraine's new leaders promised to put behind them. Resolving the case, and bringing to justice the planners and perpetrators, appeared to be of key importance. Gongadze, founder of the "Ukrayinska pravda" website, was well known for his articles about alleged high-level corruption. He was abducted in Kyiv, in September 2000. His decapitated body was later found in a forest outside the capital.

Weeks later, recordings said to be made by one of Kuchma's bodyguards were released in public and played in parliament. The so-called "Melnychenko tapes" shocked many who heard them. On the recordings, a voice resembling Kuchma's tells another man, who sounds like former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, to have Gongadze "removed and thrown to the Chechens."

The fact that a parliamentary commission has now lent credence to the tapes and confirmed what many ordinary Ukrainians have long believed -- that Kuchma was behind the murder -- should be huge news.

The fact that it passed almost unnoticed says much about the disappointed hopes of Ukraine's Orange Revolution, according to Viktoria Syumar of the Kyiv-based Institute of Mass Information. She says it is particularly sad that even Gongadze's fellow journalists took little notice.

"The commission's final report was presented to a half-empty hall and it didn't get much notice from journalists, although I remind you that five years ago, in September 2000, it was the journalists themselves who were the ones who pushed for the creation of this very commission," Syumar said.

Syumar says that unfortunately, the silence of Ukraine's new political establishment and Kuchma's recent behavior would seem to confirm suspicions that the two sides may have struck a secret peace deal over the case.

"It appears [Kuchma] is very relaxed since he has already begun to take an active part in political events, to comment on various issues, to label current politicians. It seems he feels well and very sure of himself. One can explain this easily, since in the past nine months, after so many promises, no steps have been undertaken [against him,]" Syumar said.

Another possibility, she believes, is that Yushchenko and his allies may be pursuing a more Machiavellian strategy -- at the expense of the justice they promised Ukraine's people.

"There is a high probability that this case will be used to secretly blackmail certain politicians -- foremost among them of course, Volodymyr Lytvyn, who is on the Melnychenko tapes," Syumar said.

As further evidence of the authorities' disinterest in getting to the bottom of the case, Syumar notes that Ukraine's Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun, during his recent trip to the United States, declined to meet with Mykola Melnychenko -- the author of the tapes that kicked off the whole case.

What happens now? Probably nothing, according to Syumar. The parliamentary commission has been disbanded and Ukraine's law enforcement bodies have no obligation to follow up.

"The problem is that these conclusions have no judicial status. The fact is that a [parliamentary] investigating commission is a constitutional body, but nevertheless, in Ukraine, there is still no law on such commissions which would regulate their work with law enforcement agencies and which would result in their investigations having a practical impact," Syumar said.

The Interior Ministry recently pronounced the case "closed" with the arrest of several low-level officers it named as Gongadze's killers. It appears that, for the time being, that is as far as the case will go. (Jeremy Bransten)

(RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service contributed to this report.)

NO CLEAR WINNERS FROM GOVERNMENT CRISIS. The Verkhovna Rada on 22 September voted in favor of President Viktor Yushchenko's candidate for prime minister, Yuriy Yekhanurov (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 16 September 2005).

Deputies narrowly rejected Yekhanurov on 20 September, but this time gave him a comfortable majority. Yekhanurov replaces Yuliya Tymoshenko, one of the heroes of the Orange Revolution, who was sacked by the president earlier this month.

Yekhanurov, a regional governor, has promised to keep big business out of government.

Hours of talks on 21 September with the political groups that had opposed Yekhanurov in the first vote insured that the obstacles were swept away. Viktor Yanukovych, who stood against Yushchenko in the presidential election, said he was ready to work in the interests of a stable government:

"The forces represented in parliament are ready today to assume responsibility for forming a government, ready to bear responsibility for creating an efficient, responsible government, and to share that responsibility with the president," Yanukovych said.

The political ruction of the last two weeks has set back the course of reform in Ukraine, and revealed a country so torn by division that, before the 22 September televised vote, Yushchenko felt impelled to appeal yet again for unity.

"I appeal to you as political leaders, I appeal to the civil and business circles -- we must bury the hatchet of war, hide it far under the bench and forget where it is," Yushchenko said.

What place he will find for Yuliya Tymoshenko, whose dismissal earlier this month precipitated the crisis, is not yet clear. On 21 September she said that she wanted to put aside their differences, adding this was not a time for personal ambition.

"I think a new coalition government is an urgent, pressing issue. A coalition government should include people who will work as professionals, who will represent all political forces in Ukraine, because what is happening in Ukraine now calls for unity," Tymoshenko said.

Does that mean, though, that she is ready to respond to Yushchenko's call for reviving the "team spirit" of the Orange Revolution? Or will she turn her attention now to winning the parliamentary elections in March?

Those ballots have more than usual significance in a region of rubber-stamp parliaments, because they'll be followed by constitutional changes transferring much of the president's power to parliament. The battle between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko may merely have been postponed.

The new prime minister at last has his stamp of approval from parliament, but there are no clear winners from Ukraine's latest crisis.

There are plenty of losers though � not least the Orange Revolution itself, whose hopes and ideals have at times seemed conspicuously absent from the political debate. Askold Krushelnycky is a British analyst of Ukrainian affairs and a former RFE/RL correspondent. He is writing a book on the Orange Revolution.

"It's all disappointed many of the Ukrainians who were avid supporters of the Orange Revolution. It's all seemed a bit tawdry and shambolic and has displayed greed and ambition -- the worst characteristics and these have submerged all the tender and visionary hopes espoused by the Orange Revolutionaries not long ago," Krushelnycky said.

Yushchenko has survived, but his political standing and authority look badly damaged by weeks of mud-slinging. He still has to answer adequately the accusation that exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovskii bankrolled his presidential election campaign.

Tymoshenko tried to row back at the last minute, anxious no doubt not to be held responsible for dividing the revolutionary team. But her reputation, too, looks tarnished.

The real victims, though, are the people of Ukraine, the hundreds and thousands who stood in freezing cold last winter to ensure that the Orange Revolution triumphed. They will pass their verdict next year, when they vote in the March parliamentary elections. (Robert Parsons)