Tymoshenko Discusses EU, Energy In Washington
Her whirlwind tour of Washington began with an appearance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington on February 28.
Her message to policymakers in Washington, including meetings with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, was that she and her political party, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, remain the strongest democratic alternative in Ukraine to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's pro-Russian Party of Regions.
The former prime minister devoted much of her speech at the CSIS -- and, indeed, her visit to Washington -- to Ukraine's relations with Western institutions. In particular, she spoke about her party's objective of gaining European Union membership.
However, that same day, German Chancellor Angela Merkel poured cold water on these aspirations, telling Yanukovych in Berlin that the best Ukraine could hope for in the foreseeable future would be a free economic zone between Ukraine and the EU. Merkel indicated that EU membership was not likely for the next 10 years.
For now, Ukraine looks likely to remain in the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), an EU foreign-policy framework designed to increase integration of countries on the union's borders.
Even the most pro-Western Ukrainian politicians have rejected the ENP as being unfair and discriminatory -- or as some have dubbed it, "the EU doctrine of separate but equal."
There could be other options, though. Tymoshenko told the audience at the CSIS that Yanukovych's deputy prime minister, Mykola Azarov, recently revived the old alternative plan to EU membership -- that Ukraine join with Russia in the Single Economic Space. Tymoshenko said that she was opposed to this plan.
But with Belarus currently estranged from Moscow and the Central Asian states engaged in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, it is not clear what the Kremlin intends to do with the original Single Economic Space plan.
The second major focus of Tymoshenko's message in Washington dealt with Ukrainian energy security and her criticism of RosUkrEnergo, the Swiss-based gas intermediary company, which is responsible for deliveries of natural gas to Ukraine from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan.
Tymoshenko was openly hostile to the activities of RosUkrEnergo and warned her audiences that this company was intent upon establishing full control over the Ukrainian energy market.
An uncomfortable moment for Tymoshenko came during her briefing at the CSIS when a journalist asked her why she had not visited the United States in over 10 years, and was this in any way related to her relationship with former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who was found guilty in a U.S. court on money-laundering charges. The journalist asked whether she was afraid of being arrested upon entering the United States. Tymoshenko parried the question, saying that her appearance in the United States was proof that all was well.
In the first indictment of Lazarenko by the U.S. Justice Department, Tymoshenko and her company, Unified Energy Systems of Ukraine, are named as co-conspirators of Lazarenko and she was accused of giving a substantial bribe to Lazarenko. The charges linking Tymoshenko to Lazarenko were later dropped from Lazarenko's indictment as they were not deemed to be within the jurisdiction of a U.S. federal court.
Retribution Behind Calls For Early Ukrainian Elections
A week earlier two opposition parties, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and Our Ukraine, signed a unity deal in which they pledged to seek early parliamentary elections.
Is Ukraine poised to plunge into a whirlwind of electioneering this year?
"We see that the situation is getting out of control, including the president's control," Party of Regions lawmaker Vasyl Kyselyov told journalists two days before submitting his draft bill to the legislature.
"Therefore I, as a people's deputy, am working out a draft bill, or a draft resolution, on simultaneous early presidential and parliamentary elections in the fall, approximately on September 30."
The next presidential election in Ukraine is due in 2009, the parliamentary ones in 2011.
Kyselyov's initiative seems to be the ruling coalition's "asymmetric" response to the opposition's formalized vow to seek early parliamentary elections.
Will the Verkhovna Rada put the bill on early parliamentary and presidential elections on its agenda?
Ivan Bokyy, head of the Socialist Party parliamentary caucus, believes that if the political rivalry between Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and President Viktor Yushchenko continues, Kyselov's proposal may be not only put to a vote but also endorsed by the ruling coalition.
"There is madness on the part of one political force, and the other political force has also begun to go mad and wants to propose this madness to all of Ukraine," Bokyy said. "But if this madness goes on, if this affliction is not cured on Bankova Street [in the presidential administration] or in parliament, if there is not enough sense to realize that playing with the idea of the dissolution of parliament is hopeless, we will have to support this [bill]."
Yanukovych and Yushchenko have recently locked horns with each other over a bill that extends the powers of the cabinet and the parliament at the expense of the president.
Yushchenko vetoed the bill but the ruling coalition of the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party managed to override his veto with the help of the opposition Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc. Yushchenko subsequently appealed against the bill to the Constitutional Court.
In what seemed to be a political tit for tat, the ruling coalition rejected Yushchenko's nominees for the posts of foreign minister and head of the Security Service.
Shaky Legal Ground
Ukrainian political analyst Kostyantyn Bondarenko believes that early elections could be a way out of the current political standoff in Ukraine.
"There are no legal grounds [for early polls] but there is a problem of confrontation and a problem of the dead end in which Ukraine has found itself because of the institutional confrontation between the Cabinet of Ministers and the Presidential Secretariat," Bondarenko said. "[Such elections] would not be the worst scenario."
Bondarenko is right in suggesting that Kyselyov's draft bill on holding early parliamentary and presidential polls makes no legal sense.
Staging early parliamentary elections is the exclusive constitutional prerogative of the president, who calls for such polls if the Verkhovna Rada fails to form a majority within 30 days after its first sitting or a new cabinet within 60 day after the dismissal or resignation of the previous one; or, if it fails to gather for a sitting within 30 days during an ongoing parliamentary session.
Thus, in order to produce formal grounds for early parliamentary elections, the ruling coalition would need to prohibit its lawmakers from convening for a month rather than pass a bill with no legal force.
The current Verkhovna Rada convened for its first sitting in late May 2006. The parliamentary majority supporting Yanukovych's cabinet was formed in early August 2006, thus apparently overstepping the time frame set by the constitution by more than a month. Consequently, if the Constitutional Court confirmed that Yanukovych's cabinet was formed beyond this time frame, Yushchenko could dissolve the legislature and call for new elections.
The Basic Law
The Ukrainian Constitution stipulates that an early presidential ballot may be held only after the incumbent president has resigned or died, has been unable to perform his duties because of his health, or has been impeached by parliament. Clearly, no such preconditions are present in Ukraine.
Lawmakers from the ruling coalition seem to realize, too, that Kyselyov's draft bill is more of a propaganda move than a real threat to Yushchenko's presidency. Lawmaker Volodymyr Zubanov from the Party of Regions suggested that Yushchenko could resign as Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine's first president, did in 1994 in order to defuse a political confrontation.
"In 1994, when there was a parliamentary and presidential crisis, Kravchuk agreed to leave his post before the end of his term and hold an early election," Zubanov said. "I think that today it would be timely for Yushchenko to step down and hold early [parliamentary and presidential] elections on September 30."
But Yushchenko has no intention of following in Kravchuk's steps. Last week Yushchenko said the idea to hold an early presidential election is "provocation, blackmail, and psychological pressure." According to him, potential early parliamentary elections would reinstall the same political forces in parliament that are there now.
This week, Yanukovych also went public and said that the calls for early parliamentary and presidential elections are "groundless." Yanukovych's statement may imply a withdrawal of Kyselyov's draft bill from the legislative agenda.
The Tymoshenko Factor
However, the topic of early parliamentary elections is likely to remain on the public agenda in Ukraine. This because the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, a major opposition force in the country, seems to be interested in having such polls.
According to recent sociological surveys, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc could count on some 28 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections -- that is, 6 percent more than it won in the March 2006 ballot.
Surveys also suggest that the Party of Regions could repeat its election result from 2006 by winning 32 percent of the vote. The heaviest losers would be Our Ukraine with only 7 percent of the vote (14 percent in 2006) and the Socialist Party, which currently scores below the 4 percent voting threshold required for parliamentary representation.
Yuliya Tymoshenko, who had a series of high-profile meetings and talks in Washington last week, returned to Kyiv with the news that the West would support early parliamentary elections in Ukraine if they were "constitutional, democratic, and legal." She appears determined to pursue the early-election idea for some more time.
(Tetyana Yarmoshchuk from RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service contributed to this report.)