Ukraine, which has spent much of the past four years mired in political squabbles, has once again cast its democratic future in doubt with the formal dissolution of its governing coalition.
The decision ends the partnership between onetime Orange Revolution allies Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko. It may also put a damper on further cooperation between Kyiv and the West.
Parliament speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk, announcing the coalition's collapse to lawmakers, called the move "long expected, but extremely sad."
Not everyone was disappointed, however. Viktor Yanukovych, the longtime outsider as the head of the pro-Russian Party of Regions, expressed satisfaction at the demise of the so-called Orange coalition.
"The carriage has arrived and it is stuck in the mud," Yanukovych told parliament. "This so-called democratic coalition, which in fact never existed, has disappeared like dew under the sun."
The dissolution is the latest setback in Ukraine's rocky political evolution since the 2004 Orange Revolution carried the charismatic team of Yushchenko and Tymoshenko to power.
The two officials, whose pro-Western partnership quickly disintegrated into an intense political rivalry, have attempted to maintain a formal collaboration for much of the last four years.
But their latest union, a ruling parliamentary coalition joining President Yushchenko's Our Ukraine with Prime Minister Tymoshenko's self-named bloc, lasted only nine months before collapsing amid a feud over Ukraine's political orientation. East Vs. West
At the heart of the dispute is the critical question of whether Kyiv should ally itself with Russia or the West.
Yushchenko, a staunch advocate of EU and NATO integration, lashed out at Moscow in August during its war with Georgia. Tymoshenko, by contrast, was notably silent on the issue, prompting Yushchenko to accuse her of currying favor with the Kremlin ahead of Ukraine's presidential election in 2010.
Tymoshenko has made no secret of her presidential ambitions; Yushchenko, too, will be fighting to retain his post. Eugeniusz Smolar, who watches Ukraine as head of the Center for International Relations in Warsaw, says the coalition collapse and the expected frenzy of deal-making leading up to the presidential contest may bring government in Kyiv to a standstill.
"This news, taken in the perspective of the struggle for the presidency, means that Ukraine for the next 18 months could be sort of politically paralyzed," Smolar says. "This is very bad news for Ukraine, and very bad news for Ukraine's cooperation with the European Union and NATO."
Despite active lobbying by Yushchenko and other pro-Western officials, Ukraine's chronic political discord and internal east-west divide has made it a tough sell for Europe.
Kyiv's EU integration aims were set back on September 9 when bloc officials encouraged closer ties but failed to offer a specific pledge on future membership.
NATO, too, stopped short of extending a Membership Action Plan (MAP) to Ukraine during its annual summit in April. The military alliance will have a second opportunity to offer a MAP to both Ukraine and Georgia -- whose bids are seen as succeeding or failing together -- when its foreign ministers meet in December. Given Ukraine's political turmoil and the recent unrest in Georgia, however, neither country can be certain that a MAP is on the cards.
The September 16 announcement is the formal conclusion of a process begun on September 3, when Yushchenko pulled Our Ukraine out of the coalition following Tymoshenko's vote with the rival Party of Regions to pass laws reducing presidential powers. Our Ukraine's 10-day deadline to reverse the decision expired on September 13.
The 2004 Orange Revolution brought Yushchenko and Tymoshenko to power.
The parliament now has 30 days to either form a new coalition or call fresh elections. Some, including Smolar, see a potential partnership being forged between the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc and the Party of Regions.
Such a deal would be met with smiles in Moscow, which has watched Kyiv's steps toward with the West with growing annoyance. But Smolar says there is no reason to blame Kremlin meddling for the current state of affairs in Ukraine -- responsibility for that, he says, falls to Tymoshenko and Yushchenko.
"Analyzing the relationship between Mrs. Tymoshenko and President Yushchenko -- in this animosity, if not outright enemy-like relationship -- you don't need Russia to see that nothing is moving there," he says. "This parliament was blocked. We all have some kind of sentiment toward the so-called Orange Revolution partners, but I think we should forget about that." with agency reporting