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...WHO SAYS HE IS INNOCENT. Berezovsky told the BBC on March 24 that he has broken no Russian or U.K. law and has simply called for a change of government in Russia on the model of the "colored revolutions" in Georgia and Ukraine. He stressed that he is firmly opposed to the "Putin regime." Berezovsky added that he has complete faith in U.K. democracy and the independence of that country's judicial system and is confident that he will not be extradited. British Ambassador to Russia Tony Brenton told reporters on March 24 that his country will extradite Berezovsky if a U.K. court decides that the evidence against him is sufficient, Interfax reported. PM
END NOTE: AN ENDGAME FOR UKRAINE'S ORANGE REVOLUTION? xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VOWS TO WORK FOR BUILDING POSTELECTION COALITION... President Viktor Yuschhenko said in a television interview on March 23 that he will actively participate in forging a new governing coalition after the March 26 parliamentary elections, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Yushchenko said he is convinced that the Our Ukraine bloc will form the core of such a coalition, which, he added, should also include the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Pora-Reform and Order Party Bloc, and the Plyushch-Kostenko Bloc. Asked whether Our Ukraine could form a coalition with the Party of Regions led by his former presidential rival Viktor Yanukovych, Yushchenko said Our Ukraine could cooperate with Yanukovych's party on specific issues within the new parliament. JM
...AND WARNS AGAINST ISOLATING BELARUS. President Yushchenko also said in the same television interview on March 23 that he is against isolating Belarus in the international arena or using economic sanctions against that country in the wake of the March 19 presidential vote, which the Belarusian opposition claims was rigged, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "I think it is not a rational policy to work [with Belarus] through a system of economic blockades [and] economic ultimatums, given our ties with this country," Yushchenko said. At the same time, Yushchenko said that Ukraine's "political position" vis-a-vis Belarus is "clear." "If these elections failed to meet the standards of transparency, ignored the freedom of assembly, and denied equal possibilities to all candidates, etc., we will make the same political assessment as that voiced by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe [on March 20]," Yushchenko said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 21, 2006). JM
U.S. OPENS UP TRADE WITH UKRAINE. U.S. President George W. Bush signed a bill on March 23 establishing normal trade relations with Ukraine, international and Ukrainian news agencies reported. The bill revokes the so-called Jackson-Vanik amendment of 1974, which linked U.S. trade benefits to the rights of Jews to emigrate from former eastern-bloc countries. "The bill I sign today marks the beginning of a new era in our history with Ukraine," Reuters quoted Bush as saying. "Times have changed. The Cold War is over, and a free Ukraine is a friend to America and an inspiration to those who love liberty." JM
UKRAINIAN AMBASSADOR TO MOLDOVA SAYS CUSTOMS RULES TO REMAIN AFTER ELECTION. Ukrainian Ambassador to Moldova Petro Chalyy has said that Kyiv will maintain new customs regulations on the Transdniestrian border regardless of the result of the March 26 parliamentary elections, Flux reported on March 23. "Ukraine's position about the customs regime will not be changed even if a new parliament is elected, for the head of state represents the guarantor of the constitution in Ukraine," Chalyy said. Chisinau and Kyiv implemented new regulations on March 3 requiring all goods crossing Transdniester's portion of the Moldova-Ukraine border to clear Moldovan customs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 6, 7, and 8, 2006). The move has met strong opposition from breakaway Transdniester and from Russia. BW
AN ENDGAME FOR UKRAINE'S ORANGE REVOLUTION?
In addition to determining a new legislature with wider powers than those of its predecessors, Ukraine's March 26 parliamentary elections will effectively set in motion a constitutional reform transforming the country from a presidential to a parliamentary republic. The results of the elections are also expected to clarify whether President Viktor 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.
The elections to the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada are the first in independent Ukraine to be contested under a fully proportional, party-list system. In effect, this means the representatives of each party in parliament have been predetermined based on the party leadership's positioning of candidates on its candidates list, leaving voters merely to decide the number of parliamentary mandates each party will obtain.
Only parties garnering at least 3 percent of the vote will be represented in parliament. Ballots cast for parties scoring less than 3 percent will be disregarded by the Central Election Commission in distributing election gains among the winners.
There are also two other important novelties in the election law. The new Verkhovna Rada will be elected for five years, compared to four years previously.
Furthermore, individuals elected to parliament will be barred from quitting the caucus of the party from which they were elected. The clause is potentially very controversial, as it does not include any suggestion as to what to do with lawmakers who might formally remain in a given caucus but vote against it.
The new Verkhovna Rada will have wider prerogatives than its predecessor as a result of the constitutional reform that was passed on December 8, 2004. That reform was seen as a compromise deal between the camp led by Yushchenko and that by his presidential rival Viktor Yanukovych to overcome an electoral impasse at the peak of the Orange Revolution.
Under the constitutional reform, a majority in parliament, rather than the president, will appoint the prime minister and most of the cabinet members. The president retains the right to appoint the foreign minister, the defense minister, the prosecutor-general, the head of the Security Service, and all regional governors.
Moreover, parliament, rather than the president, will have a decisive say in dismissing the prime minister or any other cabinet member. On the other hand, the constitutional reform gives the president the right to dissolve parliament if it fails to form a majority within 30 days after its first sitting, or to form a new cabinet within 60 days after the dismissal or resignation of the previous one.
There are 45 parties and blocs vying for parliamentary seats in the March 26 elections, but surveys indicate that only six or seven of them have realistic chances of overcoming the 3 percent threshold for representation.
The election is expected to be won by Yanukovych's Party of Regions, which leads in opinion polls with backing of about 30 percent. The combined popular support for the two former Orange Revolution allies, the pro-Yushchenko Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, equals or even slightly exceeds that for the Party of Regions.
Analysts say there are two likely options for a future governing coalition in Ukraine, depending on how the main contenders fare on March 26.
First, Yushchenko may try to rebuild the Orange Revolution alliance with Yuliya Tymoshenko, with whom he officially split in September 2005 by dismissing her from the post of prime minister. A Yushchenko-Tymoshenko reunion would mean that Ukraine would continue to stay on track in its efforts to integrate with the rest of Europe, the final objectives being membership in NATO and the EU.
However, this scenario is fraught with some serious problems. Tymoshenko has not concealed that she wants back the prime minister's post. But this is the last thing that many influential politicians in Yushchenko's entourage would like to see happen. A cabinet led by her could very likely stir up another conflict within the ruling camp. Besides, a Yushchenko-Tymoshenko coalition would at best have a slim majority in the Verkhovna Rada, making it vulnerable to the deputy insubordinations or defections that have become characteristic of the Ukrainian parliament.
A much more stable scenario would see Yushchenko's Our Ukraine strike a coalition deal with Yanukovych's Party of Regions. A cabinet supported by Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions would seemingly enjoy the safety net of parliamentary backing. Since Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions are essentially run by oligarchs representing the interests of big business in Ukraine, there would be few obstacles to them agreeing on a basic set of economic, financial, or social reforms.
However, such a coalition might encounter difficulties defining Ukraine's foreign-policy priorities and goals. The parties "traditionally" have opposite geopolitical agendas, largely due to the fact that the Party of Regions' electorate is primarily located in Russia-leaning eastern Ukraine, while that of Our Ukraine is principally based in the west of the country, which has closer affinities to Western Europe.
Finding middle ground between the two in working out a joint foreign agenda would require much wisdom, responsibility, and compromise from both sides. But a resulting alliance could be worth the pain -- it could testify that the two major political forces in Ukraine see the country as an independent political player, rather than a participant in a geopolitical tug-of-war.
One of the principal drawbacks of a potential Yushchenko-Yanukovych alliance is that it would leave Yushchenko open to charges from Tymoshenko and her followers that he has "betrayed" the Orange Revolution by siding with the man who was his rival in the contentious 2004 presidential election. Yushchenko could see his support in western Ukraine erode even further, without any guarantee that he will make up for such losses by gaining support in the east.
Our Ukraine's deputy campaign chief, Roman Zvarych, told RFE/RL that despite the rumors, there will be no coalition after the elections between Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions.
Tymoshenko also has firmly ruled out the possibility of a postelection coalition with Yanukovych. "Our positions are mutually exclusive," Tymoshenko said on March 21. "The political bloc that I head categorically stands for the complete separation of clans and criminals from the government. The core leadership of the Party of the Regions headed by Viktor Yanukovych represents one of the most powerful of such clans, whose intention is to use the government for the purpose of maximizing its capital. Cooperation between the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and Party of Regions is therefore impossible in principle."
Whatever option Yushchenko chooses after the March 26 vote, he will have to keep in mind that days when it was possible to run the country by decree and by bending the parliament to the president's will via pressure, bribery, or blackmail, which was the case under his predecessor, President Leonid Kuchma, are gone for good.