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....COMPLAINS OF THREAT TO WTO BID. In his June 15 remarks to reporters in Shanghai, President Putin also slammed what he said are unfair U.S. demands that are holding up Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), international news agencies reported. He added nonetheless that he hopes Russia's WTO membership can be finalized before the St. Petersburg summit of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries in July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 13, May 10, and June 7 and 13, 2006). Putin stressed that "we're not joining the United States, we're joining the WTO." He also criticized U.S. policy toward the Hamas-led government of the Palestinian Authority, saying that cutting off its funds, as the United States and EU have done, only makes matters worse. Putin went on to blame Western countries for having backed the 2005 Orange Revolution in Ukraine, arguing that Western policies have led to a polarization in that country. PM
END NOTE: OUR UKRAINE TAKES STEPS TOWARD UNLIKELY COALITION xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST SENTENCED FOR SLANDERING PRESIDENT. A court in Orsha, Vitsebsk Oblast, on June 15 sentenced Mikalay Razumau to a three-year restricted-freedom term, finding him guilty of slandering President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. "Restricted-freedom" punishment, known in post-Soviet prison slang as "khimiya," means that a convict has to live in a sort of prison barracks, work for a specified enterprise or organization in a designated area, and report to the barracks administration at an appointed time every day. The incriminating evidence against Razumau was a videotape showing opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich's meeting with voters in February. Razumau reportedly said at that meeting that Lukashenka was involved in the disappearance of opposition politicians Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar in 1999. In 2003, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) rapporteur Christos Pourgourides released a report suggesting that Belarusian top-ranking officials might have been involved in arranging the disappearance of Belarusian opposition figures. Pourgourides also alleged that "steps were taken at the highest level of the state to actively cover up the true background of the disappearances" (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," August 10, 2004). JM
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT PLEDGES TO OUTPACE EU IN MUTUAL RAPPROCHEMENT. Lukashenka on June 15 said Belarus will respond by two or three steps to each step made by the European Union toward cooperation, Belapan reported. Lukashenka was receiving credentials from Ambassador Ian Boag, the Kyiv-based head of the Delegation of the European Commission to Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova. Lukashenka expressed readiness to accept not only European but also any other civilized and human values and follow them if they meet the interests of the Belarusian people and do not run counter to the country's constitution and laws, which he said are no less civilized than those of European states. The Belarusian president assured the EU envoy that universal human values are the cornerstone of the Belarusian government's policies. Simultaneously, Lukashenka stressed that Belarus will reject any attempts at dictating what it should do and at interfering in its internal affairs. JM
FORMER ORANGE ALLIES CONTINUE COALITION TALKS IN UKRAINE. Leaders of Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT), and the Socialist Party of Ukraine (SPU) -- the three allies in the 2004 Orange Revolution -- met in Kyiv on June 16 to discuss the creation of a broader coalition that would also include the Party of Regions, Ukrainian media reported. Yuliya Tymoshenko told reporters after the meeting that her bloc categorically rejected Our Ukraine's proposal to form a government with the Party of Regions. "We have considered and continue to consider the Party of Regions as a clan left by [former President Leonid] Kuchma in legacy for Ukraine," Tymoshenko added. The former Orange allies are to continue their talks on June 17. "We have agreed to continue looking for an agreement," Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov from Our Ukraine commented on the June 16 round of talks. Simultaneously, Our Ukraine is conducting coalition talks with the Party of Regions led by Viktor Yanukovych. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DECLARES SYMPATHY, BUT NOT INVOLVEMENT... Viktor Yushchenko said in a statement released on June 15 that he remains "an adherent of an Orange democratic coalition," Ukrainian media reported. Yushchenko blamed the BYuT and the SPU for the failure to form such a coalition following the March 26 parliamentary elections. "These talks have reached a dead end because of the position of one political force that chose [to assume] the post of prime minister and proposed an SPU representative for the post of Verkhovna Rada head," Yushchenko noted. He said he offered SPU leader Oleksandr Moroz the post of National Defense and Security Council secretary in order to overcome the negotiating impasse but added that Moroz rejected this proposal. At the same time, Yushchenko emphasized that the president is not a participant in coalition talks. JM
....AND FORMER POLITICAL ADVERSARY CALLS FOR COMPROMISE. Party of Regions head Yanukovych has urged potential coalition partners to reach a compromise on all disputed questions, Interfax-Ukraine reported on June 15. Yanukovych's statement came apparently in response to the three conditions set by Our Ukraine for talks on partnership in a future coalition. Ukrainian media quoted an unidentified Our Ukraine politician as saying earlier the same day that a coalition agreement between Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions is possible if the latter meets three conditions -- gives up its federalist position, cancels decisions by its local legislators to grant Russian the status of a regional language in a number of regions, and abandons its "Ukraine-without-NATO" stance. "[The Party of Regions will react to] official position of the sides, not statements from incognito sources," Yanukovych commented on these three conditions. JM
OUR UKRAINE TAKES STEPS TOWARD UNLIKELY COALITION
After nearly three months of futile negotiations with its former Orange allies, the pro-presidential Our Ukraine has turned to an unlikely partner in its efforts to form a new government. This week, Our Ukraine unambiguously indicated that it would like to form a new government that includes the Party of Regions -- led by President Viktor Yushchenko's main adversary in the 2004 Orange Revolution, Viktor Yanukovych.
The announcement dealt a serious blow to hopes of a renewed Orange Coalition with the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (ByuT) and the Socialist Party (SPU), as Tymoshenko has said her bloc will have no part in a "mishmash" coalition that includes the Party of Regions.
Our Ukraine explained that its coalition talks with its former allies in the Orange Revolution allies broke down because the BYuT and the SPU "have put their ambitions regarding the key portfolios above the will of the Ukrainian people." In particular, Our Ukraine objected to SPU leader Oleksandr Moroz's demand that he be offered the post of parliament speaker.
But the session of the Verkhovna Rada on June 14, which was reopened after two earlier recesses, shed much more light on the coalition-building process in Ukraine. Tymoshenko charged from the parliamentary rostrum that Our Ukraine was intentionally dragging out the coalition talks in order to leave them in the end and conclude a power-sharing deal with the Party of Regions. "I can tell that, indeed, it is becoming obvious [and] absolutely clear today that all this protracted, degraded, disgraced Orange negotiating process was an absolute smokescreen for real intentions, real plans, and real preferences," she said.
The newly elected Verkhovna Rada, which opened its session on May 25, needs to form a ruling majority by June 25. According to the Ukrainian Constitution, which was amended during the 2004 Orange Revolution, the president has the right to dissolve the legislature if it fails to form a ruling majority within one month after its inauguration.
Tymoshenko also claimed on June 14 that the former Orange allies had reached a complete understanding on the program of a new government, thus reinforcing her argument that the collapse of the talks was a premeditated ploy by Our Ukraine. "And I will tell you that yesterday and [even] the day before yesterday, we reached an agreement on all programmatic principles, on absolutely all positions," she said. "There was not a single difference of opinion, either on [the sale of] land, or NATO [membership], or the development of the country."
In order to salvage the talks to form an Orange coalition, Moroz declared that he would give up his aspiration to become speaker in exchange for a "proportional" distribution of other government posts among the coalition partners.
Tymoshenko and Moroz have not formally abandoned the coalition talks but have given clear indications that they have no intention of participating in a government with the Party of Regions.
As for the Party of Regions, it responded to Our Ukraine's invitation favorably and promptly. Lawmaker Mykola Azarov, one of the party's leaders, declared on June 14 that his party is ready to shoulder responsibility for forming a government. And he simultaneously tried to defuse fears that the Party of Regions, widely seen as a pro-Russia force, would obstruct Ukraine's European integration. "The Party of Regions sees the future [of our country] in a united European home," he said. "In connection with this, we support the state's course toward European integration of Ukraine."
Another Party of Regions lawmaker revealed on June 15 that the Party of Regions and Our Ukraine already held talks on June 14 and expect to come up with a coalition deal early next week.
If such a coalition indeed becomes reality, what would Ukraine gain? First and foremost, the Ukrainian government would become more stable. Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions control between them 267 votes in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada, which is substantially more that the 243 votes controlled by a potential Orange coalition.
Second, Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions are more likely to agree on a more consistent economic program than a potential Orange coalition. Both groups are essentially liberal in their economic views. In contrast, Tymoshenko is an advocate of state interventionism in economy, while Moroz and his party are in favor of planned economy.
What, then, are the main negative aspects of the Yushchenko-Yanukovych alliance? The Party of Regions remains hostage to the promises it made in eastern and southern Ukraine during the parliamentary elections earlier this year, particularly those on forging closer ties with Russia, giving official status to the Russian language, and on putting an end to talk of Ukraine joining NATO.
These contentious issues could bring about a significant review of Kyiv's foreign-policy priorities or provoke the comeback of the inconsistent "multivector" foreign policy that was characteristic of former President Leonid Kuchma's term in office. In either case, Ukraine's chances of integrating with European and Euro-Atlantic structures would diminish considerably.
Since politicians from the Party of Regions constituted the backbone of the Kuchma regime, which was widely criticized for antidemocratic practices and shady economic deals, it would be difficult to envision them doing anything to promote democratic values or transparency in business in today's Ukraine.
Last but not least, a Yushchenko-Yanukovych governing alliance would definitely put an end to the expectation incited by the Orange Revolution that "bandits will go to prison." It is unimaginable that Yushchenko could now prosecute his political allies for what he saw in 2004 as their involvement in vote rigging and/or dishonest privatizations.
The current process of building a coalition in Ukraine is a typical illustration of the cynical political mantra that there are no permanent allies in politics, only permanent interests. Many Ukrainians may find it very difficult to come to terms with what happened to the expectations nourished by the Orange Revolution in 2004. But there is still hope that at least some of the "permanent interests" of coalition builders overlap with those of ordinary Ukrainians.