President Viktor Yushchenko has declared that the political crisis in Ukraine is over. The turmoil began on September 5 with allegations of corruption within his inner circle. Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, a close ally of Yushchenko's, added that there are no longer grounds to speak about a "political crisis" in Ukraine.

The reprieve will be short-lived, as the constitutional reforms coming into effect in January will make it imperative for Yushchenko to obtain a parliamentary majority after the March 2006 parliamentary elections.

Current polls show Yushchenko's People's Union-Our Ukraine (NSNU), the Yulia Tymoshenko bloc, and Regions of Ukraine all poll about 20% each (Kyiv International Institute Sociology, September poll). Three other parties likely to enter parliament -- the Communists, Socialists, and Lytvyn's People's Party -- all poll less than 10% each. With just 5% support, Lytvyn may become the power broker for creating a parliamentary majority.

These low levels of support across the board mean that Yushchenko will need to compromise with the other two large blocs of votes – the Tymoshenko bloc or Viktor Yanukovych's Regions of Ukraine. But a compromise with either political force will bring problems.

Tymoshenko has always demanded a high-profile position in exchange for her cooperation, either prime minister or speaker of parliament. But after Tymoshenko's poor economic performance as prime minister this year, Yushchenko is unlikely to offer her this position again.

After widespread dismay over the memorandum signed between Yushchenko and Yanukovych in September, Yushchenko will have even more problems cutting a deal with his former rival for the presidency. A 2006 NSNU-Regions of Ukraine parliamentary majority would be seen as a betrayal of the Orange Revolution, reform prospects, and Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration.

In the short term, Yushchenko needed to end the immediate crisis if he is to improve his public standing and ratings in the six months remaining before the elections. After eight months of drifting, elite infighting, wasted opportunities, and too-frequent travels abroad, Yushchenko needs to re-assert his authority.

The crisis gave Yushchenko an opportunity to clean out his government before his first year as president ends. Yushchenko's son, Andriy, embroiled in scandal earlier this year, is no longer seen in a $120,000 BMW "on loan" from a member of Yushchenko's entourage, although he still has his $30,000 cell phone.

Yushchenko's only major strategic mistake during the crisis was the deal with Yanukovych. Almost half (47.2%) of Ukrainians supported Tymoshenko's firing and the subsequent political house-cleaning. Yet two-thirds of the new government headed by Yuriy Yekhanurov are holdovers from Tymoshenko, including three Socialist ministers.

Gone are Serhiy Teriokhin (minister of economics) and Mykola Tomenko (first deputy prime minister for the humanities) from the Reforms and Order Party. Reforms and Order party leader Viktor Pynzenyk remains finance minister, but he may lose his party post at an upcoming party conference.

Serhiy Holovatiy replaced Roman Zvarych as justice minister. Unlike Zvarych, whose educational background led to a scandal (see EDM, May 4), Holovatiy is a well-known legal expert who was justice minister in the mid-1990s and headed the Ukrainian Legal Foundation. Holovatiy was expelled from the Tymoshenko faction after he voted for Yekhanurov as prime minister.

In return for his agreeing to be justice minister, Holovatiy demanded the removal of Prosecutor Sviatoslav Piskun, who was duly fired on October 14. Interior Minister Lutsenko has complained that his Ministry found it impossible to work with the prosecutor's office, which was blocking investigations at the local level (Ukrayinska pravda, October 13). The new team at Justice and the Prosecutor's office may spur progress toward resolving Kuchma-era crimes.

Yushchenko also sacrificed several family members, businessmen who helped financed his campaign and the Orange Revolution. Yushchenko fired transport minister Yevhen Chervonenko, his bodyguard in the elections; Davyd Zhvannia, minister of emergency situations; and Petro Poroshenko, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council (NRBO). Both Zhvannia and Poroshenko are godfathers to Yushchenko's children.

The removal of Poroshenko and other businessmen helps repair Yushchenko's image of not relying on oligarchs, as had former President Leonid Kuchma. Poroshenko in particular has very low popularity ratings on a par with Kuchma. Nevertheless, Yushchenko has always defended Poroshenko and other now-removed businessmen from allegations of corruption. Even if these allegations are not proven, Yushchenko would be making a strategic blunder by allowing Poroshenko and other former entourage members to join the NSNU 2006 election list.

In other personnel decisions, Oleksandr Tretiakov's position as first adviser to Yushchenko has been eliminated. Tretiakov, whose business interests lie in the energy sector, had earned a reputation for controlling access to Yushchenko.

Anatoly Kinakh, first deputy prime minister under Tymoshenko, is now NRBO secretary. Kinakh, whose Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs polls barely 1.1%, is a poor choice for this position. Under Kuchma, NRBO secretaries were experienced in national security affairs, but Kinakh -- like Poroshenko before him -- has no background in this field. One of Kinakh's first policy steps was to raise the possibility of Ukraine and Russia jointly integrating into the WTO, a position welcomed by Russia.

Three key ministers have kept their jobs for now. Defense Minister Anatoly Hrytsenko and Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk are both staunchly pro-Western. Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko is currently purging his corrupt ministry.

Yushchenko survived the September political crisis, but still-bigger challenges lie ahead: winning the 2006 elections and taking control of parliament.
By Taras Kuzio, Eurasia Daily Monitor
The Jamestown Foundation
The Action Ukraine Report

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