(Euobserver) The upcoming Ukraine elections will be as critical for the future of eastern Europe as the Orange Revolution, Ukraine opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko told MEPs in Brussels on Wednesday (1 February), while pledging to work toward EU integration with president Viktor Yushchenko, if her party wins.

"The situation in Ukraine calls into question the whole geopolitical strategy of the region," she stated. "It's not simply a legislative vote. Do not think the election will change nothing. The elections are a new call, a new risk."

The parliamentary elections are scheduled for 26 March, with constitutional reforms in January shifting almost all power from the president's office to the prime minister post.

"To be honest, this is a second presidential election in Ukraine. The prime minister will acquire a broad scope of authority and we are again at the threshold of a very important choice," Ms Tymoshenko said.

She warned that representatives of the old regime grouped around former prime minister Viktor Yanukovych have a 50 percent chance of taking power in March, reorienting Ukraine's trade and defence focus away from the EU and NATO and back toward Moscow.

Ukrainian disillusionment with the Orange Revolution one year down the line is partly based on divisions and corruption scandals in the orange camp as well as economic problems, with average wage levels in Ukraine of just $100 (?83) a month.

Ms Tymoshenko said the gas price row with Russia in January also spread fear that the pro-EU regime cannot look after the country's economic interests.

The dispute saw prices doubling overnight from ?50 to ?95 and Ukrainian heavy industry coming close to standstill when Russia turned the gas off.

Russia plays gas ace
"Russia is very much trying to influence this parliamentary election. I consider the gas deal as a system of governing Ukraine from abroad," Ms Tymoshenko stated.

The 45-year old engineer and oil business millionaire became Ukraine's first post-revolutionary prime minister under president Yushchenko in 2004.

But now she is running against both him and Mr Yanukovych after president Yushchenko sacked her in mid-2005.

The split took place when civil servants in Ms Tymoshenko's inner circle blew the whistle on corruption among key figures in president Yushchenko's clique, including steel baron Viktor Pinchuk.

Ms Tymoshenko plans to form a new coalition with Mr Yushchenko's parliamentary party, Our Ukraine, after the election despite last year's rift.

"We have a chance to be united in the new parliament. I will support president Yushchenko in the new parliament, we will try to join forces," she said, adding "We will not create a coalition with Mr Yanukovych under any circumstances."

Ms Tymoshenko told MEPs she shares president Yushchenko's grand design of getting Ukraine into the EU and dragging its economy from communist era-type monopolies and black markets into modernity.

But she attacked the president's method of making "shadowy compromises" with Ukraine's business clans and the former regime in order to make progress.

Yushchenko method flawed
Ms Tymoshenko said Kiev should do more to punish the murderers of opposition journalist Georgy Gongadze in 2000 and the officials responsible for selling off Ukraine's largest steel company, Kryvorozhstal, for a sixth of its true price in 2004.

"Everybody knows who did this [killed Mr Gongadze], who committed this crime," she said, with popular suspicion in the country fingering former president Leonid Kuchma.

Tymoshenko said Kiev has allowed the Ukrainian black market in steel, vodka and cigarettes from the breakaway Moldovan republic of Transniestria to flourish and promised to target the country's business clans if she comes to power, calling them "a cancer in the Ukrainian economy."

But she reserved her strongest criticism for president Yushchenko's decision to pay higher gas prices despite holding a contract from Russian supplier Gazprom guaranteeing lower price levels until 2009.

She indicated the non-transparent structure of Rosukrnenergo, the Swiss-based firm put in charge of Ukraine’s gas deliveries, is designed to hide further concessions to Russia.

"This is a system to make Ukraine totally dependent on Russia. The deal is a time bomb that could explode at any moment," she stated.


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