Friday, September 09, 2005

Ukraine: New government takes form 

(note earlier coverage of events on this blog, chronologically, here, here, and here.) Updates below through 11pm this evening.

If Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko is to come out of this governmental crisis empowered, he is going to need to avoid the newspapers for awhile.

The government's breakup, amid allegations of corruption, deepens a crisis that has cut into the popularity of Yushchenko and left him looking isolated, especially in contrast to the broad coalition that joined in last year's mass protests, which many Ukrainians saw as a new start for their nation.

"Independence Square betrayed," declared the daily newspaper, Kyivskiye Vedomosti, while the newspaper Den pronounced: "Burying the Revolution."

Nonetheless, a new government is being formed, and according to new chief of staff and longtime Yushchenko confidante Oleh Rybachuk, "You will not see business representatives in the new government." You can expect that Ukraine's mainstream media will hammer Yushchenko in the days ahead, as many of the dismissed have ties to media outlets and the previous government.

Part of the PR failure is that there was little planning for this removal of former Prime Minister Tymoshenko. According to several reports (example) there was an agreement on something short of sacking the government during the day, but by night on Thursday the deal had fallen apart when Tymoshenko refused to create a new government without those considered to have dirty hands.

Yuri Yekhuranov, the acting PM, is considered by most to be more pro-Russian, so that perhaps Russo-Ukrainian relations will bemore friendly in the future.

I'll update later this afternoon. Tymoshenko is on the TV station Inter there right now, and snippets of reports indicate she will work "in a different direction" from Yushchenko from now on and is accusing other Yushchenko allies of stealing state funds. It looks like a complete breakup.

UPDATE: This comes from an interview with Alexei Markarkin, in Gazeta (courtesy Johnson's Russia List):

Question: Was the coalitionYushchenko raised to the pinnacle of power [headed by Tymoshenko] doomed to disintegration?

Alexei Makarkin: It would have happened in any case, sooner or later. The stakes are too high. The constitutional reforms that come into effect on January 1, 2006, will shift a great many powers from the president to the prime minister. And the prime minister is to be nominated by the party that win the parliamentary election. It's a different matter entirely that the Cabinet dismissal at exactly this point doesn't benefit Yushchenko in the least. Had it been possible, he'd have preferred to have the coalition last until the election.

Question: If Yushchenko did not want the situation worsening, why would he decide to dismiss the Cabinet?

Alexei Makarkin: Timoshenko forced him as well. She had deliberately aggravated the situation. At first, Yushchenko was of the mind to fire Zinchenko alone. Encouraged by Poroshenko, you know. When Poroshenko solidified his positions in the upper halls of power, Zinchenko of Timoshenko's team made his move and accused men close to the president of corruption. The president had to get rid of Poroshenko after that - or he would have looked like ex-president Kuchma.

If so, and it fits the facts pretty well, you have to wonder why Tymoshenko thought now the time to jump. September is a key month in the Ukrainian economy, which still depends greatly on the harvest to make ends meet for most of the population.

Taras Kuzio argues that Yushchenko's chances for a parliamentary victory -- currently looking slim -- needed a boost.

By acting decisively to remove officials accused of corruption, Yushchenko has
shown that his presidency differs from that of Kuchma, who condoned corruption
in exchange for political loyalty.

Zinchenko has already taken evidence to the prosecutor's office related to Poroshenko's allegedly corrupt activities. Accusations against him may be personally difficult for Yushchenko, as Poroshenko is the godfather of one of Yushchenko's five children.

Yushchenko's decisive actions have resolved the crisis for now. But there remains much to be done and his allies are deserting him. Yushchenko's Our Ukraine parliamentary faction has progressively disintegrated throughout this week. People's Union-Our Ukraine now has only 45 deputies, down from 100 at the beginning of 2005.

Elections are less than five months away.

Interesting analysis also available from MOBster First Ringer. He wonders whether Yushchenko and Tymoshenko could have played good cop-bad cop. This point is well-taken:
Unfortunately, such an arrangement would neither be good for long-term effective governance nor possible given Yushchenko�s deference to cohesion of opinion. But it could have held the coalition together until the March elections and bought time for Our Ukraine to either gain the seats necessary---by election or alliance---to make Yulia and her bloc expendable.
At some point, however, there had to be separation so that Yulia could get the juiced-up prime minister post after the parliamentary elections that coincide with the constitutional change. She would not be able to promise carrots to her supporters with credibility if she was still part of a cleaner government.

Her path is pretty clear now; it remains to be seen whether her time in government allowed her to gain enough political assets to defeat Yushchenko's candidate.

UPDATE 2: (11pm): The NYT covers Tymoshenko's exit speech.
"He practically ruined our unity, our future, the future of the country. I think this step is absolutely illogical."
Scott Clark wonders if she's going to go populist on Yushchenko. I think there's no doubt she will: This is what got her to spot 1A in the Orange Revolution. Scott's prognosis is spot on.
If she did force some kind of showdown pitting her directly against Yuschenko, it would be scorched earth and I don't think it is all that clear she would win. ... People like her decisiveness, but I think they trust Yuschenko more or at least they want to trust him.
But Tymoshenko is not coming out quite so forcefully yet.

In a final attempt at reconciliation, Ms. Tymoshenko said, the president asked her to reach out to her antagonists in the administration. "How could I reach out my hand to them when their hands were busy stealing from the country?" she said.

Now, she said, using the president's name and patronymic: "I and Viktor Andriyovych will go to the elections in parallel ways. It does not mean it is a war. There will be two different teams, with absolutely different people."


Ms. Tymoshenko made it clear that she blamed Mr. Yushchenko's advisers, not the president himself.

"I will not go to the elections with those people who have discredited Ukraine so much," she said. "I do not mean the president but those in his closest circle."

In other words, there's an olive branch here. This may provide context for the earlier comments that Yushchenko thought there was a deal to reconstitute the government with Tymoshenko remaining PM. It would have been better for him, but it appears there was a struggle over posts, and in the end analysis Yushchenko has the upper hand in that decision and used it. If he convinces Ukrainians that he is both clean and decisive, he may be able yet to win a majority in the Parliament next year and then have the prime minister he really wants. Remember: Yulia was a candidate in the elections last year for president, but withdrew and joined forces with Yushchenko when it was pretty clear that they would lose running separately, putting him at the head.

Contra this article from the Times of London, I do not rule out the possibility that they will hold hands in the Maidan next year.

P.S. OK, need to go to bed, but before I do I'm reading Veronica Khokhlova at Neeka's Backlog and Dan McMinn at Orange Ukraine. If you still want more, go there and just scroll...