Graham Stack in Minsk -
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has set parties a deadline of Tuesday, October 7 to reach a new coalition agreement, otherwise he will dissolve Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, and call fresh elections.
As of October 3, Yushchenko has had the constitutional right, but not the obligation, to dissolve parliament following the collapse in September of the coalition between the Bloc Yulia Tymoshenko (BYuT) and the president's Our Ukraine/People's Self-Defence (NU-NS).
"I fully understand that I am absolutely entitled to dissolve the parliament today," the presidential press service quoted Yushchenko as telling journalists on Saturday October 4. However, Yushchenko said he could wait until October 7 to see if a coalition appeared.
But hopes for renewing the previous "democratic" coalition by taking on board the small Volodomyr Lytvyn Block led by former speaker Volodomyr Lytvyn were dashed on October 3. Members of the Lytvyn Bloc declared that the coalition negotiations were merely "a cynical political game," according to Lytvyn's faction leader Oleh Zarubinskiy. "The coalition of the three [ByuT, NU-NS, and Lytvyn Bloc] is impossible," he said at a briefing, according to Interfax.
Including the Lytvyn Bloc in the coalition could have restored its majority in the Rada. The coalition had been technically a minority government following the defection of two deputies in June. Without including the Lytvyn Bloc, restoring the coalition would have done little to overcome the political instability and deadlock.
Zarubinskiy's comments adds grist to the mill that the various party leaderships are now only interested in avoiding the blame for unpopular and expensive new elections they are already secretly preparing for. For his part, Zarubisnkiy put the blame for the breakdown of talks squarely on the presidential administration, telling Interfax that, "script writers and directors at N11 in Bankovaya Street are not interested in any coalition in the Verkhovna Rada and are doing everything to make sure that there is no coalition."
Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, leader of the eponymous bloc, also blamed Yushchenko for the Lytvyn Bloc's exit from talks. bne reported October 1 that President Viktor Yushchenko said during a summit in Washington that he had given up hope of re-forming the coalition between BYuT and NU-NS and is preparing for new elections. Yushchenko expressed scepticism October 3 about the genuineness of recent conciliatory moves by Tymoshenko, leader of BYuT. Such moves included a promise to retract the bills passed September 2 that transferred powers from president to parliament that originally caused the coalition to collapse.
On October 3, Tymoshenko went one step further by finally adding her signature to a statement on the Georgian crisis of August that implicitly criticizes Russia. She then claimed at a press conference that BYuT had now complied with all conditions NU-NS and the president had specified for renewing the coalition, passing the buck back to Yushchenko.
Tymoshenko's BYuT party stands to gain at the expense of the pro-presidential NU-NS in the event of fresh elections. This makes Yushchenko's claims that Tymoshenko is only going through the motions of talks very plausible.
However, BYuT is still only neck-and-neck with the opposition pro-Russian Party of Regions (PR) at 25%. Thus, for Tymoshenko to form a stable government following elections, she has to take votes off PR. The best way for her to do this is to shift to a (relatively) pro-Russian platform by deemphasizing, and perhaps dropping altogether, the divisive policy of Ukrainian accession to Nato. This is what Tymoshenko seems about to do. During the Georgian conflict, she kept a conspicuously low profile, and has sounded conciliatory notes towards Russia. This has met with a warm response from Moscow and rewards.
On October 2, Tymoshenko flew to Moscow for talks over crucial gas imports with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. She came home with a deal going forward that was considerably softer for Ukraine than many had anticipated, especially with Putin simultaneously accusing Ukraine of supplying arms to Georgia. The gas deal provides for a three-year transition for gas delivered by Russia to Ukraine to reach European price levels minus transit differential. There were fears Russia would demand world market prices staring in 2009. Even so, the final 2009 price has not yet been specified, meaning that Moscow is retaining leverage until a later date.
However, Tymoshenko's shift towards Moscow, aimed at taking votes off PR, has opened up an unbridgeable chasm between her and Yushchenko. Members of Yushchenko's entourage have openly accused Tymoshenko of treason, and the Ukrainian secret service SBU has investigated her on suspicion of actions harmful to national interests.
The standoff between the two reached new heights as Tymoshenko was preparing to fly to Moscow on October 2. The government plane that she was meant to travel on was commandeered at the last minute by Yushchenko to take him to the West Ukrainian town of Lvyv. Tymoshenko was forced to charter a Slovenian jet instead. The presidential administration claimed that the presidential jet had been damaged, and there was no reserve plane. However, adding to the farce, the Transport Ministry informed journalists that the presidential plane had been in perfect working order.
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