Country: Ukraine, Russia
Subject: Ukraine is facing early elections again
In early September Ukraine was driven to a domestic policy crisis, again. A member of the government coalition, the Prime Minister Julia Timoshenko led BJuT together with the opposition Party of Regions voted in favor of the law that would cut the rights of the President and make it simpler to remove him/her from the presidential chair. Timoshenko announced to submit a proposal to abolish the immunity of the President and other elected officials. As a response, President Jushchenko announced coming out from the coalition with his Our Ukraine - People Self-defense group (72 seats).
There were several ways of crisis management. One possibility was to renew the coalition or to hold the early elections (last, it happened a year ago in the country). Another option was to set up a coalition with BJuT and the Russian-friend, opposition Party of Regions in order to keep the ability to govern. The Prime Minister has made some not even too foggy allusions to the possible coalition co-operation of the BJuT political group (156 seats in the Parliament) and the Party of Regions (175 seats out of the total 450 seats of the Parliament). As the Constitution says it is the right of the President to appoint and release the Minister of Defense and the head of the National Secret Service, however, the approval of the Parliament is also required. In this process, though, Jushchenko cannot count on the support of the Parliament.
The Government crisis, besides the inertness of the Orange Coalition, was generated by the way how different political forces relate to Russia. Jushchenko strongly criticized the maneuvers of the Russian Black Sea Fleet during the Russia-Georgia conflict. He threatened the ships of the fleet heading towards Georgian harbours that they cannot return to their Sevastopol base.
Timoshenko believed that the President's statements are a real danger to the territorial integrity of Ukraine since the country's interest is to keep the contracts with Russia. According to the Prime Minister, with his anti-Russia policy, Jushchenko is endangering the country's Western integration, as well. As she says, the EU and the United States would only support Ukraine as a reliable partner to the West by having well-balanced relations to Russia.
With this statement Timoshenko evidently gave a signal to the west- and mid-Ukrainian voters as well as to Russia before the possible early parliamentary elections and the presidential one (Presidential election are foreseen to take place in 2009).
Sensing the evolved situation after the Georgian-Russian war and the various reactions coming from the West concerning the conflict, Jushchenko also hit a more peaceful tone when uttering about Russia. On 14 September he greeted the Russian president Dmitrij Medvedev on his forty-third birthday in a telephone conversation, and invited his Russian colleague at the same time to a Ukrainian visit scheduled for November (Medvedev accepted the invitation). They further more agreed to take on negotiations on the level of ambassadors on 25-26 September about the fleet in the Black See.
Having early elections mostly means the temporal dissolution of the current governmental crises. According to oppositional Party of the Regions this was also in the interest of Jushchenko, who firstly feared the coalition of BJUT and Party of the Region, secondly lost trust in his own force. Jushchenko would currently much more lean on the United Centre Party (Jedjinij Centr), which was established this spring by the Carpathian Viktor Baloga, head of the presidential office, who however holds no function in the party. The president clings to the hope that in a new parliamentary composition, he will at least have 151 members, with whom another reform of the constitution can be obstructed, hence the stake of 2009 presidential elections remains open.
The latest result of the research institute Sociovimir does not confirm the hopes of Jushchenko. If the general elections were held in the near future most of the votes would go for the party of Julija Timoshenko (BJUT) with 23.3 percent, second place would be occupied by the Party of the Regions with 20.6 percent, Our Ukraine - People Self-defense (NU-NSZ) would gain 7.1 percent, followed by the Communist Party (KPU) with 5.2 percent and the Litvin Block (BL) estimated to reach 5.1 percent. Among the questioned 10 percent would vote against all of the above listed parties, 12.5 are undecided and 6 percent would not attend the coming elections.
These results show that the current parliamentary composition, respectably the number of mandates would undergo a change, namely BJUT would receive 171, 15 mandates more than they currently posses. Party of the Regions would loose 14, NU-NSZ 20 of its mandates. The influence of the communists and the Litvin's group would rise, since the first would thrive with 11 the last with 18 mandates. The importance of the two smaller parliamentary groups would have to be re-evaluated, because having a bigger faction behind them a majority can be reached, becoming thus the possibility to form the government and to elect the prime minister. Under such parliamentary composition a definite change in the pro western policy of Ukraine can be awaited.
According to Article 90 of the Ukrainian constitution it is the right of the President to call early elections. The earliest possible date for early elections, regarding the compulsory 60 day campaign period, was December.
Russia seems to be successful in influencing Ukrainian domestic policy in a favorable way for her goals. In this respect, as well, the crisis in South Ossetia came handy. Moscow, with her attitude considered warlike, declared that the 'near abroad' post soviet area, including Georgia and Ukraine, does not belong to the sphere of interest of the Western world. This is shown in Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's Warsaw press conference after his visit to Poland on 11 September where he criticized the United States for her missile defense program but was not attacking Poland.
As an example for cultural co-operation between the two nations he was mentioning the Russian Song Festival in Poland and the Polish Year of Culture in Russia, the latter one being the framework for the Days of Polish Science in October. The NATO membership of Ukraine, however, as the Minister says, is 'unnecessary' - interpreting the official Russian standpoint in a friendly way.
Behind the visible Ukraine-Russia political fights there is co-operation sometimes. A documented example for such behavior is the minutes of the 3rd Ukraine-Russia Joint Committee dealing with economic issues in Kiyev, in April. It contains projects to set up joint (UA-RU) logistical centers in the neighboring countries such as Poland, Hungary and Slovakia.
In Ukraine, many have fears that in the name of the new Russian Foreign Policy Doctrine, eg. defending Russian citizens regardless of their residing place, the South Ossetian scenario takes effect.
This is not very likely in the near future. Apparently, Russia does not wish to enter any new conflicts and is waiting for the international reverberations provoked by the Georgian crisis to calm down. Having in mind that more than half of the Ukrainian society refuses the country's accession to NATO, Russia can sit back and feel comfortable, especially knowing that there is no fear of Ukraine suddenly joining the EU either. Though, Russia is able to "produce" a crisis in Ukraine any time and then to act according to her interests.
According to analysts, it is not accidental (considering an assumed Russian scenario) that the Parliamentary crisis in Ukraine coincided with other important events (Ukraine-EU Summit, NATO Summit, US Vice-President's visit to Ukraine). This might prove that BJuT and the Party of Regions had been planning to explode the crisis in advance and they are planning to carry out politics welcome in Moscow. Behind the assumed BJuT-PR scheduled co-operation there might be another intention: to shock or at least to baffle the West. As a follow up of the crisis it is easy to get a picture of the country where politics is characterized by cynicism, overwhelming corruption and there is no need to obey the constitution or political agreements; that is total unpredictability. This will not help the country's Western integration.
From her statements it can be seen: Timoshenko is ambitious to get the chair of the Head of State. In case she goes on coalition with the Russian-friendly Party of Regions it is very likely that she will be able to negotiate cheaper gas prices with Russia which could give a strong background to get presidency. This might be the fulfillment of the Russian strategy to disqualify Jushchenko. The US, however, might also have a word to the possible early elections campaign by extraditing Pavol Lazarenko, former Prime and comrade to Julia Timoshenko to Ukraine who was sentenced to a 9 year jail penalty in 2006 - as it was announced by Stepan Gavris, Secretary of the National Security Council. Gavris said that during his visit to the US between 22-25 September Jushchenko had been accompanied by a ministerial team who were negotiating with the American partners about the extradition of Lazarenko who is sentenced for money laundering and other crimes and who is presently in home custody at his San Francisco residence.
Should the extradition take effect, Lazarenko can be an important trump card against Timoshenko during a legal procedure.