Power struggle sharpens among
bureaucratic rulers in Ukraine
BY SAM MANUEL
WASHINGTON—In a blow to President Victor Yushchenko, Ukraine’s Supreme Administrative Court issued a ruling April 25 blocking his decree to dissolve parliament and call legislative elections in May. The republic’s Constitutional Court is also hearing the matter, but has not yet issued a decision.
The same day, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Tabachnik announced a working group was formed that includes representatives of the “president, prime minister, parliamentary factions, and the opposition” to resolve the political crisis.
A power struggle within Ukraine’s government sharpened after Yushchenko issued his decree April 2. At the root of the conflict is a struggle for influence in the former Soviet republic between Washington, which backs the president, and Moscow, which backs Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich.
Some 7,000 Yanukovich supporters set up a tent camp in Kiev, the capital. They erected a stage in the main square and held rallies outside the president’s office to protest the decree, reported an April 5 Associated Press dispatch.
The rallies were smaller than those held by both sides after the November 2004 presidential elections. Then, tens of thousands of Yushchenko’s supporters held much larger rallies in Kiev condemning the announced vote result as fraudulent. In a compromise, new elections were held in December 2004, in which Yushchenko was elected president—a period that became known as the “Orange Revolution.”
In subsequent elections, Yanukovich won a plurality in parliament and became prime minister, using the office to weaken his rival. The conflict came to a head in March, when 11 supporters of the president in parliament switched sides, giving the prime minister a nearly veto-proof majority.
Yushchenko called the defections illegal. Yanukovich countered that the president’s decree was unconstitutional.
Both Yanukovich and Yushchenko come from the privileged caste that ruled Ukraine when it was part of the former Soviet Union. They were both bureaucrats, Yanukovich in the coal industry in the eastern region and Yushchenko in the banking system. They each served terms as prime minister during the previous presidency of Leonid Kuchma.
Ukraine, with its 10 million Russian-speaking population, has long served as an agricultural breadbasket to Russia, also providing steel, coal, and access to warm-water ports. Much of Russia’s oil and gas sales to western Europe is shipped through Ukraine’s pipelines.
Moscow backs Yanukovich, who favors closer ties to Russia. In an April 6 release, the Russian news agency Novosti credited the prime minister for Ukraine’s 6.7 percent economic growth last year and for developing business contacts with Russia. The same day, Russia’s legislature, the Duma, condemned Yushchenko’s decree as “tantamount to usurpation of power in the country.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill supporting the admission of Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. Washington is also pressing to admit other former Soviet bloc countries, like Albania and the former Yugoslav republics of Croatia and Macedonia.
But Moscow seeks to slow down the inclusion of more neighboring republics into NATO. An April 6 statement by the Duma described the U.S. government’s support for admitting Ukraine and Georgia into NATO as “interference in these countries’ internal affairs,” reported the Russian news agency Interfax.