The pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc will be in opposition to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s cabinet, Our Ukraine’s formal leader, Roman Bezsmertny, declared in parliament on October 17. He urged the four ministers representing Our Ukraine in the cabinet to resign, and the next day President Viktor Yushchenko urged the ministers to comply with their party’s decision. Justice Minister Roman Zvarych, Family and Youth Minister Yuriy Pavlenko, Culture Minister Ihor Likhovy, and Health Minister Yuriy Polyachenko did so on October 19. The congress of Yushchenko’s party on October 21, however, showed that Yushchenko does not like Our Ukraine’s opposition status, so a rehashed Our Ukraine may resume talks with Yanukovych.
At a press conference on October 19 Zvarych, explaining his and his colleagues’ decision to quit Yanukovych’s cabinet, said that the Yanukovych-led government coalition of the Party of Regions, the Communist Party, and the Socialists Party had breached the National Unity Declaration, which they signed with Yushchenko on August 3. Our Ukraine’s ministers joined the cabinet, and Our Ukraine planned to join the coalition only on condition of full adherence to the Declaration. This, however, has not happened, Zvarych said, as the cabinet ditched the NATO Membership Action Plan, failed to accelerate entry to the WTO, and has been reluctant to fight corruption and ensure state-language status for Ukrainian.
Parliament has yet to approve the four ministers’ resignations. This will not happen before November, as parliament has taken a break. Zvarych, Pavlenko, Likhovy, and Polyachenko carry on as ministers, along with another three cabinet ministers who represent Yushchenko as president, rather than his party; this is a consequence of constitutional reform and personal agreements between Yushchenko and Yanukovych. These are Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko, and Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko.
Lutsenko initially also tendered his resignation, but Yushchenko declined it, and Lutsenko told journalists on October 19 that he would be happy to continue his work. He emphasized that, not being a member of Our Ukraine, he was not obliged to abide by Our Ukraine’s decision to go into opposition. The behavior of Lutsenko, who heavily relies on Yushchenko’s support since he quit the Socialist Party, and whom Yushchenko trusts, was widely interpreted as a sign that Yushchenko was not comfortable about his team’s opposition status.
Yushchenko confirmed this at the October 21 congress of People’s Union-Our Ukraine (NSNU), the core element of Our Ukraine. Yushchenko urged the consolidation with Yanukovych’s coalition and the continuation of talks with it. He said that being in opposition was not the best option for Our Ukraine. Yushchenko, in fact, blamed Bezsmertny for the failure of talks with the Yanukovych-led coalition and suggested changing the party’s leadership. At the same time, he confirmed that he would continue to steer NSNU as its honorary chairman. Bezsmertny announced a recess in the congress until early November as soon as Yushchenko finished his speech.
To all appearances, Yushchenko will use the time-out to secure his grip on the party and to resume coalition talks with Yanukovych. Zvarych, speaking on October 23, indicated his readiness to resume the talks. The leader of the pro-Yanukovych parliamentary majority, Raisa Bohatyryova, promptly confirmed the Party of Regions’ readiness for this.
Yushchenko understands that his party is not ready for coalition talks in its present shape. Being torn from within by at least two groups with different goals and views on Our Ukraine’s future, Our Ukraine is not a rational player capable of following a clear agenda, which is indispensable for success in talks with Yanukovych. The followers of NSNU political council head Mykola Katerynchuk believe that Our Ukraine has to move under the wing of Yulia Tymoshenko in the radical opposition to Yanukovych. NSNU’s main financiers — grouped around Petro Poroshenko, who controlled the party until his dismissal as secretary of the national security council a year ago — favor a coalition with Yanukovych, but only on their conditions, which reportedly include concessions such as the post of head of Naftohaz Ukrainy, the national fuel company.
The Ukrainian media almost unanimously maintain that Yushchenko wants to replace Bezsmertny with the more charismatic Arseny Yatsenyuk, who joined NSNU ahead of the October 21 congress. Yatsenyuk steered the central bank as its acting chairman in 2004 and served as economics minister in 2005-2006. Yushchenko appointed Yatsenyuk first deputy head of the presidential secretariat in September, but he will not have an easy time convincing the NSNU grassroots and rival groups within the party to accept Yatsenyuk, a newcomer who is just in his early 30s, as a compromise figure to head the party at a time when it is on the verge of a split.
According to Segodnya, a newspaper linked to Yanukovych, Yatsenyuk is close to the Industrial Union of Donbas, the Donetsk-based business conglomerate whose co-owner Vitaly Hayduk became security chief earlier this month (see EDM, October 18). Segodnya has suggested that Hayduk’s team may replace the businessmen grouped around Poroshenko as the main financiers of Yushchenko’s party and seek ways to resume dialogue with Yanukovych.
(Channel 5, October 18, 19, 21; Ukrayinska pravda, Segodnya, October 23)