Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 82

International reaction to Ukraine’s recent constitutional referendum was mixed. U.S Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who visited Kyiv on April 14, had no reservations about it. Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin, who visited on April 18, hailed its results. At the same time, Europe’s moral authority, the Council of Europe, effectively refused to recognize it. On April 4, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) urged Kuchma to postpone the poll until a new referendum law was adopted: There are discrepancies between the constitution of 1996 and the effective referendum law, adopted in 1991. PACE warned that the referendum would upset the balance between the executive and the legislative branches of government and threatened to suspend Ukraine from the Council of Europe if the poll results are implemented in an unconstitutional manner–that is, if President Kuchma yields to a temptation to bypass the Verkhovna Rada and amend the constitution by decree.

The Council of Europe had repeatedly warned Ukraine about the unconstitutionality of the planned referendum. On March 29, however, Ukraine’s Constitutional Court canceled the two most controversial of the proposed six referendum questions: (1) on allowing the president to dissolve the Rada if the people express no-confidence in it and (2) on adopting the constitution by referendum. The Council of Europe’s legal Venice Commission then dropped most of its reservations (see the Monitor, April 4). PACE’s subsequent warning apparently took official Kyiv by surprise. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma reacted scornfully. Speaking on April 4 in Donetsk, he said that “PACE is not the whole of Europe” and warned against talking to Ukraine from a position of force, as if it were “a colony.” Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Ministry reacted no less emotionally, describing PACE’s verdict as “absolutely inadmissible” and calling it a “manifestation of disrespect to the Ukrainian constitution and Ukrainian laws.”

Ukraine’s sharp reaction can in part be explained by the growing trend of disappointment with Western institutions among Ukraine’s ruling elite. This sentiment follows Ukraine’s unsuccessful request for admission to the EU and the World Trade Organization, NATO bombardments of Yugoslavia last year (which damaged Ukraine’s economic interests on the Danube), and recent allegations about Ukraine’s cheating the International Monetary Fund (which Kyiv sees as tarnishing the reputation of Premier Viktor Yushchenko, a Westernized reformer).

Since Ukraine’s entry into the Council of Europe in 1995, Kyiv has repeatedly been reprimanded for taking too long to fulfill certain human rights requirements, such as abolishing the death penalty and adopting the charter on minority languages and local government conventions. Kuchma’s referendum further complicates Ukraine’s relations with the Council of Europe, undermining Kuchma’s proclaimed course toward European integration (Inter TV, New Channel TV, April 4; UNIAN, April 4, 6; STB TV, April 7; Studio 1+1, April 14; New Channel, April 18).