Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 111

The power struggle in Crimea has escalated to the point that on May 24 the Crimean parliament voted to dismiss the government of Premier Serhy Kunitsyn. Parliament chairman Leonid Hrach, the leader of the Crimean branch of the Ukrainian Communist Party, orchestrated the motion, which ended with a vote of 68 in favor in the 100-member body. Kyiv’s refusal to sack Kunitsyn entails a stalemate: The parliament must continue working with a government which it has voted out of office.

Hrach, who was elected speaker in May 1998, reportedly harbors an ambition to run for Ukrainian president in 2004. This charismatic and pragmatic politician could well become a strong candidate from the Ukrainian left, whose leaders remain weak and disorganized after their defeat in the presidential race last year and their subsequent loss of dominance in Ukraine’s parliament (Verkhovna Rada). To remain afloat until the elections and become a leader on a national scale, Hrach must first win in Crimea, where he has been opposed not only by the Crimean Tatars (see the Monitor, May 24), but also by Premier Kunitsyn, a moderate reformer backed by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. Kyiv views Kunitsyn as a reliable executor of orders in the region with a high separatist potential and, at the same time, a counterweight to the ambitious Hrach.

Hrach first tried to get rid of Kunitsyn last winter. On January 31, only three votes saved Kunitsyn’s government from a no-confidence vote in the Communist-dominated Crimean parliament. Kunitsyn himself was saved, first, when Hrach failed to secure the necessary support from noncommunist factions for the motion and, second, when Kuchma telephoned Hrach on the eve of the vote to reiterate his confidence in Kunitsyn.

The recent no-confidence motion was better staged. Hrach secured the support of a large faction in Crimea’s legislature which wants to reinstate Anatoly Franchuk, who now sits in the Rada in Kyiv as Crimean premier, a post he held both in 1994-1995 and 1997-1998. At the same time, Hrach–adept at avoiding direct confrontation with Kyiv–tried to publicly distance himself from the no-confidence motion: He apparently even voted against it, while the whole Communist faction voted for it. At the same time, Hrach urged Kuchma to endorse Kunitsyn’s dismissal.

Kuchma has not reacted, apparently preferring to keep his distance from the political bickering in Crimea. But on May 25, Kuchma’s chief of staff, Volodymyr Lytvyn, said that the president would not agree to Kunitsyn’s dismissal. Lytvyn pointed to a legal collision between the constitutions of Crimea and Ukraine: According to the Crimean constitution, the local parliament does not need to secure Kuchma’s consent for the dismissal as long as two-thirds of the Crimean parliament support it. Ukraine’s constitution, however, stipulates that any dismissal is invalid if unauthorized by Ukraine’s head of state. Kunitsyn protested on the basis of procedural violations: The no-confidence ballot should have been secret, and the parliament failed to consider the government’s performance report (a requirement) before deciding to vote no-confidence.

Crimea’s parliament may have done itself the greatest harm in attacking Kunitsyn. Yevhen Marchuk, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, admitted in an interview with the BBC that Kuchma could in fact disband the rebellious Crimean legislature. This could be interpreted as a threat. Such a development would in turn be applauded by the Crimean Tatars, who have been picketing the parliament in Simferopol for weeks, demanding Hrach’s resignation. Hrach had to back down. After a tough talk with Lytvyn in Kyiv on May 26, he announced that the Crimean government “should continue working” and admitted that Kunitsyn cannot be dismissed without Kuchma’s consent. At the same time, the Crimean parliament is not likely to retract its verdict against Kunitsyn.

The stalemate weakens both Hrach, who again was defeated in his attempt to get rid of Kunitsyn, and the Crimean government, which has to work with an openly hostile legislature. Eventually, Kyiv will have to make a difficult choice between its appointee, Kunitsyn, and the popular Crimean speaker (Ukraina moloda, February 21, May 30; STB TV, May 24; Inter TV, May 25; DINAU, May 25, 29; BBC, May 27; UT-1, May 28).