A new pro-presidential party has been set up in Ukraine, and another one is about to be established. The two parties aim to replace Our Ukraine (NU), which President Viktor Yushchenko designed in 2005 as the main right-of-center party unifying all democratic pro-Western forces. No unification, however, has taken place, and the NU lost both the regular 2006 and the early 2007 parliamentary elections to the Party of Regions (PRU) and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (BYT).
The NU’s popularity, according to the most recent public opinion polls, is currently lower than even the 13-14 percent that it scored in the two elections. What is more, the NU under the leadership of Vyacheslav Kyrylenko, who is young but probably too dogmatic and inflexible to rescue a party in crisis, has gradually been turning into a satellite of the senior government coalition partner, the BYT. Such a party is probably a liability rather than an asset to its honorary chairman President Yushchenko, who is expected to run for re-election in January 2010 against PRU leader Viktor Yanukovych and Tymoshenko.
On March 27, United Center (YeTs), a newly established pro-Yushchenko party, held its first meeting in Kyiv. The party included several lawmakers who quit the NU in February at the same time as the chief of Yushchenko’s secretariat, Viktor Baloha, and NU founder Roman Bezsmertny, who is the secretariat’s deputy chief (see EDM, February 20). YeTs is chaired by Ihor Kril, a fierce critic of Tymoshenko and a long-time ally of Baloha.
Baloha and Bezsmertny did not attend the meeting and are not formally members of YeTs. Kril told journalists that Baloha had nothing to do with establishing the party but that he would be only happy if “strong people” like Baloha joined later. It is widely believed, however, that Baloha is behind YeTs, which is based on Hart (Hardness), a think-tank of Kril and Baloha. Hart was set up during the 2007 parliamentary election campaign, when Baloha managed the NU headquarters; and after the campaign Hart reportedly recruited most of the analysts who worked at the NU HQ.
Businessman Viktor Topolov, a former coal industry minister and member of YeTs, told Kommersant that the party was set up because NU leaders “have been thinking about their own goals, rather than about Ukraine, and they will hardly change”. Kril told Segodnya that YeTs’ main task was “to help the president implement his political program and support him in everything that he does.” Vadym Karasyov, a commentator close to the Yushchenko team, said that YeTs was established because NU leader Kyrylenko failed to set up a big pro-Yushchenko party. YeTs is also designed as a counterweight to a new party which Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko is going to set up, said Karasyov.
Lutsenko has announced that a new party will be established on the basis of his People’s Self-Defense bloc (NS). The NS is the junior partner of the NU in the Our Ukraine – People’s Self-Defense bloc (NUNS). The NS, which consists of three small parties, was set up ahead of the 2007 election by Lutsenko and businessman Davyd Zhvania.
Lutsenko said that his new party would be a centrist force aimed to compete with the BYT. “I will call on those who do not like our allies from the BYT to vote for a democratic alternative,” Lutsenko told Kommersant. He said that his aim was to unify his party with NU in a strong single party “without traitors”.
Unlike Baloha, Lutsenko probably does not coordinate his activities with Yushchenko, and he views YeTs as a nuisance rather than an ally pursuing the same goal of helping Yushchenko win re-election. Lutsenko believes that YeTs is not a party but an “administrative tool” to back the political initiatives of the presidential secretariat. The teams of Lutsenko and Baloha do not trust each other.
Lutsenko, like Kyrylenko, suspects that Baloha may set up an alliance with the PRU in order to defeat Tymoshenko in the upcoming election. As one of the leaders of the 2004 Orange Revolution, which saw the PRU and Yanukovych as the main enemies of democracy and which brought Yushchenko and Tymoshenko to power, Lutsenko rejects any cooperation with the PRU behind Tymoshenko’s back. This, however, prompts pragmatists from Yushchenko’s secretariat to suspect that Lutsenko may eventually side with Tymoshenko.
The rivalry between Baloha’s YeTs and Lutsenko’s NS weakens the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko coalition, and it may even kill it, some insiders believe. Taras Stetskiv, one of the leaders of the NS, warned that those members of YeTs who were members of the NUNS caucus in parliament might quit the coalition. This could paralyze parliament, as the coalition controls just two more seats than are needed for a simple majority. Karasyov believes that NUNS may fall apart into three or four parties, rather than just YeTs and Lutsenko’s new party (Segodnya, February 15, March 28; Ukrainska Pravda, March 17; Channel 5, March 27; Interfax-Ukraine, Kommersant Ukraine, March 28).