President Leonid Kuchma’s determination to increase presidential authority at the expense of parliament has raised concern in the West about an increasingly authoritarian strain in his administration. If the parliament will not give him what he wants, Kuchma says he may amend the constitution by decree.

A national referendum in April gave overwhelming approval to proposed constitutional amendments that would add an upper chamber to the unicameral parliament, reduce the size of the lower chamber and give the president broad power to dismiss parliament and call new elections. The Rada or parliament must still ratify the results of the referendum, however, and the pro-presidential coalition is 20 votes shy of the needed two thirds majority. So Kuchma may short-circuit the process and simply proclaim the amendments without parliamentary approval. If the Rada is reluctant, he told the press, “I will be forced to fulfill the people’s will.”

Unlike Russia, Ukraine is an energy importer and has not benefited from high oil prices. While oil-aided exports keep the Russian ruble stable, Ukraine’s hryvnya has lost half its value over the past twelve months. By year’s end, inflation may be running at an annual rate of 30 percent, according to official forecasts. Even so, the government projects growth this year at 2.5 or 3 percent, the best since independence.