Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 152

The August 3 Declaration on National Unity, signed by leaders of four political forces — the Party of Regions, Our Ukraine, the Socialists, and (with reservations) the Communists — as a basis for a governing Coalition of National Unity, is a declarative rather than a policy document. It calls for a political truce but does not point to a way out of crisis.

A week-long roundtable discussion (July 27-August 3), chaired by President Viktor Yushchenko, led to this document and the decision to form the coalition of four out of five parliamentary parties. The Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc, strongest Orange force in the wake of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine’s electoral debacle, declined to sign the document and will form the parliamentary opposition.

The resort to the roundtable itself testifies to the year-long crisis of state institutions in Ukraine. Roundtables were used in 1989-90 in several Central European countries (Poland being the classic example) to fill the vacuum created by the collapse of communist state institutions. With parliaments and governments no longer capable functioning, roundtables provided a basis for minimal national accord (in essence, avoidance of violence and anarchy) and initiated the orderly transition to functional democracy in those countries.

The roundtable just held in Kyiv was also meant to provide a national-accord forum in a situation of systemic crisis. But, in Ukraine’s case, a near-collapse of institutions took place after democratic presidential and parliamentary elections had been held. No Ukrainian senior official has acknowledged this situation thus far, much less addressed it, with the apparently single exception of Volodymyr Horbulin (Zerkalo nedeli, July 22-28) whom Yushchenko recently reinstated as head of the National Security and Defense Council.

The Kyiv roundtable deflated expectations when representatives of civil society were dropped from its composition, without explanation, before the National Unity Declaration’s final version was negotiated among a handful of party leaders and signed by seven top figures (the president, prime minister, parliamentary speaker, and the heads of the four parliamentary groups in the emergent coalition). In essence, this was a roundtable of party leaders and interest groups at the top, not a roundtable of Ukrainian society. The roundtable’s daytime proceedings were amply publicized, but were followed up in confidential talks during the night, when some informal and unpublicized understandings are said to have been reached, both among the participants and with other interested players including top businessmen. After it was over, Russian Ambassador Viktor Chernomyrdin let it be known that he had met repeatedly with Yushchenko informally (interview in Komsomolskaya pravda, August 4).

Although the Declaration was meant from the outset to be nonbinding, its content was expected to provide some clear indications as to the policy and actions of the emergent coalition. This is not the case, however. While some general verbiage and redundant clichés were inevitable, they occupy a far larger space than might have been expected by, or could be sold to, the electorate, particularly the voters with more developed democratic aspirations. When addressing a few hard issues, the document steers a middle ground between political forces that have until now espoused opposite policy prescriptions. Such compromise formulations may also be inevitable up to a point, but they do not seem to suggest a program for effective governance.

Thus, the Verkhovna Rada shall “urgently adopt” legislation necessary for Ukraine’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) “on conditions acceptable to Ukraine.” That legislation could not be adopted during the 18 months that followed the Orange revolution precisely because large cross-party groups deemed some of those conditions as unacceptable to their group interests or ideology. Further, Ukraine shall “urgently start talks” on creating a free-trade zone of Ukraine and the European Union, with a view to Ukraine’s ultimate integration in the EU. At the same time, Ukraine shall “complete work on participation” in the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan Single Economic Space (SES), starting with a free-trade zone consisting of Ukraine and SES, albeit “taking WTO norms into account.” How to reconcile these priorities, interests, and ideologies in the proposed coalition government remains far from clear.

Gas supplies and pipeline control, one of Ukraine’s most explosive economic and political issues, is not mentioned at all. The document mentions energy only in passing, merely calling for its efficient use. Meanwhile, outside the largely irrelevant roundtable and Declaration framework, officials are discussing the possibility of transferring Ukraine’s transit pipeline system into de facto Russian control (Kontrakty, July 31; see EDM, July 14).

The document proposes a seemingly sensible political compromise on Ukraine-NATO relations: continuing “mutually advantageous cooperation” for now, and deferring the issue of membership until some later date, subject to a national referendum. No mention is made of the Membership Action Plan, which the Orange leaders had hoped to obtain this year. Their retreat tacitly acknowledges opposition to NATO membership among Yushchenko’s chosen coalition partners. It also reflects the presidency’s lack of political leadership on this issue from the moment Yushchenko took office, although he personally supports NATO membership as do the ministers close to him. With less than 20% public support for NATO membership in Ukraine at present, the commitment to a referendum amounts to a mortgage on the future. However, the deferral buys time for continuing cooperation with NATO and turning public opinion around on the membership issue after 2009 under different leadership.

The Declaration’s most useful part for now is the armistice among political forces regarding the status of the Ukrainian and Russian languages in Ukraine. The document supports the existing constitutional arrangements, with “Ukrainian as the single state language and the language of official communication of the authorities on the entire territory of Ukraine.” However, the Declaration also refers to Russian language use in accordance with the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages — a document that the Party of Regions and others interpret as authorizing parallel official use of Russian in certain regions of Ukraine. In his August 4 acceptance speech to the parliament as prime-minister-designate, Viktor Yanukovych pledged to observe the status quo on the language issue and also abjured any intention to propose the “federalization” of Ukraine.

In sum, the Declaration reverts to the political status quo that had prevailed before the Orange upheaval and the Blue reaction. It seems reminiscent of the status-quo of the final Kuchma years on some major issues, such as cooperation with NATO short of membership, talks with Russia on possible joint control of Ukraine’s gas pipelines, short-term balancing of priorities regarding WTO and EU versus SES, and language policy armistice in the east and south of the country as long as the vested economic and political interests in those regions are satisfied.

In essence, this ambiguity-filled Declaration seems mainly intended to cover the flanks of the four signatory parties with their respective electorates.

(Ukrayinska pravda, Ukrainian Television Channel One, Interfax-Ukraine, August 3-6)