Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry has become hostage to a constitutional reform that failed to clearly define the boundaries between the remits of the legislature and the executive. President Viktor Yushchenko insists that parliament’s December 1 motion to dismiss pro-Western Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk was illegal, so he has to carry on in his post. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, however, believes that the country has no foreign minister, so Yushchenko should appoint one. Meanwhile, the ministry works in a legal limbo. Not only are Ukraine’s foreign partners uncertain about Tarasyuk’s status, but so are domestic officials; even the financing of the ministry is unstable.
According to the constitutional amendments passed in 2004, the president appoints the ministers of foreign affairs and defense, whereas it is up to the parliamentary majority to appoint the rest of the cabinet. The procedure for dismissing the two ministers is evidently less clear. Yanukovych and the parliamentary majority, which is dominated by his Party of Regions (PRU), refer to the constitutional provision that says it is up to parliament to decide on dismissing ministers. President Yushchenko, however, insists that only he, as the highest official in charge of security, defense, and foreign affairs, can dismiss the ministers he appointed.
After Tarasyuk’s dismissal by parliament, Yushchenko issued a decree instructing him to remain in place. Yanukovych ignored the decree. PRU deputies then prevented Tarasyuk from attending cabinet meetings on December 6 and 20, physically blocking him in the lobby. On December 21, Yushchenko said that he was waiting for an interpretation of the misunderstanding on Tarasyuk by the Constitutional Court, but that meanwhile Tarasyuk would represent his ministry during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Kyiv on December 22. Yanukovych did not object, at least in public, and Tarasyuk shook hands with Putin as a minister.
Yanukovych’s attitude toward Tarasyuk’s visit to the Czech Republic on January 15 was, however, different. “It damages the state when a minister with unclear status goes on such visits,” Yanukovych said. In Prague, Tarasyuk signed two documents on bilateral cooperation. Commenting for Segodnya, Deputy Minister of the Cabinet of Ministers Olena Lukash doubted the legal value of documents “signed by citizen Tarasyuk.” Yanukovych instructed the Prosecutor General’s Office “to take measures” in relation to Tarasyuk. It has so far remained unclear what measures were meant and whether the prosecutors have taken any of them. Yanukovych also wrote an official letter urging Yushchenko to appoint a replacement to Tarasyuk. The letter has reportedly remained unanswered.
On January 16, the Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement saying that Yanukovych was informed on January 10 that Tarasyuk’s visit to Prague had been agreed with Yushchenko. And Czech Ambassador to Ukraine Karel Stindl was quoted as saying that “for us Tarasyuk is still the foreign minister.” Segodnya, a newspaper linked to the PRU, explained the Czech position saying that Prague had not been properly informed about Tarasyuk’s dismissal.
The State Treasury, unsure of Tarasyuk’s status, stopped financing the Foreign Ministry as of January 1. The Finance Ministry said that it opened budget funding for the Foreign Ministry as usual, but the ministry’s bills were not paid because it did not provide the proper signatures of the officials in charge of budget funds. The Foreign Ministry did submit signatures, but those were the signatures of Tarasyuk and his first deputy Volodymyr Ohryzko, which the State Treasury did not recognize as valid.
Tarasyuk issued a statement on January 18 describing the actions of the finance officials as an “assault on Ukrainian democracy and the national interests.” The Foreign Ministry also sued the State Treasury. The financial conflict was eventually resolved, but not with the help of courts. On January 22, Tarasyuk told TV that Yanukovych had instructed the State Treasury to unblock his ministry’s accounts following a telephone conversation between Tarasyuk and Yanukovych.
That was obviously only a temporary solution. The sides to the conflict are waiting for a verdict from the Constitutional Court. Lower courts have been so far only complicated matters. On December 5 the court of Kyiv’s Shevchenkivsky District ruled to suspend parliament’s motion to dismiss Tarasyuk. One month later, on January 4, the Kyiv Court of Appeals canceled the district court’s ruling.
The situation is further complicated by uncertainty over the new law on the Cabinet of Ministers. Parliament overrode Yushchenko’s veto of the law that strengthens the cabinet and parliament vis-à-vis the president (see EDM, January 17). Yushchenko has, however, vetoed the law again. He explained that there were differences between the version of the law passed by parliament and the one sent to him for signing. In the case of Tarasyuk, the law is not on Yushchenko’s side, stipulating that parliament can both dismiss the foreign minister and appoint a new one if the president fails to do so.
(Channel 5, December 20, January 16; Interfax-Ukraine, December 21, January 10, January 18-22; NTN TV, January 15; Segodnya, January 17; Holos Ukrainy, January 20; 1+1 TV, January 22)