Yesterday, the Ukrainian parliament (Rada) debated the issue of a continued Ukrainian military contingent in Iraq, the fourth largest in the 33-member U.S.-led Coalition. Reports were heard by Minister of Defense Yevhen Marchuk, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Volodymyr Yelchenko, First Deputy Chairman of the Security Service (SBU) Yuriy Zemlianskyi and Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council (NRBO) Volodymyr Radchenko.
Those voting to hold the closed session of the Rada included 230 deputies. Of these, three opposition factions fully supported the motion (Communists, Socialists, Yulia Tymoshenko bloc). In addition, 82 (out of 100) Our Ukraine deputies also backed the motion after Viktor Yushchenko allowed a free vote.
This combined opposition vote would not have garnered the required 225-plus votes to adopt the resolution without support of other factions. All 17 members of the newly created Center faction, whose members resigned this week from the pro-presidential camp, voted for the motion.
From the pro-presidential camp, 14 members of the newly amalgamated People’s Democratic-Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (NDP-PPPU) faction also supported holding the session. The pro-presidential camp’s wafer-thin commitment to keep Ukraine’s troops in Iraq is linked to its unpopularity among the general Ukrainian public. The general fear is that the issue could negatively affect Viktor Yanukovych’s chances of winning the presidential elections.
The vote to hold an open session on Iraq only attracted 208 votes because the pro-presidential NDP-PPPUo faction failed to support it. Ukraine’s pro-presidential camp is afraid of allowing Ukrainians to know that they support a continued presence of Ukrainian troops in Iraq.
Yanukovych has been conspicuously silent on the issue. This “is unfathomable for a state employee,” Our Ukraine Deputy Yuriy Orobets complained (www.razom.org.ua, May 18). The weakness of Ukraine’s support for maintaining its troops in Iraq is therefore ironically restricted to anti-American and pro-Russian factions. These include Viktor Medvedchuk’s Social Democratic United Party (SDPU-o), Regions of Ukraine and Labor Ukraine.
It has been left up to virulently anti-opposition and anti-Western media outlets, including those operated by the SDPU, to defend Ukraine’s troops in Iraq. “In Ukraine different political forces on the eve of presidential elections are attempting to obtain political capital from the presence of our peacekeeping forces in Iraq”, the SDPUo’s website www.temnik.com.ua (May 17) noted.
Other members of the pro-presidential camp defend Ukraine’s troops in Iraq less enthusiastically. Publications close to Labor Ukraine have long been critically disposed to the issue.
An article entitled “Back to Ukraine?” appearing on www.versii.com (May 17), a web site linked to a Labor Ukraine oligarch, complained that the three reasons given in summer 2003 to support of sending Ukraine’s troops to Iraq have not proved valid. These included improving Ukraine’s international image after Kolchugate the year before, faster integration into Euro-Atlantic structures and business contracts.
Ukraine’s integration into the EU has been ruled out by Romani Prodi, president of the European Commission. Meanwhile, during May 12 U.S. congressional hearings titled “Ukraine’s Future and United States Interests,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer said that no Kolchuga radar equipment has been found in Iraq.
Nevertheless, Pifer said that the U.S. still believes that President Kuchma authorized the transfer of Kolchugas in July 2000. The following year, Pifer added, Ukraine also delivered heavy weaponry to Macedonia despite giving assurances to National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice that Ukraine would desist from doing so.
Having broken his word twice, it is little wonder that the U.S. does not trust Kuchma, despite his pledge to keep Ukraine’s troops in Iraq “until the end” (Interfax-Ukraine, April 22).
The issue of business contracts is a third contentious issue. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage rejected the notion that Ukraine, “put their young men and women in harms way in order to win contracts” (Ukrayinska Pravda, April 19).
This is not how it appears in Kyiv. In support of Ukraine’s troops being sent to Iraq, Defense Minister Marchuk argued that one of the side benefits would be business contracts. These though, have failed to materialize although Russia, which has no troops in Iraq, has landed contracts.
Keeping a keen eye on the election campaign, Prime Minister Yanukovych forcefully laid out Ukraine’s two conditions for keeping troops in Iraq: contracts and the military operation coming under UN auspices. Ukraine’s decision to keep its troops in Iraq is “only for the time being”, he warned (Ukrayinska Pravda, May 6). The closed session also heard confirmation that Ukraine’s troops in Iraq are only to be used for “peacekeeping functions.” Ukraine has advised the U.S. that it refuses to allow its troops to be used in military action.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Hryshchenko reiterated the connection between contracts and Ukraine’s troops staying in Iraq to U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst (UNIAN, May 7). He also demanded that Ukrainian prisoners in Iraq be released and allowed to finish their sentences in Ukraine (1+1 TV, May 10).
Another issue is Ukraine’s becoming a terrorist target because of its support for the U.S.-led Coalition in Iraq. Zemlianskyi (SBU) and Radchenko (NRBO) raised this threat for the first time at the closed session.
The closed session did not muster 225-plus votes calling for Ukraine’s troops to be returned from Iraq. However, the issue will continue to remain a domestic political football. In the meantime, at the insistence of the Communists, a Ukrainian Rada delegation will shortly visit Iraq to report on the situation. They will undoubtedly bring back a negative view.