Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 173

Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych clearly exceeded the powers of his office, breached internal governmental procedures, and undoubtedly usurped the presidency’s constitutional authority by announcing in Brussels that Ukraine is opting out of NATO’s Membership Action Plan. Shocked, President Viktor Yushchenko and his supporters in government and parliament seem prepared for a political confrontation with the governing majority over this issue, which is a fundamental one to them.

Moreover, they realize that the prime minister’s seemingly unilateral move on NATO is but one aspect of the Party of Regions’ aggressive expansion of its power and influence, rapidly exceeding the bounds of its pact concluded in August with the pro-presidential Our Ukraine factions. That pact and its subsequent misuse by the Party of Regions have almost turned the pro-presidential camp into a hostage of its more powerful partner. Thus, the president and his pro-NATO allies in government and parliament would be acting from a position of weakness if they decide to confront the Party of Regions and its allies on this issue.

Yushchenko, the ministers of defense and foreign affairs Anatoliy Hrytsenko and Borys Tarasyuk, and some second-tier presidential advisers (the first-tier positions being vacant or changing hands) are publicly criticizing Yanukovych and his party for the move on NATO and are proposing counter-measures. Their arguments, however, reflect the weakness of their position in Ukraine’s internal politics generally and in the governing coalition’s politics in particular. The main arguments and proposals are:

1) Ukraine should announce that Yanukovych’s position on NATO is that of the prime minister and party leader, not the position of the president or the entire cabinet, and the relevant ministers have not been consulted. This assertion is correct, but the decisive political fact is that Yanukovych’s position does reflect that of the main ruling party and its allies, the majorities in government and parliament, and public opinion at large. The Verkhovna Rada’s Socialist chairman, Oleksandr Moroz, has promptly defended Yanukovych’s conduct in Brussels as reflecting a political consensus. Moreover, the Party of Regions has become powerful enough to circumvent other centers of authority. The prime minister did not deign to include the pro-Western ministers of defense and foreign affairs in the delegation that accompanied him to NATO and European Union headquarters in Brussels. Yanukovych’s chosen foreign policy adviser is Anatoliy Orel, a leading exponent of the Russia “vector” in former president Leonid Kuchma’s administration.

2) The National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) — as a presidential body, the argument goes — should hold a special meeting and issue directives to all relevant departments of government regarding implementation of ongoing NATO-Ukraine reform programs. However, the NSDC’s overall performance and its actual involvement in coordinating such reforms have declined precipitously during Viktor Yushchenko’s presidency. The decline will continue if Yushchenko carries out its intention to appoint former prime minister Yuriy Yekhanurov to head the NSDC. After Petro Poroshenko and Anatoliy Kinakh, Yekhanurov would be the third consecutive NSDC chief with a business background rather than national security credentials in 21 months since Yushchenko became president.

3) The presidency and relevant ministries should launch a public information campaign about NATO and the benefits to Ukraine in implementing reform programs with the alliance’s assistance. Such an effort is indeed overdue; but it will take time and funding, and requires more credible standard bearers than the political forces that emerged with 10-15% ratings from the recent elections. In any case, the information effort would almost certainly be more effective in the eastern and southern regions if it focuses on the Party of Regions and affiliated interests first, before reaching out more widely to the populace of those regions.

4) Yushchenko is being asked to confront Yanukovych and, by implication, the Party of Regions with the argument that the prime minister’s move on NATO has violated the president’s constitutional authority on foreign and national security policy making and the August 3 Declaration of National Unity. The constitutional argument is impeccable but risks remaining ineffective due to the political weakness of the presidential forces. Hardly anyone in Ukraine or abroad takes the Declaration of National Unity seriously as a binding pact or guide to policy (see EDM, August 7); merely invoking that document amounts to an admission of lacking real leverage.

On September 15, Yushchenko summoned Yanukovych for a four-hour discussion about the latter’s actions in Brussels. Following their encounter, Yushchenko declared that the prime minister had violated the president’s constitutional prerogatives, the Declaration of National Unity, and Ukraine’s national interests. Yushchenko gave Yanukovych a “first political warning” and announced that he would henceforth hold weekly meetings with Yanukovych to coordinate policies. However, the president and his allies do not seem to hold any leverage that could counter Yanukovych’s and the Party of Regions’ continuing expansion of their power and influence.

(UNIAN, Interfax-Ukraine, Channel Five TV [Kyiv], September 14-18)