Revolutionary passions in Kyiv should give way to pragmatism after the departure of Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was fired on September 8. President Viktor Yushchenko has made it clear that he will ask parliament to approve caretaker prime minister Yuriy Yekhanurov as his choice for permanent prime minister. Yekhanurov is an experienced market reformer; at the same time, he is a cautious politician without far-fetched ambitions. Yekhanurov also does not depend for support on any major business group. This is probably the kind of man Yushchenko needs to calm the passions sparked by recent accusations of corruption against his team and the subsequent dismissal of Tymoshenko.
Yushchenko instructed Dnipropetrovsk region governor Yekhanurov to form a new cabinet immediately after firing Tymoshenko. This choice was not surprising, as Yekhanurov, a long-time ally of Yushchenko, had been one of the candidates for prime minister after the 2004 Orange Revolution, but was outplayed by the more ambitious and popular Petro Poroshenko — who eventually became secretary of the National Security and Defense Council — and Tymoshenko. In April 2005 Yushchenko appointed Yekhanurov Dnipropetrovsk governor in place of Serhy Kasyanov, who fell amid accusations of corruption. Yekhanurov has had to represent the government in a region that had turned into a battlefield for control over local industry between former President Leonid Kuchma’s son-in-law, Viktor Pinchuk, and the Tymoshenko-backed Privat group.
In his first interview as caretaker prime minister, Yekhanurov told Ukrayinska pravda on September 8, that government stability would be his top priority. Speaking on September 9, when State Secretary Oleh Rybachuk and Yushchenko’s representative in parliament Serhy Sobolev said Yushchenko had made up his mind to nominate Yekhanurov as permanent prime minister, Yekhanurov pledged to continue reforming the economy while avoiding shocks. “Earlier we used quite rough tools, but now they should be more delicate. There will be no manual regulation of the economy,” he told Interfax-Ukraine, apparently referring to Tymoshenko’s infamous failed attempts to freeze oil, meat, and sugar prices. Yekhanurov promised to stop the re-privatization campaign launched under Tymoshenko, which has turned many Western investors away from Ukraine after the Orange Revolution. “Sensitive privatization issues should be settled in negotiations with the possibility of out-of-court settlement,” he said. In an attempt to woo domestic tycoons, who have suffered from re-privatization most, Yekhanurov promised “professional talks” with them “to make sure that they live not on the islands, but in Ukraine.” Yekhanurov must know what to tell them, as it was he who shaped privatization rules in the mid-1990s, when he was getting the State Property Fund off the ground as its first chairman.
In foreign matters, Yekhanurov may be more pro-Russia than his predecessor. He was not shy to voice support for the plans for a Single Economic Space (SES) with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan at the height of the Orange Revolution, when this concept was not popular. Now he has promised, “The SES issue and ties with Russia will be greatly improved.”
Yekhanurov said that Yushchenko tasked him with improving relations with Moscow. “What sort of relations with Russia’s cabinet can a Russian-born have? I hail from Siberia, and I believe they will view me as a fellow countryman,” Yekhanurov said on September 9. He was born in Russia’s northern Yakutiya republic, but moved to Ukraine as teenager.
Talks on the composition of the new cabinet have been underway in parliament since September 9, when Yushchenko invited all parliamentary parties — except the Communists and the United Social Democrats of former presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk — to propose ministerial candidates. Voting on Yekhanurov’s approval as prime minister is expected during the week starting September 18. He should pass the test, as only the Communists, Medvedchuk’s Party, the Tymoshenko Bloc, and probably the Regions faction of former prime minister Viktor Yanukovych are expected to oppose Yushchenko’s choice. Together, they number far fewer deputies than those who should back Yekhanurov. These are not only the four or five definitely pro-Yushchenko parties. Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn has already offered support to Yekhanurov (he controls the People’s Party and Democratic Ukraine). The Socialists, whose three ministers, including Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, hope to preserve their positions in the new cabinet, are also in this camp.
Yekhanurov has said that his cabinet would be formed within one month, and that it will be built on the model of the 2000-2001 cabinet in which Yushchenko was prime minister and Yekhanurov served as his first deputy. This must mean that the posts of deputy prime ministers for European integration and administrative reform will be scrapped. This should not, however, mean a departure from the European integration course, as it will be the main field of activity for the Foreign Ministry. Meanwhile, Yekhanurov will likely seek to personally mend bridges with Russia ahead of the winter season, in which Ukraine always badly needs cheap Russian natural gas.
(Ukrayinska pravda, September 8; Channel 5, Interfax-Ukraine, UNIAN, September 8-10; ICTV, September 10)