Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 168

Ukraine’s once-powerful now-fragmented right-wing force, the Rukh, is contemplating reunification. Prompted by former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko’s July 15 announcement of his plan to set up a bloc for the March 2002 parliamentary elections (see the Monitor, September 11), the two primary Rukhs seem to hope that they might participate. Since the Rukh broke up in early 1999, the popularity of these right-wing nationalists has dwindled dramatically, even in their western Ukrainian stronghold. Neither wing stands much of a chance, running alone, of meeting the required 4-percent electoral barrier. A unified Rukh identified with the country’s most popular politician, however, might well not only reverse the negative trend, but also revive popular trust in the party.

Reunification talks began long before Yushchenko’s dismissal this past April. The larger faction, the People’s Movement of Ukraine, is led by Hennady Udovenko. The smaller, the Ukrainian People’s Movement, is led by Yury Kostenko. The personal ambitions of these two leaders contributed to the break up and now hamper the reunification to some degree. Nonetheless, at its convention on May 6, Udovenko’s party approved the idea of an electoral bloc to include the Reforms and Order Party (ROP), the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists and Kostenko’s Rukh. A month later, on June 9, the two Rukhs signed a declaration to reunify, presumably with Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc in mind.

A third party, however, complicates the issue. The Rukh for Unity, created last year of the auspices of the presidential administration and led by Bohdan Boyko, formally proclaimed unification as its main goal. It has also numbered among Yushchenko’s opponents. Many among the other two Rukhs believe that this tiny organization was in fact established to complicate any unification of the original fragments. Other potential members of Yushchenko’s proposed Our Ukraine bloc are also unfriendly towards it. On August 10, the Reforms and Order Party issued a statement protesting Rukh for Unity’s participation. Boyko retorted that his party did not plan to take part in the bloc. He suggested instead that a unified Rukh should go to the elections without Yushchenko. On September 5, Boyko promised that his party would dissolve and enter Udovenko’s Rukh if Kostenko did the same. Kostenko, however, does not trust Boyko. He wants his and Udovenko’s Rukhs to reunify as equals. Boyko might then join, but as a rank-and-file member only. Udovenko and Kostenko could also join forces without him. Given his party’s name, however, this might well confuse the electorate.

On September 8, Kostenko and Udovenko made a decisive step. At a joint meeting of their two parties’ central committees, they confirmed their intention to run in the elections as part of Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine bloc. They also spoke for setting up a joint election headquarters and promised to set up, with Reforms and Order, a single parliamentary faction in the current Rada. The three parties have thus far had separate factions, though they have voted unanimously on principal issues.

But Yushchenko apparently expected more from the September 8 meeting. He called on the participants to speed up reunification: “If it is difficult for us to talk about a unified Rukh, how can we talk about a single electoral bloc?” Both the Rukhs expressed desire to run in the elections with Yushchenko, but he did not commit himself. It remains to be seen whether participation in Yushchenko’s bloc will be an incentive enough to persuade the Rukhs to fully reunify before the elections (Korrespondent.net, May 6, August 10; Ukrainska Pravda, June 9; Forum web site, September 6; UNIAN, New Channel TV, September 8; see also the Monitor, July 7, September 17, 1999).