Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 76

Former Ukrainian prime minister Viktor Yanukovych has taken his first steps to unify the opposition for the first time since he lost the presidential election to Viktor Yushchenko last December. On April 13 Yanukovych presided over a meeting that proclaimed the creation of an opposition coalition uniting several parties of yesterday’s ruling elite — Yanukovych’s Regions of Ukraine party, former chief prosecutor Hennadiy Vasylyev’s Derzhava (State) party, and former Kharkiv governor Yevhen Kushnaryov’s New Democracy — and several marginal parties, including the far-right Brotherhood of Dmytro Korchynskyy, the radical left and fiercely anti-United States Progressive Socialists led by Natalia Vitrenko, the Russian Bloc, and the Slavic Party. Altogether, the coalition consists of 19 parties and 12 non-governmental organizations.

In a statement released on April 14, the leaders of the coalition’s major parties, including Yanukovych, Vasylyev, and Kushnaryov, bemoaned the government’s reluctance to form a Single Economic Space with Russia, castigated Kyiv’s plans to join NATO and the World Trade Organization, and blasted the new government’s economic policy. But the document’s main message was a protest against “the transformation of the courts and the prosecution” into “tools to persecute opposition politicians.” Rather than speaking about election plans, which would have been natural with parliamentary polls scheduled for next year, the former ruling elite’s representatives are apparently drawn together by the shared fear of prosecution.

Yanukovych and his allies have reason to fear. Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko has come up with a list of about 80 former officials to be questioned about the Kuchma government’s wrongdoings. The list includes at least six former regional governors, including Kushnaryov, as well as several mayors and parliamentarians, the former head of the Directorate for State Affairs, Ihor Bakay; and the brother of tycoon Hryhoriy Surkis, Ihor Surkis, who has been already interrogated on a suspicious transfer of more than $1 million from his soccer club, Dynamo Kyiv, to accounts held by the Ukrayina Foundation, which is led by former President Leonid Kuchma.

Meanwhile, the Prosecutor-General’s Office has charged Donetsk regional council head Borys Kolesnykov, a key figure in Regions of Ukraine who was detained on April 6 (see EDM, April 11), with extortion. The Court of Appeals in Kyiv turned down objections by Kolesnykov’s lawyers regarding his detention. The acting head of the Donetsk council and Kolesnykov’s faithful aide, Oleksandr Zats, is reportedly on the run fearing his own arrest. A source at the Interior Ministry told UNIAN news agency that Zats is suspected of having links to organized crime. And on April 16 the police detained a Donetsk regional council deputy who faces charges of tax evasion and abuse of office.

Well aware of the troubles facing Yanukovych’s Donetsk friends and the ensuing vulnerability of Regions of Ukraine, another major new opposition force, the Social Democrat Party-United (SDPUo) of former presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk, has been reluctant to join Yanukovych. The April 14 statement was signed by an SDPUo representative, according to the Regions of Ukraine website, but several hours later SDPUo deputy head Oleksiy Mustafin said that his party would stay outside the coalition. Medvedchuk, however, left the door open. The SDPUo will definitely be in opposition to Yushchenko, and the formation of a bloc with Regions of Ukraine for the 2006 elections is not ruled out in the future, he told Komsomolskaya pravda.

Another major party of the former ruling elite, Labor Ukraine, which unites several prominent businessmen from Dnipropetrovsk region, is not participating in the new coalition either. This party has been in a deep identity crisis since the Orange Revolution, as its main financiers — Kuchma’s son -in-law Viktor Pinchuk, the Derkach family, and the former head of Labor Ukraine’s faction in parliament Ihor Sharov — have defected. The party’s formal leader, former National Bank chief and head of Yanukovych’s failed presidential campaign Serhiy Tyhypko, has been keeping a low profile, and he will probably soon be replaced by people’s deputy Valeriy Konovalyuk, a former leading member of the Regions of Ukraine who has fallen out with Yanukovych over the party’s strategy.

The People’s Democrats (NDP) of former prime minister Valeriy Pustovoitenko — the Ukrainian “party of power” in 1996-99 — will definitely not join Yanukovych’s coalition. The NDP decided at a conference on April 16 to enter the parliamentary elections on its own, outside blocs or coalitions. “We used to work for a single candidate Viktor Yanukovych, and I think we lost. We lost our rating,” Pustovoitenko told journalists after the conference.

With the SDPUo, Labor Ukraine, and the NDP outside Yanukovych’s coalition, it will be difficult for Yanukovych to become the real leader of Ukraine’s non-communist opposition. Yanukovych has yet to prove that his coalition is a serious political force capable of challenging the government in next year’s elections, and not just a club of bankrupt politicians united by the fear of punishment for offences committed while in power.

(Interfax-Ukraine, April 11; Partyofregions.org.ua, April 14; Proua.com, UNIAN, Komsomolskaya pravda, April 15; Ukrayinski novyny, Channel 5, April 16)