Operating through coalition mechanisms that President Viktor Yushchenko has helped create, the Party of Regions is de facto appropriating the president’s formal authority to shape foreign policy. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s September 13-14 announcements in Brussels, unilaterally turning down a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) for Ukraine, shocked the pro-Western president and his political allies into a belated attempt at halting the loss of their authority over foreign policy (see EDM, September 19, 20). However, the prime minister and his coalition partners are openly ignoring and even rebuking the pro-presidential forces.
On September 19, the Cabinet of Ministers — heavily dominated by the Party of Regions and its allies — issued a resolution of “support for the prime minister’s stance [in Brussels] as reflecting the common position of the parliamentary coalition, adhering to the letter and spirit of the [August 3] National Unity Declaration, and taking account of the views prevailing in Ukrainian society and the current state of its information [about NATO]” (UNIAN, September 19).
The Cabinet-invoked parliamentary majority coalition is that of Regions, Socialists, and Communists, cohabiting with the pro-presidential Our Ukraine in a government under Regions’ hegemony. That same day, the parliamentary coalition passed a resolution in the Verkhovna Rada similarly expressing support for Yanukovych’s renunciation of MAP. The Rada’s chairman, Oleksandr Moroz, had prefaced the resolution by stating that Yanukovych’s stance at NATO fully conformed to the terms of the National Unity Declaration. Approved by 242 deputies out of 321 registered for the session, the resolution instructs the Rada’s committees on foreign affairs and defense to draft and submit for voting by November 1 a bill on the procedure for Ukraine’s accession to military-political alliances. The move seems intended to add legal hurdles to Ukraine’s possible accession to NATO in the future (Interfax-Ukraine, September 19-21).
In these resolutions’ aftermath, Yanukovych and the majorities behind him in parliament and government are adducing two further arguments in their contest with the president over foreign policy. They cite a constitutional provision whereby the parliament “determines the principles of domestic and foreign policy” (Article 85 para. 5, cited by Tammy Lynch, “Yanukovych Heads to Brussels, Yushchenko Stays Home,” ISCIP Analyst, September 21); and, since the prime minister is responsible to parliament under the amended constitution, Yanukovych and his allies can claim that their stance on NATO is covered by the parliament’s authority (Interfax-Ukraine, September 24).
Ever since the presidency went for the deal with Regions in August, it has optimistically insisted that Yushchenko would retain full authority on foreign policy based on Article 106 of the constitution. Apparently, the president did not sufficiently reckon with the majority’s use of Article 85 to countervail Article 106 or with the political consequences of the redistribution of powers under the amended constitution.
While in Moscow on September 24, Yanukovych issued an even bolder challenge to presidential authority on foreign policy. He warned that the parliament (where he commands majority support with his allies) could “very soon” call a referendum on the issue of Ukraine joining NATO, “If someone stirs up this issue and political passions around it” (Itar-Tass, September 24). Such a referendum would produce an overwhelming vote against joining if held anytime soon, without adequately and patiently informing the public. Meanwhile, the new government’s draft budget has cut the funds for information programs on Euro-Atlantic integration from an already paltry 5.2 million hryvnias in 2006 to 3 million for 2007 (from ca. $1 million to ca. $600,000) (Zerkalo nedeli, September 16-22).
Yanukovych was already bypassing the president and the relevant ministers while preparing his visit to NATO headquarters. Not only did he exclude the ministers of defense and foreign affairs from his delegation, but he also did not bother to consult them ahead of the visit. Minister of Foreign Affairs Borys Tarasyuk gave Yanukovych a letter for presentation at NATO headquarters, affirming Ukraine’s will and preparedness to embark on the MAP. However, that crucial final paragraph was deleted from the text that Yanukovych presented at NATO, evidently without asking the minister or the president (Zerkalo nedeli, September 16-22). Yushchenko tolerated the exclusion of the presidentially appointed ministers from consultations. He also failed to call the NSDC in session prior to Yanukovych’s visit to NATO, when it had already become clear that the prime minister was acting unilaterally and beyond his statutory remit.