President Viktor Yushchenko’s camp has reacted to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s September 14 statement to the effect that Ukraine is not ready for a NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) with ostentatious indignation. Yanukovych has been accused of violating inter-party accords and spoiling Ukraine’s chance to join NATO soon. This possibility, however, was spoiled long before Yanukovych’s visit to Brussels. Yushchenko and his allies are using Yanukovych’s remarks on NATO to both cover up their own mistakes and to prepare public opinion for a possible fiasco involving the talks on a new coalition in parliament, which would be led by Yanukovych’s party but include Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine (NU). The current majority coalition includes Yanukovych’s Party of Regions (PRU), the Communists, and the Socialists — all of which are wary of NATO.
A day before Yanukovych’s visit to Brussels, Oleksandr Tretyakov, an aide to Yushchenko, complained that the PRU was disrupting coalition talks by rejecting cooperation with NATO. Another Yushchenko ally, Anatoly Matvienko, warned that Yanukovych may fail to send a positive signal to NATO in Brussels. Both implied that postponing NATO membership, which Yushchenko’s team had hoped to secure in 2008, would violate the national unity declaration that was signed on August 3 by NU, the PRU, the Communists, and the Socialists. Our Ukraine insists that the declaration should be taken as the basis for a new coalition.
Just hours after meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on September 14, Yanukovych tried to dismiss any link between the NATO issue and the coalition talks. “The declaration does not say a word about our supporting the [NATO membership] action plan. It says that NATO membership would depend on the results of a referendum,” he said. “Certain politicians have different opinions, and it is their right,” he continued, adding that his opponents should bear in mind public opinion, which is negative on NATO membership — Yanukovych had resorted to the same argument in his conversation with de Hoop Scheffer.
On returning home the following day, Yanukovych faced a barrage of criticism from Yushchenko’s camp. Yushchenko’s legal aide, Mykola Poludyonny, told a press conference that Yanukovych should have discussed the NATO issue with other ministers “so as to avoid expressing his own opinion only.” Defense Minister Anatoly Hrytsenko echoed Poludyonny, complaining at his own morning press conference that Yanukovych “did not find time to talk with the defense minister to understand what the Membership Action Plan actually is.” Hrytsenko said that because of Yanukovych’s remarks, the upcoming NATO summit in Riga will not make a decision on a MAP for Ukraine. Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, who happens to be one of the leaders of Our Ukraine, repeated the same pessimistic forecast about the Riga summit almost simultaneously, speaking at a different venue. And in the evening, Yushchenko warned against revising the achievements of the 2004 Orange Revolution, making it clear that he meant Yanukovych’s visit to Brussels.
In reality, Yanukovych’s remarks will hardly influence NATO’s decision on the MAP for Ukraine, as it has been clear for several months now that Ukraine would not be invited to join NATO in Riga. Our Ukraine inadvertently contributed to this by failing to launch a campaign to sway public opinion in favor of NATO on the wave of national euphoria in early 2005, when trust in pro-Western Yushchenko was much higher than now. The pro-Western forces’ crushing defeat in the March parliamentary election, the anti-NATO and anti-American protests in southern Ukraine this past summer, and the establishment of the PRU-dominated parliamentary majority could not but spoil Ukraine’s chances of joining NATO any time soon.
In fact, disagreement over NATO is only one of several points on which Our Ukraine and the PRU-dominated coalition disagree, so talks on a pre-advertised national unity coalition are close to a fiasco. Our Ukraine reportedly has come up with a set of conditions that the other members of the would-be coalition find hard to digest. Our Ukraine had dropped its demand to exclude the Communists from the coalition, but its other demands are no less difficult for the PRU and its allies to swallow.
Our Ukraine apparently wants to secure for itself the leading positions at the Anti-Monopoly Committee, the State Property Fund, and several other government agencies that have already been distributed among the members of the existing coalition. It also insists that the coalition has to be based on the national unity declaration. Among other controversial demands, according to Ukrayinska pravda, are raising the parliamentary election threshold to 5% (which would likely exclude the Communists from parliament), cancel the moratorium on agricultural land privatization (which both the Communists and the Socialists fiercely oppose), and revoke the obligation to ensure WTO entry by the end of 2006. The other would-be coalition partners caution against haste on this last option, as the idea of simultaneous entry into the WTO with Russia is apparently still popular with them.
(Itar-Tass, September 13; Ukrayinska pravda, September 14; UT1, Channel 5, September 15)