On March 15 the government of Yulia Tymoshenko will mark its first 100 days in office, a period that has been a baptism by fire. Not only has the government faced relentless attacks from the opposition Party of Regions (PRU), it has also faced a parliamentary lockout and an antagonistic Russia. As former National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) secretary Volodymyr Horbulin noted, each time Tymoshenko heads the government, Russia deploys energy pressure against Ukraine.
But this period has also been plagued by blatant attempts to undermine the government from its own coalition partners and ostensible allies. Six days after Tymoshenko was confirmed as prime minister on December 18, President Viktor Yushchenko appointed Raisa Bohatyryova as NSDC secretary. Bohatyryova was head of the Regions parliamentary faction and shared a parliamentary office with Regions campaign manager Borys Kolesnikov.
The six-day gap between Tymoshenko’s confirmation and Bohatyryova’s appointment was no coincidence, but part of what Kyiv insiders have dubbed “Operation Baloga.” The alleged mastermind, presidential chief of staff Viktor Baloga, is more ruthless than his predecessors, Oleksandr Zinchenko (both were members of the hard-line, anti-Yushchenko Social Democratic Party-United) and Oleh Rybachuk.
Operation Baloga grew out of the spring 2007 constitutional crisis, which collapsed when the PRU agreed to pre-term elections on September 30. Yushchenko’s side of the bargain was a promise to Regions to support a grand coalition with his Our Ukraine party after the elections. During the elections Yushchenko actively campaigned for a “democratic” (i.e. Orange) coalition.” But when his Orange Revolution ally, the Tymoshenko bloc (BYuT) drew to within 3% of Regions, Yushchenko could not follow through on his grand coalition promise. BYuT’s improved election results, coupled with the static performance Our Ukraine-People’s Self Defense (NUNS) bloc, was further complicated by increased hostility within NUNS to such a grand coalition. Leading NUNS members had suffered under the Viktor Yanukovych government in fall 2006.
Yushchenko therefore decided to continue his multi-vector policies of supporting both Orange and grand coalitions, a position that he has espoused since Our Ukraine’s foundation in 2001. Following the 2006 parliamentary elections Yushchenko negotiated a grand coalition through Yuriy Yekhanurov and an Orange coalition through Roman Bezsmertny.
The result of Yushchenko’s post-2007 maneuvering has been an Orange coalition inside parliament and a grand coalition ensconced in the NSDC and presidential administration. Since Yushchenko came to power in 2005 the NSDC has been continually used as a counter-weight to governments seen by Yushchenko as hostile,” whether headed by Tymoshenko (2005 and 2007–) or Yanukovych (2006-2007).
Baloga and seven allies from NUNS resigned from Yushchenko’s bloc as part of a larger strategy to undermine the Tymoshenko government. This five-point strategy was drawn up during a secret February meeting between Yushchenko and Yanukovych and is planned to be completed by April 1. The Russian leadership endorsed the plan when Yushchenko visited Moscow in January. The basic steps are:
1. NUNS withdraws from the Orange coalition. Baloga reportedly has 22 allies within NUNS’s 72 deputies, seven of whom have already resigned. For a faction to withdraw from a coalition requires a majority vote which, in the case of NUNS, is a minimum of 37 deputies. An additional 15 deputies will to be pressured to defect.
2. A vote of no confidence in the Tymoshenko government. The parliamentary blockade has prevented a vote on the government’s program, which would have legally prevented a vote of no confidence for 12 months.
3. The acting government will be sidelined by a new government headed by Baloga and with Yanukovych as parliamentary speaker. The Baloga government would be backed by a re-organized grand coalition that includes a wing of NUNS.
4. The Baloga government and grand coalition would support Yushchenko’s version of constitutional reforms that give back powers to the president.
5. The Baloga government and grand coalition would ensure Yushchenko’s re-election for a second term and Yanukovych would agree to not stand.
These five components are inherently unstable, irrational, and incompatible. However, Yushchenko is dominated completely by his chief of staff, who has convinced him of two key factors: First Tymoshenko is disloyal and has decided to stand as a presidential candidate. Second, Baloga can “guarantee” Yushchenko’s re-election through an alliance with Regions, whose political machine can ensure his win in eastern Ukraine. But with a public approval rating of 6-10%, Yushchenko could not win an election even through fraud.
Tymoshenko’s personal and BYuT’s ratings are three times as high as those of Yushchenko and NUNS. If pre-term parliamentary elections were held today, BYuT would place first with an increase of 50 seats, bringing it to over 200. NUNS and Regions would secure fewer seats than in 2007. The only way Yushchenko can be re-elected in a free election is through an alliance with Tymoshenko as his prime minister, repeating their successful 2004 alliance.
A wide-ranging discussion in the respected weekly Zerkalo nedeli showed that Yushchenko’s campaign to re-take presidential powers through further constitutional reforms is backed by only one out of the five factions in parliament, NUNS, which is also the most unstable faction.
In the meantime, Yushchenko’s continued inability to choose between grand and Orange coalitions or to reconcile himself with a Tymoshenko government, combined with his desperation to get himself re-elected is undermining his own policies, including his goal of receiving a NATO Membership Action Plan at next month’s summit in Bucharest.
(Zerkalo nedeli, March 1-7, Ukrayinska pravda, February 19-29, glavred.info, February 15, vvnews.info, February 21-22)