Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has lost at least two of the four ministers who remained loyal to him while working in Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych’s cabinet. Parliament, which is dominated by the Anti-Crisis Coalition (AKK) — consisting of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions (PRU), the Communists, and the Socialists (SPU) — has accepted the resignation of Family and Youth Minister Yuriy Pavlenko, got rid of Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, and fired Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk. Yushchenko has reconciled himself with Lutsenko’s departure, but he flatly disagreed with the dismissal of Tarasyuk, who had been appointed to the cabinet under the president’s quota.
Yanukovych and the AKK have long been unhappy with Tarasyuk, abhorring his pronouncedly pro-NATO course and independent behavior. Tarasyuk never missed an opportunity to recall that he was Yushchenko’s minister, not Yanukovych’s. Formal grounds for his dismissal appeared in October, when the Our Ukraine bloc joined the opposition camp in parliament (see EDM, October 10). Tarasyuk leads one of the bloc’s main parties — the People’s Movement.
Yanukovych and Tarasyuk quarreled ahead of Yanukovych’s December 3-7 visit to the United States. On November 28, the Foreign Ministry told U.S. Ambassador William Taylor that Yanukovych’s visit would be postponed indefinitely. Tarasyuk explained that Yanukovych had failed to provide Yushchenko with the agenda for his visit in a timely manner. At the cabinet meeting on November 29, Yanukovych forwarded the agenda to Yushchenko, and Arseny Yatsenyuk, the deputy head of Yushchenko’s secretariat, promptly announced that Yanukovych’s visit would take place. At the same meeting, Yanukovych signed a letter requesting parliament to fire Tarasyuk, with whom, he explained, he had “failed to find a common understanding for three months.”
Yushchenko rejected Yanukovych’s request as “unacceptable,” another deputy head of Yushchenko’s secretariat, Oleksandr Chaly, said on November 29. Parliament disregarded Yushchenko’s opinion. Addressing parliament on December 1, Deputy Prime Minister Andriy Klyuyev said that Tarasyuk’s attempt to postpone Yanukovych’s visit to Washington “behind the prime minister’s back” was his most serious mistake. Tarasyuk’s dismissal was approved by 247 deputies in the 450-seat body on the same day.
The situation with Tarasyuk is complicated, as only Yushchenko can nominate a replacement for that post, according to the constitution. Moreover, Yushchenko argues that parliament had no right to fire Tarasyuk, as the procedure of dismissing the ministers appointed under the presidential quota is not clearly formulated in the constitution. Yushchenko adviser Ihor Koliushko said that the presidential secretariat would appeal to the Constitutional Court regarding Tarasyuk. For the time being, Tarasyuk carries on as caretaker foreign minister.
A court in Kyiv reinstated Tarasyuk as minister on December 5, but Tarasyuk was not allowed to attend the regular cabinet meeting on December 6, and Justice Minister Oleksandr Lavrynovych explained this was because Tarasyuk is no longer a minister. Tarasyuk said he would sue the cabinet.
It has proved easier for Yanukovych to get rid of Interior Minister Lutsenko, who did not belong to Yushchenko’s quota in the cabinet. The AKK initially tried to use corruption allegations as grounds for Lutsenko’s dismissal (see EDM, November 22), but the charges were weak. On November 28, a court in Kyiv invalidated a lower-court verdict to fine Lutsenko for giving firearms as presents. On November 30, Yanukovych said that he would like to see Lutsenko fired for “excessive politicization” of the Interior Ministry. On December 1 parliament dismissed Lutsenko by 248 votes.
Until the very last moment the second-largest element of the AKK, the SPU, hesitated on Lutsenko, who used to be a Socialist himself. They agreed to his dismissal only when Yanukovych’s team promised that Lutsenko would be replaced by a Socialist. On December 1, the leader of the SPU’s parliamentary faction, Vasyl Tsushko, was approved as interior minister by 246 votes. The chief of Yushchenko’s secretariat, Viktor Baloha, welcomed the appointment of Tsushko, whom he called “a balanced politician.” Tsushko, 43, is a former state farm director. He has been a member of the SPU caucus in parliament since 1994 and briefly served as Odessa governor in 2005-2006.
Also on December 1 parliament elected a new family and youth minister, Viktor Korzh, a PRU member and retired police general. Korzh replaced Yuriy Pavlenko, whose resignation parliament approved on November 29. Pavlenko preferred his Our Ukraine membership to serving in a cabinet that Our Ukraine opposes. Korzh is “not a supporter of revolutionary approaches,” he told his new subordinates on November 30, according to Interfax.
Speaking in an interview with the BBC, Yushchenko said that Lutsenko’s dismissal “did not contribute to stability,” and that he had informed Yanukovych that Tarasyuk’s dismissal was “inexpedient.” Yushchenko insisted that parliament had no right to dismiss Tarasyuk and vowed, “Tarasyuk will continue to work.” Yanukovych dismissed Yushchenko’s statement on Tarasyuk on December 1, saying that Yushchenko “has the right to express his point of view.” In an effort to preserve some control over key ministries, on December 4 Yushchenko signed a decree requesting the cabinet not to make appointments to top positions at the Ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, and Defense without his approval.
(Channel 5, November 28, 29, December 4; Ukrayinska pravda, November 29, December 1, 4; Kommersant Ukraina, Interfax-Ukraine, November 30; BBC Ukrainian Service, UNIAN, December 1; ICTV, December 6)