Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has appointed Raisa Bohatyryova as secretary of the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC). This came as a surprise for many, as Bohatyryova has been one of the leaders of the main opposition force, the Party of Regions (PRU), which is chaired by former prime minister Viktor Yanukovych. Her appointment has been interpreted as Yushchenko’s first step to somehow integrate the PRU, or at least the pragmatic wing of it, into the government. But this also may be the beginning of a split in the PRU.
Yushchenko’s offer of a job to Bohatyryova was an unpleasant surprise for Yanukovych. His intention has apparently been to shun the government formed by Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, positioning his party as a principled opposition force that does not want to share responsibility for a government in which the PRU does not participate.
On December 20-22, the PRU issued a series of strongly worded statements condemning “political persecution” and the “witch hunt” allegedly conducted by the new cabinet against former government officials. The PRU condemned especially the recent dismissals of PRU-linked deputy ministers by the new interior minister, Yuriy Lutsenko. On December 21, the PRU formed a “shadow cabinet” with Yanukovych at the helm, consisting mostly of the ministers who served under Yanukovych. The declared goal of this team is to control the Tymoshenko cabinet’s activities and “tell society what is going on in the government,” said Hanna Herman, one of the PRU’s unofficial spokespeople.
On December 24, news agencies reported that Yushchenko had offered the position of NSDC secretary to Bohatyryova. She was number two on the PRU’s list for the 2007 parliamentary election. She chaired the PRU caucus in parliament before the election, and she has been the PRU’s main candidate for the post of parliament’s deputy speaker. Observers have also viewed Bohatyryova as the public face of the PRU’s moderate wing, which is open to cooperation with Yushchenko. It is widely believed that Ukraine’s richest businessman, Renat Akhmetov, commands this wing.
Yanukovych announced on the same day that Bohatyryova did not give her consent to the appointment. “We have decided to go into opposition, which rules out our participation in the government,” he said. No comment, however, came from Bohatyryova. On December 25, the PRU’s ruling body, the political council, advised Bohatyryova to reject Yushchenko’s offer. Bohatyryova, however, accepted the offer by the end of the day.
The PRU hurried to deny rumors about an imminent split of the party into a business wing behind Bohatyryova and Akhmetov and Yanukovych’s conservatives. Segodnya, a newspaper linked to Akhmetov, however, admitted that the PRU may split. Several prominent members of the PRU, including Borys Kolesnykov, a crony of Akhmetov, were quoted as saying that Bohatyryova’s was a personal decision and that she should quit the PRU. Kolesnykov explained that Bohatyryova, as Yushchenko’s chief security adviser, would have to follow his pro-NATO line, which would be a conflict of interest, as the PRU does not support Ukraine’s NATO integration.
Tymoshenko said she did not object to Yushchenko’s choice of NSDC secretary. Some members of the pro-government camp, however, have been unhappy with it. Borys Tarasyuk, a former foreign minister and current leader of the People’s Movement (Rukh), suggested that this might be a first step to forming a grand coalition including the PRU. His party has fiercely opposed the intentions of a part of Yushchenko’s team to form such a coalition.
Ukrainian analyst Andry Yermolayev opined that Bohatyryova, as a representative of the opposition, may play the role of a counterweight to Tymoshenko. Another domestic analyst, Kost Bondarenko, a former adviser to both Yanukovych and Tymoshenko, agreed with this. He said that Tymoshenko’s position may be weakened by the appearance of people like Bohatyryova in Yushchenko’s team.
The influence of NSDC secretary on the cabinet should not be overestimated, however. The NSDC is chaired by the president, whose word is decisive at its meetings, and who can fire NSDC secretary at any moment. The prime minister and key ministers are members of the NSDC along with the secretary. The president issues orders at NSDC meetings, not the secretary, whose job is to organize NSDC operations and watch how the president’s instructions are carried out.
For most of Bohatyryova’s predecessors, their stints in this position were the beginning of a decline in their political careers. Petro Poroshenko, who was the first to serve as NSDC secretary under Yushchenko in 2005, fell into disgrace amid accusations of corruption. His successor, Anatoly Kinakh, defected from Yushchenko’s camp in 2006 and lost his former influence. Vitaly Hayduk quit active politics after his resignation from the NSDC in May 2007. Bohatyryova’s immediate predecessor, Ivan Plyushch, was elected to parliament, but refused to back Tymoshenko for prime minister and was expelled from the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko coalition.
(UNIAN, December 20, 24, 26; Channel 5, December 21; Inter TV, December 22; Interfax-Ukraine, December 24; ICTV, December 25; Segodnya, December 30)