The Our Ukraine bloc of six right-of-center parties, which supports President Viktor Yushchenko, has withdrawn from talks on joining the government coalition with the Party of Regions (PRU), the Socialists, and the Communists. Roman Bezsmertny, the formal leader of Our Ukraine (NU), announced that it would be going into the opposition and that its ministers should quit the cabinet of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. This decision was prompted by the protracted tug-of-war over powers between Yushchenko and Yanukovych (see EDM, September 27, October 4), as well as by the refusal of the would-be partners to base a grand coalition on the declaration of national unity that was signed by the leaders of the four parties in early August at Yushchenko’s request.
Despite NU’s decision to be in the opposition, the ministers representing it are reluctant to quit Yanukovych’s cabinet. This reflects both Yushchenko’s indecision and the artificial character of NU, especially its core component, People’s Union-Our Ukraine (NSNU), whose members place loyalty to Yushchenko above affiliation with the party.
Talks on a grand coalition started well before August 3, when the national unity declaration was signed, and they intensified in September, when parliament re-convened after summer vacation. Quite soon it became clear that the PRU, which dominates the government coalition that was formed in July, does not intend to drop the Communists from the alliance. NU hoped for that, as the Communists — their main ideological adversaries — had signed the August 3 declaration with reservations, indicating that most of Yushchenko’s strategic goals were unacceptable for them, such as EU and NATO integration and making Ukrainian the only national language not only de jure, but also de facto. Later on, the more radical elements of NU started to suspect that the PRU was using the Communists’ ideological opposition to NU only as a pretext for dragging their feet over a final agreement in order to secure more concessions from Yushchenko.
NU eventually lost patience. Bezsmertny stated on October 2 that the talks would be stopped if the national unity declaration is not used as the foundation of the would-be grand coalition. On October 3, the NSNU council accused Yanukovych of ignoring the declaration and authorized Bezsmertny to stop the talks if the PRU and its satellites continue to reject their conditions. On October 4, Yushchenko, returning from a visit to Germany, again urged the sides to base a new coalition on the declaration. This request was again flatly rejected by the Communists at a meeting among the leaders of the four parties, including Yanukovych, and later on the same day Bezsmertny announced that NU was moving into the opposition to Yanukovych and would recall its ministers from his cabinet.
Bezsmertny’s statement initially was not taken seriously. Yanukovych and Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz urged a continuation of the talks, and Yanukovych dismissed Bezsmertny’s statement as too emotional. Opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko suggested that NU had only tried to scare Yanukovych and planned to continue the talks anyway. Yushchenko still continues to believe, judging by his recent statements, that all the bridges have not yet been burned. There are signs that Yushchenko may distance himself from the NSNU — the party that Bezsmertny constructed at his request in early 2005 — and continue to insist on a grand coalition. The new head of Yushchenko’s secretariat, Viktor Baloha, told a press conference on October 6 that Yushchenko may quit as NSNU honorary chairman. He also said that Yushchenko is equally distant from all political parties.
On October 6 Bezsmertny urged NU representatives to quit the cabinet. This, however, has not been met with enthusiasm by those concerned — Justice Minister Roman Zvarych, Family and Youth Minister Yuriy Pavlenko, Culture Minister Ihor Likhovy, and Health Minister Yuriy Polyachenko. Only Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk — who leads NU’s Rukh party, which has probably been the least keen on continuing the coalition talks, reportedly indicated that he would quit the cabinet because the talks failed. But Tarasyuk does not formally have to do so, as he was appointed to the cabinet not on NU’s, but on Yushchenko’s presidential quota. The other minister appointed on Yushchenko’s quota — Defense Minister Anatoly Hrytsenko — made it clear that he would not resign unless Yushchenko asked him to do so.
On October 9, NU’s press service quoted Bezsmertny as saying that all those who do not agree with the decision to go into the opposition to Yanukovych should quit NU. He said that all bridges have been burned, as the parties comprising NU had decided that there would be no more grand coalition talks. It remains to be seen whether NU will start to build bridges with Tymoshenko to build a united opposition. The Ukrainian media have been circulating a rumor that Yushchenko may appoint her secretary of the National Security and Defense Council and try to make this body a counterbalance to Yanukovych’s cabinet.
(ICTV, October 2; Delo, October 3; UT1, October 4; Channel 5, October 4-9; Obkom.net.ua, Delovaya stolitsa, October 9)