Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Jen Alic, "Big bucks behind 'Orange' betrayal," ISN Security Watch, August 4, 2006.

The romantic notion of Ukraine's Orange Revolution is shoved under the rug as the country returns to 2004 with a little help from oligarchs who must protect their business interests.

As the Ukrainian parliament prepared to vote Friday on pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych's nomination to be the country's next prime minister, bringing full circle the dramatic Orange Revolution that saw pro-Western president Viktor Yushchenko assume power, it appears that oligarchic business interests are behind the chain of events.

On Tuesday, Yanukovych and Yushchenko signed a declaration of principles to lay the foundation for a broad coalition government uniting their respective parties - the Party of Regions and Our Ukraine - which neatly represent Ukraine's east-west divide.

According to Yushchenko, who had defeated Moscow-backed candidate Yanukovych in 2004 elections, Ukraine will remain on its course towards reform, and foreign policy goals that include joining NATO will not be derailed.

But others, especially former Orange Revolution ally Yuliya Tymoshenko, say the agreement is treason.

“Treachery is becoming a common practice in Ukrainian politics, and it is growing into an infectious disease which passes on by an unknown method but does not contaminate women. It will not affect our political party. We will not let shadow lobbyists work,” she said.

According to Russia's Kommersant daily newspaper, the agreement states that accession to NATO would be possible over after a national referendum. The daily also said an article was added on meeting Ukraine's commitments of the Common Economic Space and its members, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Certainly, Yushchenko had found himself in a tough position. In 2004, he enjoyed the ardent support of the majority of the electorate and had denied any possibility of cooperating with his rival, Yanukovych. But according to ISN Security Watch analyst Oleksandr Gavrylyuk in Kiev, the tables have turned. "The regionalists not only managed to hammer out a parliamentary majority, but are also spouting off about the necessity of consolidating the country they themselves had tried to disintegrate."

"With the only alternative being dissolving the parliament and little chance of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc of improving its election returns, Yushchenko has chosen to meet his opponents half way," Gavrylyuk said.

Tymoshenko has pledged to form opposition to the regionalists-led coalition, which could seal the fate of the Orange Coalition once and for all, as part of the Our Ukraine faction, disappointed at Yushchenko's decision, would likely join the opposition, according to Gavrylyuk. In addition, he said, the oligarchic part of the pro-presidential bloc, whom Tymoshenko has accused of ousting her last year from the prime minister's seat and sympathizing with regionalist coal barons, are likely to be co-opted by the winning coalition.

Under the circumstances, Tymoshenko could feel free to run for president in 2009, while Yushchenko, who long has feared her rivalry within the Orange Coalition, might be backed by his former regionalist rivals in what could prove yet another twist to Ukraine's rapidly changing political scene.

In the meantime, the oligarchs appear to be the real winners in this latest twist of Ukrainian fate, and Tymoshenko's description of the Tuesday agreement as a smoke screen for "insider dealings of dividing posts and distributing businesses” most likely is not far from the truth.

It seems certain that Yanukovych's comeback likely will mean a new redistribution of property.

According to Kommersant, Yanukovych has not been calling the shots these days, rather Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's wealthiest man and number seven in the Regional Party election list.

Kommersant said Akhmetov was believed to be the "main instigator" in the Orange coalition split, and that his main goal was to keep Tymoshenko from becoming prime minister, which was looking very likely before 6 July, when Oleksandr Moroz's Socialist Party faction left its Orange allies to form a new coalition with "regionalists" and communists, leading to the most severe parliamentary crisis in Ukraine's history.

It was only three weeks earlier that the allied parties of the Orange Revolution had, after tough negotiations, signed a coalition agreement that should have led to political stability in Ukraine and a path towards Euro-Atlantic integration.

Tymoshenko would have hit the oligarchs hard and ignored Akhmetov's interests, and this time he has proved a more formidable force. She had promised to renationalize 3,000 enterprises who privatizations she considered shady at best. She would have attacked business in Donetsk, and Akhmetov's empire was a key target. As prime minister before she was unceremoniously sacked by Yushchenko, she had opened criminal cases against Akhmetov.

Once Yanukovych's nomination for prime minister is approved, Akhmetov and other oligarchs will be given strong protection, and anyone with business interests left in the Tymoshenko Bloc will likely run scared, giving up ideology for security for their businesses.

The divvying up of posts already has begun, though informally, and Yanukovych's Party of Regions looks set to get most of the economic bloc, including the State Property Fund, which is responsible for privatization.

Still, though big business clearly has won out over the democratic and reform-minded ideals of the Orange Revolution, some say a new government led by Yanukovych (with oligarch Akhmetov pulling the strings) will be more US friendly than at first thought. After all, oligarchs tend to pay little heed to ideology and are happy to ignore east-west ideological boundaries if it creates a more favorable climate for their empires.

And on Thursday, Washington said it was ready to work with a Ukrainian government headed by Yanukovych. In fact, Ukrainian media reported that Akhmetov already had visited the US, hoping to drum up support for his empire there, though these reports have not been independently confirmed.

Jen Alic is the editor in chief of ISN Security Watch.
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