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Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko in Kiev on December 20, 2006.
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Apr. 03, 2007
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Yushchenko Reaches the End of the Line
// Ukrainian President Signs Decree Dissolving Parliament
Yesterday evening Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko announced the dissolution of the Ukrainian Supreme Rada and scheduled early elections for May 27. The ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych declared the president's move illegitimate and threatened the head of the government with impeachment. The state of affairs in Ukraine yesterday was strongly reminiscent of Russia in October 1993, when legislators barricaded themselves in the Russian White House to protest President Boris Yeltsin's dissolution of the Russian legislature and refused to budge until the army sent in tanks to shell the parliament building and force the deputies to surrender. The question now is whether the warring factions will resort to force: the prime minister controls the police, while the president claims the support of the army.
To Dissolve or Not to Dissolve

Yesterday evening a strange broadcast flickered across the monitors in the presidential administration building in Kiev. A folder of papers and a pen appeared on the screen, alongside the motionless form of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. On Saturday Yulia Tymoshenko had cried to the crowds in Kiev's central square that "a decree dissolving the Rada and a pen are sufficient" to break up parliament.

As the president toyed with the pen before the assembled journalists, an emergency night-time session of the Upper Rada was already underway. Earlier that evening, the president had wrapped up a consultation with the leaders of the parliamentary factions, a constitutionally-mandated preliminary step before dissolving the Rada. "The president does not want to listen! Even to the coalition!" exclaimed Communist leader Pyotr Simonenko, who was the first to leave the consultation with Mr. Yushchenko. "The president did not listen to our warnings that he is being pushed towards wrong actions and a violation of the constitution!"

The discussion between the president and the parliamentary leadership was fairly perfunctory. Speaker of the Parliament Alexander Moroz informed the president that there are no constitutional grounds for dissolving the Rada, to which Viktor Yushchenko repeated the same argument made during Saturday's street protests by Yulia Tymoshenko and Yury Lutsenko: Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's "coalition of national unity" is illegitimate because it includes individual deputies, instead of being composed entirely of factions, as mandated by the constitution.

The members of the ruling coalition spent all day preparing their defense in the event that, as was expected, the president signed a decree dissolving the parliament. Party of the Regions deputy head Vasily Kiselev said that, if the president dissolves the parliament, the coalition will make certain that the early parliamentary elections will be accompanied by simultaneous presidential elections and a referendum on Ukraine joining NATO. Early presidential elections will be possible in only one case: if the ruling coalition manages to impeach President Yushchenko.

Towards evening, as Viktor Yushchenko was being presented with the fatal pen and folder, the members of the coalition hastily gathered in the parliament building to make their latest threatening announcement. "We will not disperse, and that is final. There are already several thousand people surrounding the building, who are ready to defend the parliament to the last," said Leonid Grach, one of the leaders of the Communist Party. "Otherwise the territorial integrity of Ukraine will come into question, and Yushchenko will end up with two Ukraines," he said. He also expressed certainty that the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which is headed by the socialist Vasily Tsushko, will not side with the president and will at the very least maintain neutrality in the conflict.

The socialists are taking an increasingly radical role in the standoff. Because their chances of surviving early elections with their seats in the Rada intact are minimal, they are clearly ready to oppose the president to the bitter end. Alexander Moroz, the speaker of the Rada and the leader of the Socialist Party, has repeatedly said that there are no grounds for the dissolution of the Rada and that he will seek to have the president's decree annulled by the constitutional court and the mandate of the current parliament restored.

Others among Prime Minister Yanukovych's "Regionalists" have been delivering even more weighty pronouncements. "If there are elections, we will win them, and then we'll have the opposition's guts for garters. We'll kick them out of the government," Anna German, an advisor to the prime minister, promised a Kommersant correspondent yesterday. "We will choose a parliament, and then we will choose a president. Yushchenko is playing right into our hands, not into the hands of his supporters, who haven't got a chance of getting into parliament."

At the moment, however, the Party of Regions deputies also have no intention of backing down from the fight over whether there will actually be early elections. Having learned that Viktor Yushchenko had picked up the pen, Viktor Yanukovych headed immediately for the parliament building, where the deputies quickly decided to pass a resolution declaring the decree dissolving parliament to be illegitimate.

As the president pondered with the pen in his hand, the streets outside the building filled up with deputies from the Rada, and news agencies began to report that buses packed with heavily armed special police units from the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine were heading for Kiev.

At nine o'clock in the evening, Viktor Yushchenko mustered his strength and appeared live on national television to accuse the coalition of not heeding his demands and usurping power. In dissolving the Rada, he called on hotheads who intend to interfere in the holding of new elections to cool down. President Yushchenko scheduled the new elections for May 27 and called on citizens "not to yield to provocations."

By that time, the Rada had already drafted the text of the resolution. In the vote that followed, all of the 255 deputies present at the session voted not to submit to the president's authority. The prime minister's cabinet was charged with continuing to carry out its assigned duties and to ensure that the work of the parliament carried on as normal. The prosecutor general was requested to immediately look into violations of the law committed by the president in signing the decree. In addition, the resolution states that any official who recognizes the validity of Viktor Yushchenko's "criminal" decree should bear legal responsibility. The Ministry of Information was assigned to relay reports about the situation in Ukraine to foreign governments.

To Go or Not to Go

Viktor Yushchenko had at least two important matters to contend with yesterday: he had to decide whether to dissolve the Rada, and he also had to decide whether or not he should go to Moscow for an official visit that was scheduled to begin today. Two weeks ago, his March 21 visit was delayed at the request of the Kremlin after the Russian authorities decided that visiting Moscow and talking with leading Russian politicians would only serve as an ace up Viktor Yushchenko's sleeve in his domestic battles and declined to play along.

Yesterday morning President Yushchenko's press secretary Irina Vannikova confidently told Kommersant that this time the visit will go forward as planned. At the time, Kommersant sources in the Kremlin concurred. "At the moment we have no information suggesting that the Ukrainian president will not come," said a highly-placed Kremlin source, adding that "Ukraine needs the plan of action that may be signed. President Yushchenko himself requested this meeting, but we understand that his position is difficult, and thus we would not take offense even if he did not come."

The trip to Russia was extremely important for Viktor Yushchenko. First of all, together with Vladimir Putin he was supposed to sign a long-standing plan of action laying out crucial bilateral arrangements dealing with fundamental problems in Russian-Ukrainian relations. Moreover, during the visit President Yushchenko had hoped to receive some political support from Moscow.

As the news from president's consultations with the leading parliamentary factions became increasingly gloomy throughout the day yesterday, officials in the Ukrainian president's administration began to express doubts that he would leave Kiev. A Kommersant source in the Ukrainian delegation responsible for making arrangements for the president's arrival in Moscow said that the agenda has been rolled up and that the visit will presumably be put off until May. Then a meeting of the commission responsible for planning the visit was cancelled, and later in the evening Viktor Yushchenko called Vladimir Putin. After a long conversation, the two presidents agreed that the visit will take place later.

In an unusual move yesterday, American Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor made a fairly sharp public comment on the events in Kiev: "We insist that the conflict be resolved within the framework of the constitution. The constitution lays out all paths for resolving the situation. It is necessary to learn to be responsible for one's own actions. Democracy is difficult. We want to expand the process of negotiations," he said.

In essence, Viktor Yushchenko will get no support in the current crisis either from Russia or from his traditional partners in the West. The US and Europe are not overjoyed about the government of Viktor Yanukovych, but it is clear that dissolving the Upper Rada could lead to Ukraine itself dissolving into chaos.
Mikhail Zygar

All the Article in Russian as of Apr. 03, 2007

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