By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, July 8, 2006; A11
MOSCOW, July 7 -- Ukraine's new coalition government of pro-Western democratic parties was predicted to be fragile. It proved so weak that it collapsed on Friday before it even got started.
And out of the rubble emerged the man who was cast as the villain in Ukraine's democratic triumph known as the Orange Revolution. In a remarkable turnaround, Viktor Yanukovich, the losing, pro-Moscow candidate in the disputed presidential elections that led to massive street protests in 2004, appears set to become prime minister.
This week was supposed to bring the formal reconstruction of the unstable alliance that led the Orange Revolution, so-named for the color worn by the protesters. Instead, the bloc dissolved into familiar back-stabbing after its smallest member, the Socialists, broke ranks to get its own man elected to a parliamentary post.
The Socialists then signed onto what they called a new "anti-crisis" coalition with the Communists and Yanukovich's Party of Regions. The agreement was signed Friday evening in front of journalists in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.
The recent political turmoil and indecision in Ukraine have frustrated the European Union and the United States. They had hoped to see the country well along in restructuring necessary to open it to Western institutions and greater foreign investment.
The White House had considered a plan for President Bush to travel to Ukraine to hail it as a new outpost of openness and free enterprise, but it put off the idea because of continuing uncertainty after the election. Instead he went to Hungary last month.
With Yanukovich as prime minister, Bush can write off such a trip. The pro-Moscow politician opposes or questions many of the goals of President Viktor Yushchenko, notably membership in the NATO alliance and the European Union. Yanukovich is interested in what is called the "single economic space," a concept promoted by the Kremlin to bind Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus together.
Because of constitutional changes that came into force after Yushchenko assumed the presidency, the post of prime minister is more powerful than it has been. The holder of the office is no longer appointed by the president, but is independently elected by parliament. The president retains the right to propose candidates for three key ministries, including foreign affairs, but his ability to constrain the prime minister is much reduced.
The Orange coalition fell apart for the first time last September. Yushchenko dismissed his prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, the charismatic crowd-pleaser who galvanized the popular revolt that swept Yushchenko into office. He said corruption was rampant under her stewardship; she accused some of the president's key advisers of corruption.
Elections followed in March. Yanukovich's Party of Regions emerged as the largest single party, but no single party won an overall majority.
The three that had led the Orange Revolution -- Yushchenko's Our Ukraine, Tymoshenko's bloc and the Socialists, led by Oleksander Moroz -- together had enough seats to form a government, but weeks passed with no agreement on how to overcome the bad feelings between them and form a government.
In June, the three parties finally agreed to a new coalition. Tymoshenko would be prime minister, and Petro Poroshenko, a controversial tycoon and member of Yushchenko's party, would be speaker of parliament. The two are fierce rivals.
But on Thursday, Moroz, the Socialist leader, appeared to have had sudden second thoughts about the deal.
"I've got evidence to show, which I am not going to do now, that the election of such charismatic people" as Poroshenko and Tymoshenko to the country's highest offices will inevitably create an explosive mixture," he said. "It would spell the end of the coalition in the course of several months with all the consequences to follow."
The Socialists then nominated Moroz as speaker. Yanukovich's Party of Regions, joined by the Communists, saw an opening and backed him. He was elected on Thursday evening.
His former partners were left to fume. "We consider that the coalition never took place," Tymoshenko said. "Thus, the coalition did not unravel; it never existed in the first place."
"Moroz is a professional betrayer and a greedy, cynical and a mercenary man," David Zhvania, a member of Our Ukraine, told reporters.
Moroz quickly adjourned parliament until Tuesday, when a new coalition led by Yanukovich might be put to a vote.