Pro-Western Government Disintegrates in Ukraine
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
MOSCOW, Sept. 16 -- The pro-Western government in Ukraine that took power in the Orange Revolution in 2004 fell apart again Tuesday, setting the stage for the former Soviet republic's third parliamentary election in as many years, with the nation's policies toward NATO and Russia hanging once more in the balance.
After only nine months in power, the on-again, off-again ruling coalition between President Viktor Yushchenko and his Orange Revolution partner, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, formally collapsed after weeks of infighting over charges of corruption and treason. If the parliament cannot form a new government within 30 days, the president can call for fresh elections.
The collapse came less than two weeks after Vice President Cheney traveled to the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, in the aftermath of Russia's five-day war with Georgia and urged the two leaders to unite in the face of what he called Russian aggression.
Yushchenko has accused his prime minister of trying to curry favor with Moscow instead of fully condemning the war, and his allies have asked for a probe into allegations that she committed treason by secretly offering to soften her policies toward the Kremlin in exchange for its support in the next election.
Tymoshenko has denied the allegations and accused the president of dragging Ukraine into unnecessary conflict with Russia. Both leaders have accused each other of corruption and blocking each other's policies.
The tensions within the alliance came to a head Sept. 3 when Yushchenko announced that his party was withdrawing from the governing coalition after Tymoshenko's party voted with the pro-Moscow opposition on a measure curbing presidential powers. Their failure to patch up their differences led to Tuesday's dissolution of the government.
Yushchenko has stepped up his rhetoric against Russia since its war with Georgia, saying that the conflict made it even more urgent for Ukraine to join the NATO alliance. He has also raised the possibility of renegotiating the Russian navy's use of the strategic port of Sevastapol, on Ukraine's Black Sea coast.
In an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday, he accused Russia of encouraging separatists in the Crimean Peninsula, home to much of Ukraine's large Russian minority.
The collapse of the government opens the door to a return to power by the opposition Party of Regions, which holds the most number of seats in the parliament and favors closer ties with Moscow. It has endorsed Russia's position on the Georgian war and demanded a referendum before Ukraine proceeds with its NATO bid.
Tymoshenko has positioned herself between the two sides, saying she supports Georgia's "territorial integrity" but refraining from more vocal criticism of the Kremlin or strong endorsement of NATO membership for Ukraine.
The rivalry between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko has intensified in recent months as the president's popularity ratings have plummeted.