Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Georgia Crisis and the Collapse of the Orange Coalition

If you don't follow Ukrainian politics, you may not be aware of the fact that the two heroes of the Orange Revolution, President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Iulia Tymoshenko have long been bitter rivals, so much so that they have difficulty being in the same room with each other.  As such, with presidential elections looming next year and both planning to run, it was only a matter of time before the current coalition fell victim to political maneuvering.  That finally happened this week when ministers from Yushchenko's Our Ukraine/National Self- Defense bloc walked out of a cabinet meeting.  Of course they were not unprovoked, when parliament began its new session Iulia Tymoshenko's Bloc joined with the Party of Regions headed by the Orange Revolution's nemesis Viktor Yanukovych and the Communists in voting to limit the president's powers.

Had that sequence of events not killed the coalition the two blocs would soon have contrived to find another way to formalize their divorce.  Yet coming when it did, the end of the coalition has been framed in terms relating to the crisis in Georgia and Ukraine's response to the crisis and anxieties about Russia's growing assertiveness.  Yushchenko, no doubt with an eye to Washington's response to the war in Georgia, adopted a belligerent stance urging Ukrainians to go to fight in Georgia as volunteers and threatening not to allow Russian navy ships that participated in the war to return to Sevastopol.  Tymoshenko did not, and Yushchenko is now accusing Tymoshenko of a engineering a rapprochement with President Medvedev.  

Sadly, the whole affair has once again demonstrated why Yushchenko has become one of the least popular figures in Ukraine, because it revealed how poor his strategic thinking is.  There was no way he could effectively enforce his threat to keep Russian ships out of Sevastapol, making Ukraine look weak --hardly what is necessary in the changing political climate Ukraine operates.  Tymoshenko and all Ukrainians must all live with the consequences, which in and of themeselves are not likely to prove pivotal in shaping Russian-Ukrainian relations in the long run.  Still, it is worth remembering that had Yushchenko recognized Ukraine's limited ability to affect the outcome in Georgia as Tymoshenko did Ukraine would not have looked weak unnecessarily.  All this does not bode well for the once popular president's reelection prospects next year.

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