The geopolitical implications of Ukraine's 2006 elections

by Taras Kuzio

Five political forces have entered the 2006 Verkhovna Rada which is legally in place until March 2011. Of these political forces, the left (Socialists and Communists) received 10 percent, the centrist Party of the Regions 32, and two Orange forces (Our Ukraine and Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc) 36 percent.

There is little consensus among these five political forces over the course of Ukraine's foreign policy. As Yulia Mostova wrote in the influential Zerkalo Nedeli weekly, "Half the country wants to be like Belarus and the other half like Europe."

The left controlled the Parliament in the 1990s but was unable to influence the course of Ukraine's foreign policy. Centrists dominated Ukraine's presidency in 1991-2004 and this led to a constantly vacillating multi-vector foreign policy.

Under President Leonid Kuchma, Ukraine had an extensive program of cooperation with NATO's Partnership for Peace and bilaterally with the United States and the United Kingdom through "In the Spirit of Partnership for Peace." Mr. Kuchma also sent the third largest military contingent to support the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

Since the victory of Viktor Yushchenko in the 2004 elections, the executive has been dominated for the first time by the center-right which traditionally has been more pro-Western and critical of Mr. Kuchma's multi-vector foreign policy. President Yushchenko has attempted to balance maintaining good relations with Russia with orienting Ukraine toward NATO and European Union membership.

As in the Kuchma era, the left have been frozen out of foreign policy decisions. With even fewer seats in the newly elected Parliament they will have little influence on Ukraine's foreign policy orientation. The pro-Orange Socialists and anti-Orange Communists have a combined total of approximately 50 seats out of 450.

That the Communists will have no influence over Ukraine's foreign trajectory is not surprising. Even during the 1990s, when they had the largest parliamentary faction, they were unable to block Ukraine's cooperation with NATO.

The Socialists pose a different problem. They provide crucial numbers to the Orange forces that gives the coalition more than 50 percent of seats in the new Parliament. The Socialists also play an important role in combating corruption and promoting democratization. Internal Affairs Minister Yurii Lutsenko, a Socialist, has a good image in this field.

At the same time, the Socialists voted throughout 2005 with the Communists against WTO legislation. The Socialists also agree with the Communists in opposing Ukraine's NATO membership. Indeed, Ukraine is the first aspiring member of NATO where the entire left, both pro- and anti-Orange, is against Ukraine joining NATO. In other post-Communist states the post-Communist left, such as former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, supported NATO membership.

What of the largest parliamentary faction, the Party of the Regions, whose size is twice that of President Yushchenko's Our Ukraine? The Party of the Regions is in favor of economic reform because it is dominated by oligarchs and businessmen. Yet, it voted against WTO legislation in 2005 as a protest vote against Mr. Yushchenko. Now that the elections are over, the Party of the Regions will move into a pro-WTO position.

More problematic are the Regions' attitudes toward NATO and the Commonwealth of Independent States - two areas making it difficult for Our Ukraine to agree on a "grand coalition" with the Party of the Regions. The Party of the Regions is in favor of full membership in the CIS Single Economic Space (CIS SES). Our Ukraine and the Tymoshenko Bloc described the CIS SES as "treasonous." President Yushchenko has followed President Kuchma in agreeing only to the first step of the CIS SES - a free trade zone.

The Party of the Regions has promoted Ukraine's full membership in the CIS SES beyond the first stage; that is, a customs and monetary union. These two stages would rule out integration into the EU as no country can be in two customs unions at the same time.

These contradictions in the Party of the Regions are not unusual as it is the most unstructured and ideologically amorphous party to enter the new Parliament. The Party of the Regions has been touted by its U.S. supporters (U.S. political consultants played a role in its successful election campaign) as dominated by pro-EU businessmen. This argument is contradicted by the Slavophile orientation of senior officials of the Party of the Regions and its absorption of many former Communist Party voters.

A second problem with the Party of the Regions is its attitude toward NATO that will be more difficult to change than its contradictory attitudes towards the CIS SES and EU. The largest faction in Ukraine's Parliament - Party of the Regions - is against NATO membership. Such a hurdle has not presented itself to other post-Communist countries who have joined NATO. That the Party of the Regions is the largest faction - and not Our Ukraine - is entirely a product of strategic mistakes made by President Yushchenko since the September crises.

Unlike the Tymoshenko Bloc, President Yushchenko and Our Ukraine never ruled out a coalition with the Party of the Regions.

This is now unlikely as Our Ukraine obtained half the votes the Party of the Regions did and, therefore, would be the junior partner in any coalition.

A "grand coalition" would send the wrong signal to the EU and NATO that the Orange Revolution was in retreat. The EU already is passive in its attitudes towards Ukraine, and an Our Ukraine - Party of the Regions coalition would give sustenance to those inside the EU who do not want Ukraine to join the membership queue.

Mr. Yushchenko's alliance with a political force hostile to NATO membership would also lead to a postponement of NATO offering Ukraine a Membership Action Plan at its November summit in Riga. If this were to transpire, Ukraine would miss being invited to join NATO at its 2008 enlargement summit.

This year's free elections and a resultant Orange coalition shows the consolidation of Ukraine's democratic progress after the Orange Revolution. At the same time, there is little evidence of a consolidated cross-elite position on Ukraine's foreign-policy trajectory.

The two factions of the left oppose WTO and NATO membership. The Socialists are opposed to WTO and NATO membership. It is unclear if they would remain inside any Orange coalition after Ukraine is invited into a NATO MAP.

The greatest contradictions inside the Party of the Regions are between businessmen and pro-Russian, former Communist voters. The Party of the Regions is likely to move toward support for WTO and away from full membership in the CIS SES white maintaining Mr. Kuchma's position of agreeing only to a free trade zone.

But, for Ukraine's progress towards NATO membership to be successful, the Party of the Regions needs to adopt a more neutral position. Regions business and economic elites could move in this direction if they are convinced that NATO membership is a steppingstone to EU membership (as it has traditionally been).

Moving the Party of the Regions away from a hostile and toward a more neutral position on NATO membership is the strategic impediment of Ukraine's foreign policy. The party controls eastern and southern Ukraine, where opposition to NATO membership is greatest.

Our Ukraine and the Tymoshenko Bloc will be the bedrock of Ukraine's pro-NATO orientation. Together they garnered 36 percent of the vote, which translates into close to half of the parliamentary seats (210). Alone they cannot push Ukraine into NATO. Their only possible partner is the Party of the Regions (or at least the European-oriented business part of Regions) as the two left factions will always oppose such a move.

An important outcome of the elections is the renunciation of the Russian-Ukrainian gas accord. The two largest factions in the new Parliament - the Party of the Regions and the Tymoshenko Bloc - have long opposed the agreement. Both opposed the inclusion of the shady RosUkrEnergo (successor to Trans-Eural Gas) in the deal. (As prime minister, Mr. Yanukovych was involved with President Kuchma and Russian President Vladimir Putin in establishing RosUkrEnergo in July 2004, but consistency was never a feature of Mr. Yanukovych or the Party of the Regions policies.)

Ukraine's membership in the WTO is likely to be realized this year, ahead of Russia. If an Orange coalition is put in place, Ukraine will also receive a MAP from NATO, leading to an invitation to membership in 2008 and entry into NATO in 2010. Both foreign policy objectives - WTO and NATO membership - will require cooperation between the Orange and Regions factions in the face of opposition from Parliament's two left factions. Successful entry into the WTO and progress toward NATO will force the EU to change its passivity toward Ukraine.

Dr. Taras Kuzio is visiting professor at the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies of the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, April 30, 2006, No. 18, Vol. LXXIV

| Home Page |