TOPICS : Ukraine’s Orange Revolution undone?

President Viktor Yushchenko reached across the Orange Revolution’s barricades and nominated his archrival to lead Ukraine’s government out of nearly five months of political paralysis.

The deal creates a “grand coalition” between the pro-Western Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine movement and Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, which favours closer ties with Russia. Ukraine’s parliament, the Supreme Rada, is expected to elect Yanukovych as PM on Friday.

Critics suggest the accord has betrayed the Orange Revolution and played into Moscow’s hands. Some, including Yushchenko’s former ally Yulia Tymoshenko, who heads the second largest party in parliament, say they will boycott the Rada and call their supporters into the streets to protest. But some experts say the bargain may be the best way for deeply divided Ukraine to muddle through without an open political split between its nationalistic, Ukrainian-speaking west and the industrialised, heavily Russified east. “This was not a victory of one side over the other, but a set of workable compromises,” says Oleksander Shushko, an expert with the independent Institute for Euro-Atlantic Integration in Kiev. “Some in Ukraine don’t want to see any cooperation with Yanukovych at all.”

Speaking on television last Thursday, Yushchenko said national unity was his key concern. “We have a good chance to escape political war and pass to political competition,” he argued. “We have another chance to unite Ukraine today.”

March parliamentary polls left the 450-seat Rada almost evenly divided between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko’s Orange parties and Yanukovych’s party. Tymoshenko, a fiery populist who was fired as PM by Yushchenko a year ago, demanded she be given her old job back as the price of supporting an Orange coalition. Amid the bickering last month, the small Socialist Party, which holds the balance of power, crossed the floor and joined Yanukovych, wrecking Orange hopes and precipitating the crisis.

While the return of Yanukovych may be greeted with pleasure in Moscow, it probably does not signal any serious geopolitical shift. Some Ukrainians worry that Russia could be fanning separatist sentiment in eastern Ukraine, where economic links and pro-Moscow sympathies are strong. Earlier this summer, a wave of anti-NATO demonstrations rocked the largely Russian-populated Crimean Peninsula which many Russian nationalists believe should not be a part of Ukraine.

Yushchenko’s only alternative to trying to find common ground with Yanukovych had been to wield his constitutional power to dissolve parliament and call new elections. But a poll conducted in mid-July by the independent Kiev International Institute of Sociology

found that if fresh elections were held, voter turnout among exhausted Ukrainians would be a low 56 per cent, and Yanukovych’s party would win an outright majority of 50.3 per cent of the votes. Yushchenko’s own Our Ukraine movement would receive less than 10 per cent. — The Christian Science Monitor