Ukraine Steps Back From Brink

WASHINGTON — Bringing an end, at least for now, to the political standoff that until this weekend appeared to have Ukraine on the brink of civil war, the country’s president and prime minister have agreed that parliamentary elections will be held on Sept. 30.

The BBC reported that President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich announced the new date for elections early Sunday after “more than 12-hours of talks between the two men aimed at ending a long-running political crisis.”

The crisis began unfolding earlier this year when President Yushchenko accused Prime Minister Yanukovich of illegally inviting members of parliament to switch parties and join the prime minister’s pro-Russian coalition. Things came to a boil last month, when Yushchenko called for Ukraine’s parliament to be dismissed, and accused Yanukovich of trying to usurp his power.

Defections by many members of parliament in April gave Yanukovich 260 of the 450 members, and the prime minister promised to get the whole 300 needed to override President Yushchenko — setting the stage for the crisis.

In ordering the dismissal of parliament, Yushchenko called for snap elections to be held this month. Prime Minister Yanukovich responded by calling on his cabinet ministers to ignore the president’s move. The prime minister’s parliamentary coalition then argued that dissolving parliament would be unconstitutional.

What has followed in recent weeks has been an outbreak of public demonstration resembling the rallies that sparked the Orange Revolution that brought Yushchenko to power in 2004. Mass protests supporting the president’s call for to dissolve parliament and hold new elections occurred in the same Kiev square where the revolution played out in 2004.

Rallies in support of Prime Minister Yanukovich have also been staged. While many were held in his power base in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, the past two months have seen opposing demonstrators facing off in Kiev — President Yushchenko’s supporters waving orange flags and Prime Minister Yanukovich’s waving blue flags.

The demonstrations have remained peaceful, although last Thursday tensions escalated when Yushchenko dismissed the state prosecutor-general loyal to Yanukovich. The Ukrainian interior minister, who supports Yushchenko, sent in troops to seize control of the prosecutor’s offices.

On Saturday, Yushchenko ordered Special Forces units to the capital. According to a report by the German radio news service Deutsche Welle, police forces loyal to Yanukovich were called in to intercept the pro-Yushchenko units. There were, however, no reports of violence or confrontations.

The prime minister and president apparently looked over the precipice of civil war and, after a series tense negotiations on Saturday night, announced an agreement around 4:00 a.m. Sunday that parliamentary elections will be held Sept. 30.

Last week’s moves by Yushchenko again show the president’s political skills in “out-maneuvering” his opponents, according to a report by the Kiev-based UNIAN news agency. Yushchenko has repeatedly been able to shore up support in key security ministries at critical moments in the on-going political crisis.

The international community, meanwhile, has watched the standoff closely. The Associated Press reported that the German government, which currently holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, said that “it would maintain close ties with all sides in Ukraine in an effort to help implement the agreement.”

The crisis does, however, appear to be taking its toll on Ukraine’s international standing. In early April Standard & Poor’s, which publishes international financial and credit ratings, cut the outlook on its rating of Ukraine from stable to negative citing increased economic risks from the deteriorating political climate.

Maurice Curran is a graduate student at the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He is serving as a part-time contributing intern for World Politics Review.