To some extent, the political crisis that we now see playing out in the Ukraine was expected.
In Moscow, were I was when the news broke, surprise was distinctly limited, although my talking partners in the Kremlin noted how fast things had developed just during the last few days.
Following the Orange Revolution, President Yushenko set together an administration where he tried to be nice to virtually all the different parts of the original coalition of the revolution. Given the circumstances, he probably did not have much of a choice.
But the contradictions were obvious from the very start. When I was there in the spring and met, among others, Prime Minister Tymoshenko and Security Council head Poroshenko it was fairly obvios that they were singing to different tunes. Already then, the air was rife with rumors about a coming rift.
Since then, things went first worse, as Yulia Tumoshenko messed up economic policy, and then somewhat better as President Yushenko tried to restore some order. But it was evidently not enough.
Much boils down to the issue of reprivatisation. There is no doubt that some of the privatisations carried out by the Kuchma regime were designed to enrich their its loyal cronies. But to tear up everything in 3 000 or so cases, as Tymoshenko wanted, and redo the entire thing was bound to create chaos for years to come. Everyone would suffer.
When the process of reprivatisation – much more limited in scope – finally started, it looks as if there was a tendency to take things away from one set of people and give these things to another one. Allegations of corruption and cronyism were all over the place.
And at the end the President probably had few options left but to ask the two protagonist in the internal civil war in the regime to leave. It was a decisive and probably unavoidable move.
Now, much depends on what Yulia Timoshenko will. She is undoubtedly charismatic, and has a willpower that should not be underestimated.
The fear is that she will link up with the strong industrial groups in Eastern Ukraine to form a new opposition bloc for the March 2009 parliamentary election. Then she could sweep back to power at a time when constitutional changes have made the position of the Prime Minister much stronger.
But for the time being the changes brings the hope of a more coherent and clear reform course in the policies of the country. The designated new Prime Minister is said to be less interventionist and more committed to the reform course. Revenge does not seem to be his main driving force in politics.
Let’s hope that will be the case. A new government is yet to be formed, and Yulia Tumoshenko hasn’t really declared what she intends to do.
One should note that time is running very fast, and that action now is necessary in order to avert worse problems further ahead.
By the beginning of December, the European Union is scheduled to assess developments in Ukraine and the prospect for accelerating the integration of Ukraine in its different structures. A positive signal from that assessment is important for the Yushenko team as it approaches the March elections, but such a positive assessment will depent on policies announced and implemented in Ukraine during the the coming weeks.
Relations with Russia are also challenging. Most important here is to sort out the issue of the price for the natural gas that Ukraine is importing from Russia, and which it still gets at prices well below what the EU countries are paying. But now Gazprom wants to rise the price in that direction, and if this happens during the coming winter there is bound to be an adverse impact of the economy and perhaps the living standards of ordinary people.
So there are challenges both concerning the European Union and Russia in the weeks and months aheas. To maneauver both of these relationships prior to the March elections will require both skill and determination from the political leadership in Kiev.
Much need to be put in place now. Time is short. Next week President Yushenko is off to New York to the UN Summit there.