Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko made waves earlier this week by describing the gas contract former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko negotiated with Russia in 2009 as “criminal by nature.” Although response from the minority United Opposition was muddled, it is likely only a matter of days until the former Orange Revolution hero, who was poisoned with dioxins while charging for the Presidency, as a stooge of the governing Party of Regions.
Yushchenko, however, has as much moral authority as Tymoshenko ever has managed by dint of his record of well-intentioned governance and near-martyrdom. It will be interesting to watch the United Opposition attempt to tie together Yushchenko and the man against whom he famously went to war in 2004, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
To say there is little love lost between Yuschenko and Tymoshenko is to engage in what may safely be called an understatement. The Orange co-Revolutionaries — thrown together by Tymoshenko’s popularity in the wake of the protests — clashed early, often, and bitterly once they were forced to share a stage. It became so bad that Yuschenko cashiered his recalcitrant Prime Minister before the nation, only bringing her back in after parliamentary elections and waves of parliamentary maneuvers left him little choice. She spent her second term as premier undermining Yuschenko’s policy at every opportunity (especially his Russia policy, as she tilted hard toward Moscow as he worked to steer Ukraine West) and positioning herself for the 2010 presidential elections.
Which she, of course, lost.
Rather than accept a dose of humility, Tymoshenko proceeded to declare the elections illegitimate (they were of course run under her Government’s supervision), imply Yuschenko (who came in third in those elections) may have rigged them against her, and then with typical subtlety alleged that Yuschenko had been corrupt and weak from the moment he took the Presidency.
For his part, Yuschenko has repeatedly described making Tymoshenko his Prime Minister his “biggest mistake.” When Tymoshenko was tried for abuse of office, Yuschenko testified against her. He described the gas deal as part of Tymoshenko’s maneuvering for office, to be seen as a savior from the scourge of Moscow-inflicted gas shortages; Russia was happy to play along because “Russia had to have a pliant pro-Russian leader.”
He repeated some of his remarks this week. “Ukraine lost 62 billion Euros over the ten years of the agreement,” he said Yushchenko. “I never approved of the agreement, as I understood its corrupt nature.”
Perhaps concerned that he had not sufficiently angered Tymoshenko, he added, “It is not a choice of political parties, it is a choice between ideologies concerning the future development of Ukraine. … Either we go down the democratic route in Europe, or we choose the parties of the fifth column and turn back towards totalitarianism.”
Tymoshenko’s public relations campaign team has worked very hard to perpetuate the myth that the policies the West glimpsed during the Orange Revolution — Yanukovych as Russian stooge, and Tymoshenko (and Yuschenko) as Western-leaning rebels — remain intact. After Tymoshenko’s work to turn Ukraine toward Russia despite his policies, Yuschenko is clearly intent on denying his old ally that victory as well.
Continuing the policy path he had steered in office, Yuschenko was also adamant that Tymoshenko’s trials should not be a barrier to the European Union. “A conflict between two Ukrainian political figures should not affect the whole country. International isolation is not the answer, and will only further the problem. Without a cooperation or dialogue with the EU, Ukraine will quickly become the second Belarus.”
“This would be a nightmare for Ukraine,” he added.