The ongoing political crisis is rooted in conflicts between the country's three key players: President Viktor Yushchenko, the man who in 2004 overcame dioxin poisoning to turn into the hero of the peaceful democratic Orange Revolution; Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, whose party dominates the Rada, the country's one-chamber Parliament; and Yulia Tymoshenko, the attractive braided former prime minister who ever since a fallout with Yushchenko (once her closest ally) has been caught between two stools.
In early April Yushchenko ordered the dissolution of the Rada to pave the way for early elections after he accused Yanukovych of illegally expanding his coalition majority by poaching Yushchenko's supporters. Ukrainian law is meant to prevent individuals elected under a one-party mandate from defecting to another group, yet Yanukovych in the past has courted lawmakers to try to secure a 300-vote majority in Parliament, which would hand him a veto-proof majority and enable him to single-handedly change the country's constitution.
The decision prompted massive demonstrations in Kiev and the concern that violence would break out between the opposed camps. While everything remained calm, Yushchenko and Yanukovych are still at odds over the exact date of the elections, with the prime minister calling for an autumn election and the president insisting that it should take place as early as possible. Last week Yushchenko said he would impose a date if none was settled by the Parliament soon, and observers fear a further showdown may be imminent.
"Only early elections will bring a solution to the current crisis," Volker Ruehe, former defense minister of Germany, said earlier this week at a news conference held at the Council on Foreign Relations, a political think tank in Berlin. "Moreover, Ukraine needs to make necessary changes to update its constitution and develop a culture of consensus."
Ruehe co-chairs the U.S.-EU Partnership Committee for Ukraine, a trans-Atlantic initiative launched by the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a Washington-based think tank. Founded some six months ago, the committee earlier this week convened for the first time in Berlin, with German government officials and representatives from the academic and non-governmental-organization community attending.
The project, which includes prominent members such as former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry, encourages joint U.S.-EU policies that support the consolidation of Ukraine's democracy and market economy, as well as the country's effective integration into institutions such as the EU and NATO.
"A Europe that is open to Ukraine is essential," Ruehe said, adding that he was well aware of the current enlargement fatigue in Europe. "The European Neighborhood Policy should be enhanced, but not as a substitute for potential EU membership for Ukraine."
The western part of the country is positive about EU and NATO membership, while the Russian-speaking eastern part favors stronger ties with Russia. Some observers fear that a split is imminent, but members of the committee disagreed.
A split is more like "wishful thinking on the part of some people," CSIS Counselor and Trustee Zbigniew Brzezinski said, in an obvious reference to forces in Russia favoring a return from the eastern part of Ukraine.
Brzezinski said he was impressed by the political progress Ukraine has made since it became independent in 1991, citing "extensive and constructive" reforms of the country's military sector that resulted in joint missions under Polish leadership with NATO.
In Iraq, a Ukrainian unit is stationed under Polish command; another unit has been deployed to Lebanon as part of the Polish-led United Nations Interim Force, or UNIFIL. Ukrainian troops are also deployed as part of the Ukrainian-Polish Battalion in Kosovo.
The committee agreed that there are several reasons to pull Ukraine toward Europe, an important one being energy security.
Operated by Ukraine's state-owned Ukrtransnafta oil company, the Odessa-Brody pipeline, a 420-mile-long crude oil pipeline between the Ukrainian cities of Odessa at the Black Sea and Brody near the Ukrainian-Polish border, could "be part of the energy security strategy for the EU," former Polish Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek said.
Several states, including Georgia, Poland and Ukraine, want to extend the pipeline into Gdansk, Poland, to then transport crude from Central Asia into Central and Western Europe.
To secure the pipeline project's success, "it should be organized and handled by the EU," Geremek said.
As for the political organization of Ukraine, the committee agreed that -- no matter who rises as the winner -- consensus and dialogue are keys to guaranteeing stability in Ukraine.
Asked whether the committee had a favorite candidate, its members denied any.
"While it is clear who is the best-looking, there is no preference on any single one of them," Brzezinski said. "Preferably, we would work together with all of them."
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