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PM deadlocked with Yushchenko over NATO
Journal Staff Report

KIEV, Sept. 18 – Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych seemingly deadlocked with President Viktor Yushchenko on Monday, reiterating his insistence that Ukraine postpone indefinitely its accession to NATO, further increasing the split between the two.

Yushchenko had been actively promoting a pro-Western policy since his inauguration in January 2005, but Yanukovych, whose pro-Russian Regions Party controls the largest group in Parliament, last week sought to change that.

The split may provoke a political crisis in Ukraine and perhaps lead to an early general election, particularly now that Yushchenko’s party, Our Ukraine, has postponed talks on joining the Yanukovych coalition.

“I can’t conduct a state policy that is far away from the Ukrainian people,” Yanukovych said Monday while visiting Luhansk in eastern Ukraine. “That’s why I said [joining NATO’s membership program] is untimely and that reflects mood of the society.”

The comments show that political standoff between Yushchenko and Yanukovych has been building up as the prime minister has been now apparently seeking to influence Ukraine’s foreign policy. Yanukovych obtained full control over the country’s economic and energy policies since forming the government in early August.

Yanukovych sent shockwaves in Brussels on Thursday by declaring that his government will seek to postpone Ukraine’s accession to NATO, a cornerstone of Yushchenko’s foreign policy.

Shortly after the prime minister’s arrival back in Kiev Friday, Yushchenko had a long meeting with Yanukovych, at which the president issued “a political warning” to the government. Yushchenko also told reporters that Ukraine’s pro-Western policy course will continue.

The unusually strong wording suggests that Yushchenko may seek to try to block the government’s economic initiatives by vetoing legislation or even seek ways to dismiss the legislature. Yushchenko may also seek to cancel controversial amendments to the constitution that had reduced his powers in favor of the Cabinet of Ministers as of Jan. 1.

Meanwhile, Our Ukraine, Yushchenko’s party, postponed talks with Yanukovych’s Regions Party and two small leftist parties over creation of the ruling coalition.

Less than a half of Our Ukraine’s lawmakers supported Yanukovych for the prime minister last month, but the formal coalition agreement between the parties has yet to be signed.

The talks to secure the coalition agreement resumed earlier this month, but were derailed by the Regions Party’s demands that Our Ukraine members felt would marginalize their influence in the coalition.

Now that Yanukovych has openly challenged Yushchenko on foreign policy, the coalition agreement will probably left in limbo, which will significantly narrow legislative support for the government.

“If this [anti-NATO comment] is a misunderstanding, it should be removed,” Petro Poroshenko, the leader of Our Ukraine in Parliament, said.

The majority of Ukrainians doesn’t want the country to join NATO, according to opinion polls. But most admit they don’t know much about the alliance except what they were told by Soviet propaganda, which had depicted NATO as a military aggressor. (tl/ez)




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