KIEV, Feb. 8 â€“ The pro-Russian government coalition on Thursday postponed for at least a week debate and the vote on approving pro-Western diplomat Volodymyr Ohryzko as Ukraineâ€™s foreign minister, lawmakers said.
The coalition also stepped up pressure on Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko, another pro-Western figure in the government, amid signs that a motion may be prepared to dismiss him.
The development is the latest sign that the confrontation between pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko, who backs Ohryzko and Hrytsenko, and the pro-Russian government continue to deteriorate.
The government, led by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, has been persistently seeking to change Ukraineâ€™s foreign policy by slowing down accession to NATO.
Russia, Ukraineâ€™s largest trade partner and the only gas supplier, has been threatening with economic sanctions in the event that Ukraine joins NATO, which is seen by Moscow as a military threat.
Yanukovych and his ally Parliament Speaker Oleksandr Moroz argued Thursday that lawmakers need more time to hold consultations over whether to support Ohryzko.
Many pro-Russian coalition lawmakers, including Communists, Socialists and the Regions Party, have been quietly refusing to back Ohryzko, who is seen as a keen supporter of the pro-Western foreign policy.
At the same time, the coalition stepped up pressure on Hrytsenko, an advocate of Ukraineâ€™s speedy accession to NATO. In a statement announced in Parliament by the Socialist Party, a member of the coalition, Hrytsenko has been given a warning for his recent spat with Moroz over the future of a military academy in Odessa.
The statement comes a day after a similar warning has been made by Yanukovych at a government meeting. Such warnings have previously led to dismissals of several Yushchenko loyalists, including former Foreign Minister Boris Tarasiuk, from the government.
Meanwhile, the coalition voted Thursday to approve Viktor Slauta, a Yanukovych loyalist, as the deputy prime minister for agriculture.
Other appointments included vote to approve Mykola Tomenko, a senior member of the Tymoshenko bloc, as a deputy speaker of Parliament. The post has been earlier reserved for an opposition group.
Parliament also voted to back Nina Karpachova, a member of the Regions Party group in Parliament, as a human rights representative. (jp/ez)