Bitter Opponents Now Partners in New Ukraine Government

Special to The Times

Viktor Yanukovich, the humiliated loser a year and a half ago when Orange Revolution protests forced a presidential runoff election to be repeated, completed a remarkable political comeback Friday by becoming Ukraine’s prime minister.

Yanukovich declared that he intended to govern as a partner with President Viktor Yushchenko, his 2004 rival. Yushchenko ended months of political uncertainty Thursday by agreeing to nominate Yanukovich as prime minister rather than dissolve parliament and call new elections.

Yanukovich’s Party of Regions took first place in March parliamentary balloting, but until last month was unable to form a majority in parliament. Yushchenko had the option of calling a fresh vote, and many of his supporters were angered that he instead accepted Yanukovich.


Both men said their cooperation would help heal divisions between the western and eastern halves of the country. Protesters from western Ukraine and Kiev, which tend to look toward Western Europe, played a key role in bringing Yushchenko to power. Yanukovich, whose support base is in the Russian-speaking east, was backed by Moscow in the 2004 contest.

“All of us have the same single desire to live in peace in our land, to live better and have a stable life despite the fact that we all are different, and that people’s mentality is different in different Ukrainian regions,” Yanukovich told parliament in a televised address.

“We are united by our joint land, by a beautiful Ukraine, because our ancestors’ graves are in this land,” he said. “Our parents lived in this land and our children will continue living here.”

Yanukovich won 273 votes, surpassing the required 226. The bloc of Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, is now the main opposition force. Most of its members boycotted the session.

Tymoshenko, a fiery orator, was a key ally of Yushchenko in the 2004 street protests against electoral fraud that led to the Orange Revolution. At a televised meeting Thursday of top leaders of all the parties, Tymoshenko blasted former allies who changed course.

“Political treason is turning into an infection in Ukrainian politics,” she declared. She charged that a unity memorandum agreed to by Yushchenko and Yanukovich was an act of surrender by the president.

Yushchenko has described the document as ensuring that Ukraine will maintain its pro-Western course.

Many backers of the Orange Revolution were bitterly disappointed by the return to power of Yanukovich, 56, who was prime minister from 2002 to 2004 under former President Leonid D. Kuchma.

“We’re shocked. We’ll keep protesting, but we don’t know how at the moment,” said Evgeniy Barbaduk, 20, a member of a group called Coalition of the Orange Revolution’s Participants, which rallied Friday in Kiev’s Independence Square.

Vladimir Fesenko, director of the Penta Center for Applied Political Studies, a Kiev think tank, said that despite Yanukovich’s pro-Russian image, the businessmen who stand behind him are likely to push for closer economic ties with Western Europe and the United States because that is to their benefit.

“They are interested in Ukraine’s entry to the World Trade Organization,” he said. He added, however, that some members of Yanukovich’s party might try to use political power to further their business interests.


Times staff writer Holley reported from Moscow and special correspondent Butenko from Kiev.