2005-2010: The Yushchenko Presidency
Cracks in the Orange Coalition
24 January 2005: Former First Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko becomes prime minister with the overwhelming support of the Verkhovna Rada (373 votes out of 450). She has only one member of her own party in her cabinet, Oleksandr Turchynov, who is appointed chief of the SBU.
March 2005: President Yushchenko announces that Heorhiy Gongadze’s suspected killers have been arrested. Two police colonels are in custody, and a third, Criminal Investigations Division (CID) Commander Oleksiy Pukach, is wanted on an international arrest warrant.
Former Minister of Internal Affairs Yuri Kravchenko is found dead in a mansion outside Kyiv. He is said to have died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds, but he has been shot twice in the head, leading to speculation that he has been murdered to prevent him from testifying in the Gongadze case. His suicide note says that he is “not guilty of anything,” that he is a “victim of the political intrigues of President Kuchma,” and that he is taking his own life “with a clear conscience.”
April-May 2005: Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun releases information about his office’s investigation into Gongadze’s death. He claims that Gongadze was murdered to undermine the government of Viktor Yushchenko, who was prime minister at the time, and whose crackdown on corruption had been unpopular with establishment forces. Primary among these was the SDPU(o), led by Viktor Medvedchuk. Piskun alleges that the SDPU(o) had moved Gongadze’s body to discredit Kuchma and force early elections, which Medvedchuk might have won.
September 2005: President Yushchenko dismisses the Tymoshenko government after the resignation of several senior government officials, including the National Security and Defense Council chairman, Petro Poroshenko, and a deputy prime minister, Mykola Tomenko. Yushchenko accuses Tymoshenko of betraying the ideals of the Orange Revolution. Tymoshenko levels similarly harsh accusations at Yushchenko. Less than a year into its existence, the “Orange Government” has broken apart.
December 2005: Russian state gas monopoly Gazprom, controlled by the Kremlin, issues an ultimatum that export of gas to Ukraine will stop if Kyiv does not agree to raise the price it pays for gas supplies from $50 per 1,000 cubic meters to $230, closer to the market rate. Putin offers Kyiv a $3.6 billion loan to help meet the payment, but Yushchenko turns it down.
Yushchenko calms rising fears in Moscow about the fate of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, based on the Crimean peninsula, for which the Russian government pays annual rent of $98 million to Ukraine. The pro-Western leanings of the Ukrainian president and government have led to increasing speculation that Kyiv might raise the rent considerably. Yushchenko allays these fears by stating publicly that Ukraine will honor the lease agreement with Russia over the Black Sea Fleet. However, it is already understood that Yushchenko favors NATO membership for Ukraine, and that he views the Russian military presence in Crimea – a holdover from the Soviet era – as an affront to Ukrainian sovereignty.
January 2006: Changes to the Constitution of Ukraine come into effect as part of a deal reached between the different parties at the height of the Orange Revolution. The changes shift power from the president to the parliament, and are supported by both the Socialist Party of Oleksandr Moroz and by the Communist Party of Ukraine.
Trial of the former policemen accused of killing Gongadze begins. The three policemen present are handed lengthy prison terms. Oleksiy Pukach is believed to have fled abroad, and is therefore not on trial.
March 2006: Yanukovych’s Party of Regions wins the Ukrainian parliamentary elections and, in coalition with the Socialists and Communists, takes control of the parliament. Yulia Tymoshenko’s party wins 129 seats, versus only 81 for Yushchenko’s Our Ukraine party. In the 2002 elections, the numbers had been 22 and 112, respectively. But when Oleksandr Moroz’s Socialist Party switches sides and joins Our Ukraine and Tymoshenko, a deal is reached whereby Yuri Yekhanurov, a former Soviet construction industry official who had led the Our Ukraine bloc in the election, becomes prime minister.
Tymoshenko is vocal in her intentions and determination to return to the premiership. A coalition agreement almost results in her return to the head of the cabinet, but the pact falls apart at the last minute, apparently over whether Petro Poroshenko should become speaker of parliament, and in the end Yekhanurov remains prime minister.
July 2006: The Socialist Party suddenly pulls out of the coalition with Our Ukraine and BYuT, and forms a coalition with the Party of Regions and the Communists. Oleksandr Moroz emerges again as speaker of parliament, the Orange coalition collapses, and Viktor Yanukovych becomes prime minister with greatly enhanced powers vis-a-vis the president.
August 2006: Yushchenko signs the “Universal of National Unity” together with Yanukovych, the Socialists and the Communists. Yushchenko invokes ancient Ukrainian conflicts in his appeal to the people to understand, saying: “”I call on the nation to understand that today we have a unique chance to bring together both banks of the Dnipro River.” He is referring to the geographic division of the country roughly along the Dnipro into Ukrainian nationalists (‘Right-Bank Ukraine’) and Russophiles (‘Left-Bank Ukraine’). Although intended to bring an end to months of political turmoil, the pact causes dismay among the Ukrainian public and sparks intense debate. Only 30 out of 80 MPs from Our Ukraine’s bloc in parliament vote to approve the new cabinet, and Yulia Tymoshenko refuses to sign it, branding it a “political capitulation.”
End of the Orange Era
September 2006: Tymoshenko announces that her party will be in opposition to the new government and appeals to Yuschenko’s supporters in parliament to defect to her bloc.
October 2006: Our Ukraine joins the opposition with Tymoshenko.
November 2006: The Verkhovna Rada narrowly passes a law defining the Soviet terror-famine in Ukraine in 1932-33 (the ‘Holodomor’ in Ukrainian) as a deliberate act of genocide, making public denial illegal.
April 2007: Yushchenko decrees the dissolution of Parliament and calls early elections, sparking controversy over whether he has exceeded his presidential powers under the constitution. He claims the Verkhovna Rada is violating the constitution, but his detractors maintain that if this is so, it is supposed to be a matter for the Constitutional Court, not the executive branch. The Verkhovna Rada appeals to the Constitutional Court itself and continues to meet. It outlaws the financing of any election pending the Constitutional Court’s decision. Demonstrations break out, and the crisis escalates.
May 2007: Yushchenko dismisses three members of the Constitutional Court, preventing the court from ruling on the constitutionality of his decree dissolving the Verkhovna Rada. Yushchenko, Yanukovych and Moroz then sign an agreement scheduling new parliamentary elections for September 2007.
September 2007: The Party of Regions again wins the largest share of seats in the Verkhovna Rada in new parliamentary elections, but its number has declined. By contrast, BYuT’s share has increased and the party claims enough to form a coalition with the Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense Bloc, now in opposition to Yushchenko and led by Vyacheslav Kyrylenko. Moroz’s Socialist Party fails altogether to make it into parliament.
November 2007: On the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor, Communist Party of Ukraine leader Petro Symonenko says he “does not believe there was any deliberate starvation at all,” and accuses President Viktor Yushchenko of “using the famine to stir up hatred” between Russians and Ukrainians. Yushchenko responds by declaring that he wants to criminalize denial of the genocide.
December 2007: Tymoshenko again becomes prime minister, and a 33-year-old economist named Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who has served as foreign minister in the government of Viktor Yanukovych since March, becomes the speaker of parliament.
March 2008: 42-year-old First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Dmitry Medvedev is elected president of the Russian Federation. Medvedev, a former legal adviser with Russia’s state gas monopoly, Gazprom, is an old friend and colleague of outgoing President Vladimir Putin from the latter’s days in the St. Petersburg city government in the 1990s. Putin, having already served two consecutive terms as president, is constitutionally ineligible to run for a third. When Medvedev assumes the office of president, he appoints Putin as prime minister, and it quickly becomes apparent that Putin remains the real power in Russia, while Medvedev is to serve as an interim puppet head of state until Putin can return to the presidency in four years’ time.
April 2008: At a summit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in Bucharest, Romania, leaders of NATO countries agree that Ukraine “will become a NATO member” in the future.
August 2008: President Yushchenko accuses Prime Minister Tymoshenko of taking a soft position on Russia in the war over the breakaway region of South Ossetia in Georgia, alleging that she was trying to win support from Moscow for the 2010 presidential election.
September 2008: BYuT votes with the Party of Regions and Communists to further limit the powers of the presidency and facilitate impeachment. The Our Ukraine bloc then withdraws from the coalition, and Yushchenko promises to veto any such legislation.
October 2008: Yushchenko calls early parliamentary elections, but Tymoshenko refuses to resign as prime minister until a new coalition is formed. A memorandum signed between Tymoshenko and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin calls for the abolition of intermediaries in gas deals between Russia and Ukraine, and specifies conditions for future gas contracts. Tymoshenko has in mind RosUkrEnergo, a company registered in Switzerland which is 50% owned by Russia’s state-owned Gazprom monopoly, 45% by Ukrainian businessman Dmytro Firtash, and 5% by Ivan Fursin (another Ukrainian).
November 2008: The Memorial in Commemoration of Famines’ Victims in Ukraine was opens its doors to visitors for the first time, with a ceremony dedicated to the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor. The memorial complex on the banks of the Dnipro River includes a museum, symbolic architecture and a statue of a starving little girl clutching a handful of wheat. The statue is entitled “Bitter Memory of Childhood.”
December 2008: Kuchma-era Speaker of Parliament Volodymyr Lytvyn’s “Lytvyn Bloc” suddenly announces the formation of a coalition with BYuT and Our Ukraine, and Tymoshenko continues as premier. Lytvyn had been implicated in the Gongadze murder scandal, and his voice was one of those on the tapes calling for Gongadze to be eliminated. Lytvyn consistently claimed the tapes were a fabrication, and again managed to win election to parliament. Tymoshenko and Putin reach agreement that Russian gas will be purchased by Ukraine at the price of $235 per 1,000 cubic meters, on the condition that all dealings be conducted bilaterally (without intermediaries). RosUkrEnergo then steps in and proposes to buy gas at $285 per 1,000 cubic meters. Yushchenko then issues an order that all talks be stopped.
NATO foreign ministers agree to amend the NATO-Ukraine Charter to reflect decisions taken at the NATO Summit in Bucharest in April, putting Ukraine on a course for closer association and eventual membership.
January 2009: Tymoshenko publicly accuses “Ukrainian politicians” of wanting to keep RosUkrEnergo as an intermediary, implying corruption. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev alleges the same. Gazprom then completely ceases pumping gas to Ukraine and raises the sale price to $450 per 1,000 cubic meters. Putin soon announces that this price will be $470. Central and eastern European countries begin receiving significantly less gas from Russia. The EU begins demanding full delivery of gas, and by the end of the month, Putin and Tymoshenko have again agreed on a deal, again eliminating non-transparent intermediaries in transactions between Gazprom and Naftogaz Ukrainy (the Ukrainian state gas company), and instituting the European norm as a transit fee. As a result, in 2009 Ukraine pays an average price of $232.98 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas. Other European consumers pay as high as $500.
August 2009: NATO and Ukraine take their relationship to a higher level by signing a “Declaration to Complement the Charter on a Distinctive Partnership between NATO and Ukraine” at NATO Headquarters. The Declaration gives the NATO-Ukraine Commission (NUC) a central role to play in the process launched at the Bucharest Summit 2008, when Allied leaders agreed that in future, Ukraine “will become a NATO member.” The NUC will be central to deepening political dialogue and cooperation between NATO and Ukraine, and to underpinning Ukraine’s reform efforts. This Declaration follows up on an agreement reached by foreign ministers in December 2008 to amend the NATO-Ukraine Charter in order to reflect the decisions taken at NATO’s Summit in April 2008 in Bucharest.
In an open letter to Viktor Yushchenko that appears timed to help the anti-Western forces in Ukraine’s upcoming presidential election campaign, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev expresses concern over the “anti-Russian position of the current Ukrainian authorities.”
September 2009: The Communist Party of Ukraine, the SDPU(o), the Justice Party and the Union of Leftists announce the creation of a bloc of leftists and center-leftists to participate as a single electoral entity in the election. The bloc declares that it will nominate Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko as the single candidate to represent the coalition.
October 2009: The delegates of the All-Ukrainian Union Batkivshchyna (‘Fatherland’) endorse Tymoshenko as their candidate for the presidential election scheduled for January 2010. The Batkivshchyna congress of 200,000 takes place on Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), and the Central Election Commission registers Tymoshenko as a candidate.
January 2010: Tymoshenko takes 2nd place in the first round of the presidential election with 25%, while Yanukovych claims 35%. In a defeat of historical proportions, the incumbent Viktor Yushchenko receives less than 6% of the vote in the first round. Petro Symonenko – candidate of the bloc of leftists and center-leftists – receives less than 4%.
February 2010: Two days before the run-off election, MPs from the Party of Regions, Communist Party and Our Ukraine-People’s Self-Defense, together with other MPs, amend the Law on the Election of the President to change the mode of composition and functioning of the electoral commissions. Tymoshenko warns publicly that this will create the conditions for vote fraud, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) agrees, calling on Yushchenko to veto the law. But Yushchenko signs the amendments into law, generating intense international criticism, including from the US Congress.
Yanukovych is elected president with 48.95% of the vote against 45.47% for Tymoshenko. She immediately alleges widespread fraud and claims that Yanukovych has not been legitimately elected. Yanukovych in turn calls upon Tymoshenko to abandon her protest and resign as prime minister. But the Higher Administrative Court of Ukraine suspends the results of the election on Tymoshenko’s appeal. After the Higher Administrative Court in Kyiv rejects her petition to scrutinize documents from election districts in Crimea and to question law enforcement officials, Tymoshenko withdraws her appeal. She claims that the court is biased and that the CEC is in the pocket of Yanukovych. She announces that she and her party will go into opposition, and boycotts Yanukovych’s inauguration ceremony.