24th Oct 2016

Ukraine rivals take battle to EU arena

Ukraine's rival political leaders took their battle for control of Kiev to Brussels and Strasbourg on Tuesday (17 April), with the European Commission suggesting a solution might come from outside Ukraine's constitutional court amidst a continued risk of violence.

"This is what the usurpation of power is about," Ukraine president Viktor Yushchenko said in the EU capital, accusing his rival, prime minister Viktor Yanukovych, of "political corruption" in enticing individual pro-Yushchenko MPs to defect to pro-Yanukovych factions in Ukraine's parliament.

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  • Mr Yushchenko (l) promised Mr Barroso (r) he will not use the army (Photo:

"This road leads to reversing the results of the elections that took place last year...The reasonable pre-requisite for resolving the crisis situation is an early election," Mr Yushchenko added, after recently ordering parliament to disband and calling snap parliamentary elections for 27 May.

Speaking the same day at the Strasbourg headquarters of the Council of Europe - a 46-member state human rights and democracy watchdog - prime minister Yanukovych said the call for May elections could "have negative consequences for president Yushchenko, including impeachment," Russian newswires report.

The meetings took place amid a tense background in Kiev, where Ukraine's constitutional court the same day declined to issue a verdict on the legality of president Yushchenko's early elections move, putting off the decision until 27 April at the latest.

Kiev streets have seen rival activists hold mass protests in recent weeks amid a heavy security presence, with Mr Yushchenko's side depicting themselves as guardians of the pro-west Orange Revolution movement and Mr Yanukovych's more Russia-friendly camp accusing the president of trying to stage a coup d'etat.

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso in Brussels underlined the importance of stability and a negotiated solution but warned the crisis will delay talks on a new EU-Ukraine bilateral treaty. "A country with stability can deliver much better results than a country with no stability," he said.

"Solutions have to be found in full respect of the constitution and the law. But democracy always gives us the flexibility to find a compromise if there is goodwill," he added, after five out of 18 judges from Ukraine's constitutional court last week demanded bodyguards citing threats.

For his part, Council of Europe head Rene Van der Linden said "We categorically reject the division of the Ukrainian leaders into pro-eastern and pro-western. The most important thing for them is to be elected as a result of free and democratic elections, and be vested with powers based on law."

Peace promised, army mentioned

Mr Yushchenko in Brussels promised Mr Barroso he will not use his security forces to disband parliament. But the Ukrainian president's repeated mentions that a military solution to the crisis is out of the question served to highlight the worst case scenario.

"[There are] two words I never use - 'risk' and 'violence'," Mr Barroso told press after relating Mr Yushchenko's promise. "What I mean is there's a political crisis, a serious political crisis, let's face facts."

Meanwhile, Ukrainian diplomacy abroad has been put in a tough spot: on one hand the foreign ministry is a presidential competency in Ukraine. But on the other hand it is the Yanukovych-dominated government that signs off diplomatic salary slips.

With journalists in Brussels on Tuesday given a Ukrainian press release printed on orange paper - the colour of the pro-Yushchenko camp - one Ukrainian official was asked which side Ukraine's EU embassy is on. "Don't ask me that, I am a diplomat," the Ukrainian contact said.

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