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RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA CAN HELP MEDIATE UKRAINE CRISIS... Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on 1 December that Moscow is willing to help mediate a settlement to the escalating political crisis in Ukraine, ITAR-TASS reported. "We can provide this assistance if we receive the corresponding request from the Ukrainian leadership and if we can help the situation remain in the channel of Ukrainian legislation," said Lavrov, who is on an official visit to Thailand. "It is our firm conviction that the situation in Ukraine should be resolved on the basis of Ukrainian laws and the procedures they envision," he said. The Kremlin has openly supported Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who seeks closer ties with Moscow, and Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated him on winning the disputed election before the votes were fully tabulated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2004). BW

...ASSAILS EUROPEAN INTERFERENCE... Foreign Minister Lavrov said on 1 December that Europe's support for Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko has led to increased instability, RIA-Novosti reported. Speaking in Bangkok during an official visit, Lavrov said the "excessive involvement of certain European representatives in the process taking place in Ukraine has increased tension" in that country. "It was only after all these provocations" sparked talk of separatism in some Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine "that our Western colleagues began to call for restraint and necessary respect for the constitution and the laws of this country," Lavrov said. "It appears that they themselves recognize that they were a little bit hasty in trying to influence the situation from outside. We hope that they will draw the necessary lessons from this." Lavrov spoke as the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, and State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov headed to Kyiv to begin a new effort to broker a resolution to the crisis. BW

FOREIGN MINISTRY ASKS UKRAINE TO PROTECT RUSSIAN JOURNALISTS. The Foreign Ministry said on 30 November that it hopes Ukrainian authorities will assure safe working conditions for Russian journalists covering the country's ongoing political crisis, ITAR-TASS reported. "The ministry expresses the hope that the Ukrainian authorities won't overlook unlawful acts against the correspondents," Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said. "All foreign correspondents find working in Ukraine pretty difficult these days, but if you take the Russian newsmen, we've been getting alarming information about grave problems they've faced in recent days," he said. "Also, there've been cases of disruption of live coverage," he claimed. "The situation is getting worse day by day, and it can't but alarm us." BW

LDPR DEPUTIES DEMONSTRATE SUPPORT FOR YANUKOVYCH... As a local leader from heavily Russian-populated eastern Ukraine prepared to address the State Duma during a special session on 1 December, group of lawmakers from Vladimir Zhirinovskii's nationalist Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) arrived wearing blue and white scarves to show solidarity with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yanukovych, Russian and international news agencies reported. "We are showing our solidarity with the majority of Ukrainian citizens who chose their president, Viktor Yanukovych," and with the deputies of the Ukrainian parliament who are supporting him, said Zhirinovskii, the LDPR leader and a deputy speaker in the Duma, according to AFP. The blue and white scarves were inscribed with the words "For Yanukovych." Nikolai Levchenko, a vocal Yankovych supporter and leader of the city council in the heavily industrialized and pro-Russian eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, was scheduled to address the Duma session. His region has threatened to hold a referendum on regional autonomy should Yushchenko become president. BW

...AS LIBERAL LAWMAKER PROTESTS SPEECH BY PRO-YANUKOVYCH POLITICIAN. Vladimir Ryzhkov, a liberal Duma deputy (independent), protested against the Russian lower house's invitation to Levchenko, calling the move "inadvisable," ITAR-TASS reported on 1 December. "This meeting of Russian parliament members with a representative of the Donetsk town hall would be inadvisable" given the situation that has emerged in Ukraine, Ryzhkov said. He asked the Duma leadership to provide "an explanation for the move." Duma Speaker Gryzlov, who was preparing to join a group of international mediators in Ukraine, said he personally invited Levchenko to speak. BW

KYRGYZSTAN EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER SITUATION IN UKRAINE. The Foreign Ministry issued a statement of concern on 30 November over the tense situation that has developed in Ukraine in the wake of the bitterly disputed 21 November presidential runoff, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The statement called on all sides in the standoff to do everything possible to reach a compromise, use legal means to resolve outstanding issues, and preserve the country's territorial integrity. On 25 November, Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev congratulated Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych on his victory in the contested runoff. DK

CIS EXECUTIVE SECRETARY DETAILS PLANS FOR UZBEK ELECTIONS. Vladimir Rushailo, chairman of the CIS Executive Committee, held a news conference in Tashkent on 30 November to discuss the CIS observer mission to Uzbekistan's 26 December parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Rushailo told journalists that the CIS observer mission has received its accreditation from the Interior Ministry. The exact size of the mission has yet to be determined, but it will consist of around 70 observers. Rushailo promised that the mission will focus on principles, not election results, in its assessment; he also said that issues such as unregistered parties need to be viewed in the context of domestic legislation. Recent CIS observer missions have produced assessments of elections in Kazakhstan and Ukraine that differed profoundly from evaluations by the OSCE. Rushailo ascribed the discrepancy to differing approaches, adding that CIS observers continue to share information with their counterparts from the OSCE. DK

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION IN GOVERNMENT. The Verkhovna Rada on 1 December passed a no-confidence motion in Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's cabinet, Ukrainian media reported. The motion was supported by 229 deputies, three more than required. It is not clear for the time being whether the vote is legally binding since the parliament cannot dismiss the prime minister within a year following the approval of a government program submitted to it for approval. The Verkhovna Rada approved such a program by Yanukovych's cabinet in March. However, the parliament on 1 December in a separate vote annulled its March resolution on approving the Yanukovych government's program. The parliament's resolution may be appealed in the Constitutional Court. JM

UKRAINE ENTERS 10TH DAY OF PROTESTS OVER PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT. Some 100,000 backers of opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko gathered in front of the Verkhovna Rada building in Kyiv on 1 December as the parliament was debating once again a no-confidence motion in Yanukovych's cabinet and the situation in the country after an abortive vote the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2004), Channel 5 reported. Groups of Yushchenko supporters also continued to block the presidential administration and government offices in the Ukrainian capital. On 1 December 1991, Ukrainians voted overwhelmingly in a referendum for their country's independence from the Soviet Union. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SPEAKS AGAINST REPEAT SECOND ROUND. Leonid Kuchma said on 1 December that neither he nor Prime Minister Yanukovych support the idea of a rerun of the second round of the presidential election in Ukraine, Interfax reported. Kuchma stressed that he is in favor of staging a new presidential election. "Where in the world [do you have] a third round of elections?" Kuchma said. "A repeat [runoff] is a farce. I will never support it because it is unconstitutional." JM

INTERNATIONAL MEDIATORS SEEK TO DEFUSE UKRAINIAN CRISIS. EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana arrived in Kyiv on 30 November to negotiate in the ongoing postelection standoff between the government and the pro-Yushchenko Committee for National Salvation, which earlier the same day pulled out of talks with the pro-Yanukovych camp, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus came to Kyiv to support Solana in his mediation efforts on 1 December. Kwasniewski told journalists in Warsaw on 30 November that he will propose in Kyiv a five-point plan to resolve the crisis, including a rerun of the second presidential round on 19 or 26 December, assuming that the Supreme Court rules that the 21 November ballot was rigged. Kwasniewski added that he has coordinated his proposals with the U.S. president as well as with a number of European leaders. JM

U.S. PRESIDENT SAYS WILL OF UKRAINIANS SHOULD BE HEARD. U.S. President George W. Bush called on 30 November for a peaceful and timely resolution to Ukraine's election crisis, Reuters reported. "It's very important that violence not break out there, and it's important that the will of the people be heard," Bush said at a news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin in Ottawa. Bush said he spoke by phone to Polish President Kwasniewski and thanked him for leading a delegation to Ukraine to try to help resolve the ongoing standoff in a peaceful way. "As best I could, I tried to encourage him to continue to play a constructive and useful role," Bush said. "And hopefully, this issue will be solved quickly, and the will of the people will be known." JM

UKRAINE TIGHTENS CONTROLS TO PREVENT BANKING CRISIS. The National Bank of Ukraine on 31 November tightened controls on cash operations and U.S. dollar sales to prevent a banking crisis and stop capital flight out of the country in the ongoing political crisis, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. The bank limited cash U.S. dollar sales to $1,000 a day and noncash dollar sales to $50,000. Withdrawals from cash machines were limited to 1,500 hryvnyas ($282) a day. National Bank acting head Arseniy Yatsenyuk said the previous day that the current political standoff has fuelled a run on bank deposits (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2004). JM

MOLDOVAN NGOS PRESENT STRATEGY FOR TRANSDNIESTER SETTLEMENT. Several Moldovan-based nongovernmental organizations on 30 November introduced journalists in Chisinau to a new strategy for solving the Transdniester conflict, Infotag reported. The strategy is based on "the three Ds": demilitarization, decriminalization, and democratization. The plan's implementation is envisaged over a four-year period starting in 2005. The strategy would change the five-sided negotiations format into one that would include Moldova, the EU, Romania, Russia, Ukraine, the United States, and the OSCE. The status of Transdniester is to be defined at the end of the four-year period, after the "three Ds" have come into effect. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT CONGRATULATES UKRAINIAN COUNTERPART FOR ROLE IN DEFUSING CURRENT CRISIS. Vladimir Voronin on 30 November told Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in a telephone conversation that he supports Kuchma's attempts to defuse the postelection crisis and that the president has "demonstrated that his authority can help the unity of the Ukrainian state," AP reported. Voronin said that, as a neighboring country, Moldova cannot be "indifferent to what happens in Ukraine." Flux cited him as saying that "the Moldovan leadership believes it is very important not to let events in Ukraine deteriorate into a confrontation where force is used." MS

Calls by the main Romanian opposition alliance Justice and Truth to annul the results of the 28 November presidential and parliamentary elections might well be justified, but they served to shift the focus of debate away from the elections' significance to alleged infringements of democratic procedure. One must bear in mind that even if all the claims of Justice and Truth -- an alliance formed by the National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Democratic Party -- are found to be justified, the rival Social Democratic Party (PSD)-Humanist Party (PUR) will still be ahead in the parliamentary ballot, albeit by less than one percentage point. Likewise, PSD presidential candidate and current Prime Minister Adrian Nastase will still hold a slight lead over Traian Basescu, Justice and Truth's candidate. The opposition's allegations should be thoroughly investigated and those found guilty of any infractions should be punished, but in any event the essence of the message the Romanian electorate sent to politicians in the elections will remain intact.

With all the votes counted, the PSD -- which ran as it did in 2000 in alliance with the PUR -- is slightly ahead in the parliamentary ballot. Results put the PSD-PUR alliance in front, with 36.61 percent of the vote in the lower house of parliament (Chamber of Deputies), and 37.13 percent in the upper house (Senate). Premier Nastase, and his PSD-designated successor as prime minister, Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, both rushed to proclaim victory. But does the PSD-PUR really have grounds to celebrate? Compared to the 2000 electoral outcome (36.1 percent in the Chamber of Deputies, 37.09 percent in the Senate), the PSD has by and large merely managed to hold ground.

What is more, the PSD might not be able to either form a coalition majority or rule again as a minority government with the parliamentary backing of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), as it has since 2000. This is both because the legislature shrunk as a result of a population drop and because fewer votes stemming from parties that did not pass the 5 percent threshold are available for redistribution among parties that gained representation. At this stage, it appears that the PSD-PUR will have 57 seats in the Senate (compared to 65 in 2000) out of a total of 137. The UDMR is likely to have some 11 seats in that chamber, one fewer than four years earlier, thus combining to fall one seat short of a majority. A hung parliament is looming on horizon.

The opposition Truth and Justice alliance is the virtual winner of the ballot. If one sums up the PNL and the Democratic Party's performance in 2000 (when they ran on separate lists) and compares it to their 2004 achievement, the difference becomes obvious: 14.52 percent (lower house) and 15.06 percent (upper house) in 2000, compared to 31.33 and 31.77 percent in 2004. In other words, while the ruling party has merely equaled its 2000 performance, the opposition alliance has more than doubled its representation. But Truth and Justice failed in its main mission -- to dislodge the PSD as the ruling party.

The PSD can thus claim with some justification that it has not fared poorly, considering that ruling parties are often targeted for criticism by the electorate come election time. Yet to claim, as Prime Minister Nastase has, that this election is unique is incorrect. In the Czech Republic, for instance, the Social Democratic Party managed to retain its plurality in the June 2002 elections, despite suffering losses and barely managing to form a coalition afterwards. Thus, it is the opposition Truth and Justice alliance that has the right to claim a moral victory. But moral victories do not forge ruling coalitions.

Unethical practices, however, sometimes do. Viewed from this perspective, the most obvious partners for the PSD to lure into its ranks are likely to be found among Greater Romania Party (PRM) lawmakers. The extremist PRM is the most obvious loser of the 2004 election, having been cut to its "natural" size by the Romanian electorate. While in 2000 the party culled a frightening 19.48 percent of the vote for the Chamber of Deputies and 21.01 percent for the Senate, four years on it managed just 12.92 percent and 13.63 percent in the two chambers, respectively. The reasons are obvious: PRM Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor's "metamorphosis" into a philo-Semitic moderate Christian Democrat cost him the nationalist electorate and left the democratic camp unconvinced. It is precisely for this reason that, as a whole, the PRM -- the only party with which the PSD-PUR could form a somewhat stable majority -- is not considered a viable partner for the ruling party. However, while the PSD might avoid an open partnership with the extremist party for fear of being internationally seen as guilty by association with Tudor (as was the case between 1992-95), it might well attempt to lure PRM parliamentarians away from the PRM leader. The most obvious candidates would be those members of the National Syndicate Bloc who ran on the PRM lists in the 2004 elections; other PRM parliamentarians might join them as well.

An additional (but not necessarily alternative) source of parliamentary support might be sought by the PSD among any Democratic Party parliamentarians who are unhappy with the ideologically odd alliance of their social-democratic formation with the PNL. Outgoing Prime Minister Nastase has already hinted at such a scenario. However, most of the Democrats who are unhappy with the alliance have either already left the party or were forced out by Chairman Traian Basescu.

The ethnic Hungarian UDMR, meanwhile, essentially repeated its 2000 performance, despite challenges from within the party and the desertion of Hungarian Civic Union members who ran on the lists of the Popular Alliance. But the UDMR would apparently not be enough this time around to secure the PSD-PUR a majority, regardless of whether it participates in the next government (as UDMR Chairman Bela Marko suggested it would like to) or supports it in parliament, as was the case in 2000-04.

Much will therefore depend on the outcome of the presidential runoff, slated for 12 December. Nastase is ahead of Basescu (40.94 as compared to 33.92 percent of the votes counted thus far), but runoffs have their own rules. In 1996, Emil Constantinescu was trailing Ion Iliescu by four percentage points after the first round, yet won the runoff with a majority of 54.41 percent. Who Romania's next president will be could determine the shape of the next government. In the absence in the legislature of any majority party, the constitution grants the president the right to designate as prime minister anyone who has a reasonable chance of forming a majority. In other words, should Basescu win, designating PNL-Democratic Party candidate for the post Calin Popescu-Tariceanu as prime minister is a distinct possibility. But Popescu-Tariceanu would likely find himself in the same situation as would the PSD's prime-ministerial candidate, Mircea Geoana -- unable to lean on any majority in parliament.

It is doubtful whether a polarized Romania would be able to accept a system of cohabitation in which one party controls the presidency and an opposing party controls the cabinet -- but the electorate might force such a situation upon itself. Even if this scenario does not pan out, a realistic solution seems to be one of a "grand coalition" that would be able to depend on a comfortable majority in the face of the country's efforts to join the European Union and to implement urgently needed reforms. This solution would entail having the PSD grant the PNL-Democratic Party's Truth and Justice alliance control over the most corruption-ridden portfolios of the current ruling party's government -- those of finance, trade, and other reform-related fields, as well as the Justice Ministry.

Would Romania's political class be capable of overcoming such divisions? The attempt by the PNL-Democratic Party alliance to have the elections canceled does not bode well, even if some electoral irregularities are striking. Romania cannot afford to become a "second Ukraine." To do so would be to take a great leap backward.