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EU, UKRAINE SIGN ACCORD ON GAS, OIL METERS. The European Union and Ukraine on September 14 signed a memorandum of understanding paving the way for EU financing of oil and gas meters on pipelines traversing Ukraine's borders, Reuters reported. The signing took place within the framework of Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's visit to Brussels. "This is a very concrete cooperation scheme to increase transparency, reliability, and safety of supplies to Ukraine, but also transit to the European Union," EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told journalists after talks with Yanukovych. The flow of Russian gas through Ukraine to Europe was briefly disrupted in January when Moscow cut off supplies to Ukraine in a dispute over gas pricing. On September 13, the European Commission promised to start a discussion early next year on a broader cooperation agreement with Ukraine that could include a free-trade deal. JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS SCUFFLE OVER COMMISSION TO PROBE GAS TARIFFS. Lawmakers from the opposition Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc on September 13 blocked the parliamentary rostrum and scuffled with colleagues from the pro-government coalition following a vote on a special commission to investigate steep gas-price increases this year, Ukrainian media reported. Former Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov's cabinet raised gas tariffs two times this year, by 25 percent as of May and by nearly 100 percent as of July. The investigative commission was proposed by former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, who said that private Ukrainian consumers now pay 414 hryvnyas ($82) per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, whereas the real gas cost is 114 hryvnyas. The Verkhovna Rada approved the commission with 230 votes, but rejected a candidate for its chairman proposed by the opposition. In addition, deputies from the ruling coalition of the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party mandated the commission to look into a government decision to write off debts of the Unified Energy Systems of Ukraine, which Tymoshenko headed in 1995-97. JM


The Reforms and Order Party surprised fellow Our Ukraine constituents when it recently announced it was switching alliances and entering the opposition in order to avoid a partnership with a government it accused of posing a threat to democracy.

What is taking place in Our Ukraine can be described as the final stage in the disintegration of the Orange Revolution camp that helped bring Viktor Yushchenko to the presidential post in December 2004.

The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc was the first to leave the pro-presidential alliance, in September 2005, after Yushchenko removed Tymoshenko from the post of prime minister.

When the Party of Regions, led by Yushchenko's erstwhile presidential rival, Viktor Yanukovych, won the parliamentary elections in March, an opportunity arose for Yushchenko and Tymoshenko to reunite in an effort to prevent Yanukovych from returning to power.

But as old political wisdom asserts, being in opposition unites, while being in power divides. Lingering animosities and personal ambitions prevented the leaders of the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party from resurrecting their 2005 ruling alliance.

Thus, the second force to quit the Orange Revolution camp was the Socialist Party led by Oleksandr Moroz. The Socialists unexpectedly switched sides in July, signing an "anticrisis" accord with the Party of Regions and the Communists.

Yushchenko then tried to salvage the situation by having Our Ukraine sign a declaration of national unity with the anticrisis coalition. That deal allowed Our Ukraine to obtain several ministerial portfolios in Yanukovych's cabinet and represented a symbolic agreement between the signatories to pursue the basic goals and ideals of the Orange Revolution.

Running the government jointly with the Communist Party, however, has turned out to be an unpalatable idea for many Our Ukraine politicians. Only 30 of Our Ukraine's 80 lawmakers voted in August to confirm Yanukovych as prime minister, despite the fact that the bloc delegated four ministers to his cabinet, in addition to three ministers appointed by Yushchenko.

Mykola Katerynchuk, the chairman of the executive board of the Our Ukraine People's Union (NSNU) -- which constitutes the core of the Our Ukraine parliamentary bloc -- suggested that those NSNU members who backed Yanukovych in the vote should leave the union.

But this proposal was criticized by NSNU leader Roman Bezsmertnyy, who is in favor of Our Ukraine joining the anticrisis coalition on the basis of a new coalition accord.

How to do this, however, is a major headache for Yushchenko's loyalists.

Lawmaker Mykhaylo Pozhyvanov from the People's Rukh of Ukraine, another important component of Our Ukraine, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that his party took a "very stiff position" on a potential expanded coalition.

"We see the possibility of forming a new coalition, but only if it was done simultaneously with a full reformatting of the leadership of the Verkhovna Rada and the government. To which, I think, these guys [from the anticrisis coalition] will never agree," Pozhyvanov said. "And [we want a coalition] without the Communists. It is a very stiff position. It has not gained much favor with Borys Ivanovych [Bezsmertnyy], but it was approved by voting."

The Reforms and Order Party from the Our Ukraine bloc has overtly switched to the opposition, charging that Yanukovych's government poses "a direct threat to democracy, the national-cultural self-identification and development of the nation, and fundamental principles of the Ukrainian statehood."

However, others from Our Ukraine, like former National Security and Defense Secretary Petro Poroshenko, have not lost hope of making a deal with the anticrisis coalition. "Everything depends on the efficiency of the negotiating process," Poroshenko said. "I can't say that the negotiations are running very smoothly. There were different views regarding both the name and principles of the coalition -- it has to be a new coalition. It is very much a matter of principle [for us] to include the programmatic provisions of the declaration of national unity into the coalition agreement."

Some Ukrainian political commentators and analysts, like Kostyantyn Maleyev of the Kyiv-based Philosophical Institute of the National Academy of Sciences, believe that Our Ukraine will not be able to reach a unifying conclusion on what position to take on working with Yanukovych's cabinet. "It is quite apparent that there are diametrically opposing views regarding this issue in Our Ukraine, as well as opposite trends regarding the development of Our Ukraine itself," Maleyev said. "It seems that these contradictions cannot be overcome in the future."

In theory, Yanukovych does not need Our Ukraine's support in parliament -- his Party of Regions, the Socialists, and the Communists jointly control 240 votes in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada, which is sufficient to pass most legislation.

In practice, however, backing from Our Ukraine may be needed to introduce some economic measures where the views of the Marxism-rooted Communists and Socialists differ from those of the pro-market Party of Regions. In addition, Yanukovych may need Our Ukraine in the ruling coalition as a sort of legitimization of his government in the eyes of the West.

But irrespective of the final outcome of this coalition-building story, it is already evident that the pro-presidential Our Ukraine, which several months ago stood a realistic chance of dictating its own conditions for the government, will now have to reconcile itself to the status of a secondary political force.

Our Ukraine's political weight may be diminished even further by lawmakers who choose to switch to the opposition and side with the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc. According to cautious estimates, there may be around 20 such defectors.

(RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service correspondent Tetyana Yarmoshchuk contributed to this report.)