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RUSSIA CALLS ON UKRAINIANS TO DISPLAY 'WISDOM.' The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on April 3 that Moscow is concerned about the political crisis in Ukraine and hopes that the political forces there will show "restraint and responsibility" and act within the framework of the law, Interfax reported. The statement added that Russia hopes that those political forces "will display restraint and demonstrate wisdom and responsibility to their people as they search for a way out of the current political crisis." Elsewhere, Konstantin Kosachyov, who heads the Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee and is often more outspoken than the Foreign Ministry, said in Moscow on April 3 that Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko was wrong to order the dissolution of parliament the previous day. Kosachyov argued that "the president of Ukraine made a mistake. This mistake clearly will not help resolve the problems in domestic political life there." Kosachyov believes that the Ukrainian parliamentary majority did not act outside the law and that, therefore, there was no justification for the president's "radical interference in the situation." Kosachyov stressed that his views are simply his "personal opinion." The daily "Kommersant" wrote on April 3 that the Kremlin prefers Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych to the president but is less open about expressing its support than in the past. The newspaper added that the Kremlin has repeatedly forced a postponement of a planned visit by Yushchenko to Moscow and thereby undermined his position at home. When and if he does come to the Russian capital, the daily predicts his reception will be "extremely cold indeed." In another article, the same daily compared the situation in Kyiv now with that in Moscow "in October 1993, when legislators barricaded themselves in the Russian White House to protest President Boris Yeltsin's dissolution of the Russian legislature and refused to budge until the army sent in tanks to shell the parliament building and force the deputies to surrender. The question now is whether the warring factions [in Ukraine] will resort to force: the prime minister controls the police, while the president claims the support of the army." The paper also argued that Yushchenko's patience is exhausted. PM

END NOTE: UKRAINE FACES CRISIS AS PRESIDENT DISSOLVES PARLIAMENT xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DISSOLVES PARLIAMENT... President Viktor Yushchenko on April 2 signed a decree to disband the Verkhovna Rada and hold new elections on May 27, Ukrainian media reported (see End Note). The move followed the president's failed consultations with parliamentary leaders earlier the same day over the recent defection of opposition deputies to the ruling majority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 2, 2007). In a televised address to the nation in the evening of April 2, Yushchenko said the main legal reason for the dissolution of the legislature was the ruling coalition's unlawful push to recruit individual opposition deputies to the parliamentary majority, whereas the constitution stipulates that such a majority should consist of parliamentary factions. He also accused the ruling coalition of passing unconstitutional laws and of failing to meet its promises and commitments. Yushchenko formally put his decree into effect by publishing it in his official bulletin on April 3. JM

...AS RULING COALITION REFUSES TO OBEY. During an emergency session in the evening of April 2, some 260 lawmakers of the ruling coalition of the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party adopted a resolution condemning Yushchenko's decree as illegal and constituting a "step toward a coup d'etat," Ukrainian media reported. The ruling coalition's lawmakers also passed a resolution disbanding the Central Election Commission formed in December 2004, and another one banning the government from funding the campaign for early elections. On April 3, ruling-coalition lawmakers requested that the Constitutional Court rule on whether Yushchenko's decree on the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada conforms with the constitution. JM


President Viktor Yushchenko on April 2 signed a decree to disband the Verkhovna Rada and hold new elections on May 27. A majority of parliament lawmakers, including members of the Party of Regions led by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, responded by condemning the decree as a "step toward a coup d'etat" and indicated they will disobey the president's order.

Yushchenko's decision to dissolve the parliament and call new elections followed last week's defection of a dozen opposition deputies to the ruling coalition of the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party. That changeover strengthened the government's support base in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada to some 260 votes.

Yushchenko was evidently afraid that even more defections from his Our Ukraine bloc and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc would follow, allowing Yanukovych to increase the parliamentary coalition to a constitutional majority of 300 votes. In such a scenario, Yanukovych's coalition would be able to override presidential vetoes, change the constitution, and reduce the Ukrainian presidency to a merely symbolic role or even abolish it altogether.

By dissolving the Verkhovna Rada, Yushchenko, who has often been criticized for indecisiveness, made his boldest move since being elected president in December 2004. In a television address to the nation on April 2, Yushchenko asserted that it was his "duty" to disband the legislature. "My actions were dictated by the urgent necessity to save the state, its sovereignty, and territorial integrity, and to ensure the constitution of Ukraine, the rights and liberties of people and citizens are upheld," he said. "I would like to underline that this is not only my right, it is my duty."

Yushchenko stressed that the main legal reason for the dissolution of the legislature was the ruling coalition's push to convince individual deputies from the opposition to switch allegiance to the parliamentary majority. The constitution, he said, unambiguously stipulates that such a majority should consist of parliamentary factions, rather than individuals.

But some Ukrainian commentators maintain that Yushchenko's justification for his decree is shaky, to say the least. They point out that the Ukrainian Constitution explicitly states only three cases when the president may call early parliamentary elections: if the Verkhovna Rada fails to form a majority within 30 days after its first sitting, or a new cabinet within 60 days after the dismissal or resignation of the previous one, or if it fails to gather for a sitting within 30 days during an ongoing parliamentary session.

So did Yushchenko overstep his bounds in issuing the decree to disband the Verkhovna Rada? Parliament speaker Oleksandr Moroz on April 2 has no doubts about it. "The Verkhovna Rada, with all its responsibilities, states that today there are no legal reasons to dissolve this parliament, which people freely elected according to all the democratic standards as recognized by all the Ukrainian and international organizations, and the president himself."

During a late-night emergency session on April 2, lawmakers from the ruling coalition adopted an address to the nation, blasting Yushchenko's decree as a "step toward a coup d'etat." They also passed two other resolutions that have added fuel to the rising political tensions in the country -- they revoked their resolution of December 2004 on the formation of the Central Election Commission, and banned the government from funding a campaign for early parliamentary elections.

Moreover, the ruling coalition on April 3 made a formal request to the Constitutional Court, asking it to pass a judgment on Yushchenko's decree. The Constitutional Court, however, has failed to gather for a single session in the past six months. Some argue that it may take months for the panel of 18 judges to rule on the decree. Meanwhile, Yushchenko formally put his decree into effect on April 3 by publishing it in his official bulletin.

There seem to be two immediate options available for Ukraine's main political players to move ahead in the current political crisis.

A less favorable scenario for Ukrainian politicians is to wait for the Constitutional Court's ruling and, in the meantime, allow people to decide in street rallies who of the two key figures -- Yushchenko and Yanukovych -- is more loved by the electorate. Such an option would almost certainly deepen the historical divide between the west and the east of Ukraine and, in an extreme case, could lead to bloodshed or even split the country into two political entities.

A better option for both sides is to hold fresh elections in May -- even if the decision would represent a major public boost for Yushchenko at Yanukovych's expense.

But if Yanukovych wants to maintain the standing of a responsible prime minister and guarantee a public role for himself in postcrisis Ukraine, he should do everything possible to preserve the country's political stability, rather than satisfying his personal ambitions by outplaying and marginalizing Yushchenko.

At the emergency cabinet meeting, Yanukovych suggested in enigmatic fashion that he is mulling over a "third" option for resolving the current standoff between Yushchenko and himself. "If the president does publish his decree tomorrow [April 3], he still has the chance to rescind it," he said. "I will not say out loud what the third option is. All other [options] would boost tensions significantly in Ukraine, and the president would be fully responsible for that heavy burden."

Some were quick to conclude that the prime minister does not rule out a show of force in dealing with the president. Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko, one of the two presidential allies in Yanukovych's cabinet, felt obliged to immediately clarify whose side the armed forces would take in such a scenario. "In accordance with existing legislation, the army will only carry out orders from the commander in chief [Yushchenko]," he said.

Irrespective of what course political events in Ukraine may take in the coming days and weeks, Ukrainians are certain to face a newly turbulent and nerve-racking period.