Political alliances are shifting once again in Ukraine. It was only last December that Yulia Tymoshenko became prime minister after her bloc and President Yushchenko’s party won earlier elections. But disagreements and personal rivalry between the leaders soon came to the surface.
Among the main causes of division is the president’s strident pro-Western leanings, in particular his aim to bring Ukraine into NATO. Tymoshenko has sought to distance herself from this tendency. It is a stance that has not gone unnoticed in Moscow.
The former Soviet republic, which became independent in 1991, remains deeply divided over where its destiny lies. Between a third and a half of the population is Russian speaking but that does not mean they are anti-Western. And likewise the rest of Ukraine is not not necessarily anti-Russian.
The tensions between the president and prime minister came to ahead during the war in Georgia. Yushchenko rallied to his Georgian counterpart’s side in a show of solidarity. But Tymoshenko criticised him for backing Georgia to such an extent. That earned her accusations of treason from his supporters.
It led to a fundamental shift in parliament where Tymoshenko’s bloc now threw its lot in with the opposition, which draws its support mainly from Russian speaking regions. They voted in a number of measures to reduce the president’s powers.
Under these circumstances the collapse of the coalition was inevitable. Yushchenko withdrew his Our Ukraine party from the administration, triggering fresh elections.
Tymoshenko’s position on Georgia also helped turn around her relations with the Kremlin. The new warmth was on show last Thursday when Tymoshenko — who two years ago accused Russia of extorting cash from Ukraine in a row over gas — had cordial meetings her counterpart Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev. Some analysts believe Moscow may look at their preferred candidate in presidential elections in 2010.