Process over Personalities in Ukraine

A panel of experts speaking at The Nixon Center agreed: The United States must invest in Ukraine’s political process, not individual leaders, during the present crisis.

Two years after the Orange Revolution, Ukraine faces another political standoff between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Yushchenko's decree to dissolve the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine's parliament) and hold early elections is symptomatic of the rule of law's fragility in Kiev.

"The question remains whether democracy will survive in Ukraine", said Judge Bohdan Futey of the United States Court of Federal Claims, who has worked extensively on democracy and rule of law projects in Ukraine and was one of three speakers at The Nixon Center on Friday, April 13. "The Constitutional Court must act. . . . If not, the country will sink even deeper into legal chaos."

Yanukovych's attempts to undermine the presidency backed Yushchenko into a corner, Futey said.

As National Interest editor Nikolas Gvosdev, who spoke at the event, wrote in National Interest online last week:

Ukrainian law provides only for parties to join coalitions and is meant to prevent individuals elected under one party mandate from defecting to join another bloc-and Yanukovych has been tempting legislators to join his ruling coalition in an effort to secure 300 confirmed votes (out of 450) which would not only give him a veto-proof majority but also enable him to change the constitution of the country.

Amidst this legal breakdown, however, Futey, Gvosdev and Steven Pifer of CSIS all agreed that the United States must invest in the political process, not personalities. Gvosdev observed that Ukraine has a solid track record since the fall of the Soviet Union and that an emphasis on procedure will help engender the constitutional and legal infrastructure necessary to preserve a democratic and stable Ukraine.

Pifer identified major U.S. interests in Ukraine that exist irrespective of the present crisis: an independent, stable and democratic government in Kiev that has strong ties to Europe. Pifer, who served as special assistant to President Clinton for Russian affairs, outlined three potential resolutions to the crisis: a political compromise-which the panelists favored-Constitutional Court intervention and new elections, which run the risk of producing a Rada of similar composition to the current one.

Pifer also noted that with several crises ongoing or looming in the Middle East, the political infighting in Kiev causes Ukraine to drift farther off of Washington's radar. Yushchenko and Yanukovych's clash is "not giving the United States or the West much to engage with", Pifer said.

The present situation further reveals that, "there is no 51 percent solution for Ukraine", Gvosdev said. On issues of critical importance to Ukraine's future, national referendums might be necessary to ensure the legitimacy of government policy changes. Because of domestic fractiousness-along a variety of lines-"There does have to be a recognition of checks and balances", Gvosdev added.

Another dimension of Ukraine's crisis is its impact on business interests and Kiev's integration into the global economy, specifically WTO membership. Pifer noted that the decisions and legislation necessary to qualify Ukraine for WTO membership cannot be made amidst turmoil. In the long term, the Rada will need to produce a package of new laws, which depends on continued stability in Ukraine-as does so much else.

Sean R. Singer is an apprentice editor at The National Interest.