Pro-Russian leader Yanukovych consolidating power in Ukraine, opposition rival goes silent

By Peter Leonard, AP
Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Pro-Russian leader consolidating power in Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine — Stanislav Krasnov marched with the hundreds of thousands demanding a pro-Western government during Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution.

That government’s final days seem near now. A preliminary count of Ukraine’s weekend presidential vote shows Russian-leaning candidate Viktor Yanukovych narrowly beating Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the blond-braided heroine of the Orange Revolution.

Tymoshenko’s supporters are claiming fraud but Krasnov is indifferent. The 52-year-old security guard despises the current administration, and says he won’t protest even if Yanukovych pushes Tymoshenko from her post as promised.

As Yanukovych consolidates power, the era of revolutions in Ukraine appears to be over for now. The once-flamboyant Tymoshenko has kept herself under wraps, apparently deciding on her next move.

“I came to the demonstrations. But that won’t happen again,” Krasnov said, dismissing the idea with a wave of his hand. “No one will come out onto the streets for her now. She’d be standing here by herself.”

With Orange rule all but over, some Ukrainians fear Yanukovych’s rule could mean a shift to a Russian-style system with tighter control of the political opposition and media, along with deepening energy reliance on Moscow.

Election officials said Wednesday that Tymoshenko was 3.5 percentage points behind Yanukovych, who’s trying to build a parliamentary coalition to oust her. A Yanukovych ally in parliament said there is “hope” that legislators will remove Tymoshenko as prime minister in the next few days.

“The people have clearly come out in favor of change of power, and the prime minister should make the right decision and move to the opposition,” Yanukovych said in a televised address after the announcement of the provisional count.

A crowd of more than 5,000 gathered outside the Central Election Commission cheered raucously.

“At last, the victory that we have been waiting for!” shouted 43-year-old chef Galina Khomchenko. “This Orange nightmare has finally come to an end.”

Tymoshenko canceled two press conferences at the start of the week, and yet another one on Tuesday. Exasperating the press, she then canceled Wednesday’s weekly Cabinet meeting, opting instead to fly to an industrial town far from the capital, Kiev, to attend the funeral of an aircraft engine designer.

Her allies nonetheless say they still plan to give no quarter in challenging the apparent outcome in the courts, and have demanded recounts at more than 900 polling stations across the country — despite the fact that the vote received glowing praise from international monitors.

With more than 4 percent of voters casting their ballot for the “Against All” option, and 1.2 percent spoiling their ballot, Yanukovych seems to have won only the slenderest of mandates. That will severely hinder his ability to lead a deeply divided society and implement desperately needed political reforms.

Tymoshenko’s insistence on challenging what most observers called a clean election could give her the chance to chip away at her foes’ credibility and power. It could also give her a platform for a future run.

“She is without doubt the main candidate for the 2015 elections. It is on that basis that she will shape her strategy,” said Oleksiy Haran, a Kiev-based political expert.

But even some in Tymoshenko’s camp are counseling against continuing the battle against Yanukovych’s apparent victory.

“We must recognize the result and become the opposition,” said Svyatoslav Oliynik, a member of Tymoshenko’s faction in parliament. “But it remains with Tymoshenko to make the decisive call.”


Associated Press writers Simon Shuster and Yuras Karmanau contributed to this report.

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