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06KIEV553, UKRAINE: YOU TAKE THE LOW ROAD AND I’LL TAKE THE

February 9, 2006

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06KIEV553 2006-02-09 16:41 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Kyiv
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 KIEV 000553 

SIPDIS 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/03/2016 
TAGS: PREL PGOV
SUBJECT: UKRAINE: YOU TAKE THE LOW ROAD AND I'LL TAKE THE 
HIGH ROAD: YUSHCHENKO GOES TO THE RADA 

REF: KIEV 317 

Classified By: DCM Sheila Gwaltney, reason 1.4 (b,d) 

1. (C) Summary: Circus-like farce impinged on serious 
statecraft at the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) the 
morning of February 9.  President Yushchenko delivered an 
hour-long "State of the Nation" address to the Rada, 
reviewing the accomplishments of the past year since his 
inauguration and laying out his vision to take the country 
forward.  The speech generally echoed the positive, 
Western-oriented principles expressed in his January 2005 
inaugural address; there were multiple rounds of applause 
interrupting the speech, though his proposal to launch a 
post-election constitution commission to consider overhauling 
the Constitution sparked audible grumbling.  The Rada's level 
of decorum hardly matched the occasion.  Former (and first) 
Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk, now an SPDU(o) MP, 
strolled in 15 minutes into the speech; at least 150 MPs did 
not bother to show up.  Cell phones rang throughout the 
second half of Yushchenko's presentation.  Ten minutes before 
Yushchenko concluded, Rada Speaker Lytvyn summoned one of his 
deputy party leaders, Oleh Zarubinsky, to the rostrum ten 
feet behind where Yushchenko was speaking, wrote out a note 
with points, and gave finger-wagging verbal instructions for 
the spin to be used in the hallway after the speech; 
Zarubinsky largely panned what Yushchenko had said and 
attacked Our Ukraine positions. 

2. (C)  Prior to Yushchenko's arrival, Communist and Our 
Ukraine MPs had brawled in the well of the Rada after the 
Communists attempted to adorn the podium with a politicized 
red banner; Our Ukraine faction leader Mykola Martynenko 
ended up with a bloodied nose.  A previously routine annual 
vote to approve the schedule of international military 
exercises to be held in Ukraine failed to achieve the 
required support after several factions politicized the vote 
in pre-election posturing, led by one of the Rada's more 
clownish members, Nestor Shufrych (SPDU(o)), whose insistence 
on delivering an anti-NATO diatribe in Russian drew catcalls 
from MPs.  All in all, the behavior of the Rada MPs 
contrasted sharply with the lofty principles in the "State of 
the Nation" address and appeared to live up to Yushchenko's 
reported characterization of them at a mid-January meeting of 
the National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) as acting 
like: "a bunch of schoolboys in short pants."  End summary. 

Round One: A Rumble in the Rada 
------------------------------- 

3. (SBU) Preparations for the annual Presidential "State of 
the Nation" address in the Rada got off to a rocky start 
February 9 when Communist MPs attempted to adorn the podium 
to be used by Yushchenko with a red banner proclaiming: 
"where are your ten steps for the people?" -- a reference to 
Yushchenko's ten-point Presidential campaign platform.  When 
Our Ukraine (OU) MPs moved in to remove the banner, vigorous 
fisticuffs ensued, with Communist MP Oleksandr Bondarchuk 
punching OU faction leader Mykola Martynenko in the face, 
bloodying Martynenko's nose, as well as the Rada's already 
low recent track record of civility. 

Round Two: Pre-election posturing over military exercises 
--------------------------------------------- ------------ 

4. (SBU) With Yushchenko's arrival delayed by 30 minutes, the 
Rada attempted to complete the first item on its regular 
agenda: approval of the Presidential decree to allow foreign 
troops onto Ukrainian territory to participate in bilateral 
and multilateral exercises in 2006.  Before a raucous crowd 
of MPs carrying on loud private conversations without 
consideration for the official proceedings, Defense Minister 
Hrytsenko presented the benefits to the Ukrainian armed 
forces, including a higher standard of professionalism and 
readiness, as well as a total of 500,000 euros of support 
from partner nations.  Former Defense Minister (and current 
MP) Kuzmuk, speaking for the National Security and Defense 
Committee, fully endorsed the proposal and called for strong 
Rada support. 

5. (SBU) Sensing pre-election politics were likely to affect 
the vote, Hrytsenko pointed out that the Rada had routinely 
endorsed the annual plan when the PM had been from Party of 
Regions (Yanukovych), the President's Chief of Staff from 
SPDU(o) (Medvedchuk), and the Rada speaker a Socialist 
(Moroz).  To no avail.  Leading Rada lightning rod Nestor 
Shufrych launched into an anti-NATO tirade in Russian, 
leading to catcalls from many MPs (Note: Shufrych and fellow 
members of the SPDU(o) stopped speaking in Ukrainian in the 
Rada when their "Ne Tak" (literaly "Not that Way," but a 
mocking wordply on Yushchenko's 2004 Presidential campaign 
slogan "Tak!") electoral bloc rolled out a pro-Russian 
language, anti-NATO platform in January.  End note).  The 
motion failed to secure the required 226 votes to pass, with 
only 215 in favor, 11 against, and the rest not present or 
not voting.  Only two MPs from the Socialist party, a formal 
member of the government which often votes against government 
security and economic initiatives, voted; half of Lytvyn's 
faction also did not vote.  Shufrych ripped the microphone 
away from presiding deputy Speaker Martinyuk as the latter 
started to call for the standard follow-up vote about 
reconsidering the motion later;
 after Martinyuk struggled 
with Shufrych and successfully recovered the microphone, the 
reconsideration vote proceeded, with the same 215-11 failed 
result. 

6. (C) Note: Dmytro Polishchuk of the Rada's National 
Security and Defense Committee told us February 9 that while 
training cannot start in the absence of Rada approval, the 
Rada will revisit the measure in two weeks.  Ministry of 
Defense (MOD) contacts told us that they considered the vote 
a temporary "business as usual" setback and expect the 
measure to be re-introduced as often as necessary to gain 
approval.  MOD recommended exercise planners continue work on 
all planned exercises; a planning conference for Exercise Sea 
Breeze concluded in the Crimea February 9. 

Round Three: Yushchenko's State of the Nation Assessment 
--------------------------------------------- ----------- 

7. (SBU) In reviewing the progress Ukraine had made in the 
past year, Yushchenko began by thanking all those, in Ukraine 
and abroad, who had helped Ukraine rejoin the global 
community of democracies.  Ukraine had inherited a corrupted 
system but had been blessed with elections and renewed 
freedom.  Ukraine deserved a new model of power, a new 
concept of governance based on dialogue with its citizens, a 
sense of unity among all Ukrainians based on shared values, 
societal trust, tolerance, a vibrant culture.  Ukraine's 
reform efforts were driven by a desire to be a European 
country and the strategic aim to join the European Union, 
while maintaining strategic partnerships with Russia and the 
U.S. 

8. (SBU) Appealing to Rada MPs to rise above personal and 
party interests, he admonished them, to loud applause, not to 
make promises in the morning and violate them at night, and 
to avoid turning Ukrainians against each other during the 
election campaign by manipulating issues involving religion, 
nationality, or NATO.  The task ahead of all Ukrainian 
politicians was to resolve the conflict between the old 
authoritarian system of governance with the new values and 
expectations of Ukrainians.  State authority needed to be 
responsive to the needs of citizens, not an instrument of 
those in power.  The political decision making process needed 
to be open and consultative.  The security services needed to 
act with the rights of the citizen in mind; the government 
needed to institute a citizens' control board, improve the 
justice system, increase transparency, and attack corruption. 
 Yushchenko then repeated the other government priorities 
laid out in his speech on the first anniversary of his 
inauguration (reftel). 

Round Four: Proposal for Real Political Reform 
--------------------------------------------- - 

9. (SBU) Three quarters of the way through the largely 
predictable and nonconfrontational speech, Yushchenko threw a 
left hook on the tense issue of political reform.  He 
initially reached out to Rada Speaker Lytvyn with a 
compromise: the Rada should seat already nominated 
Constitutional Court Judges, and he promised not to appeal 
the December 8, 2004 package of constitutional reforms to the 
Court prior to the March elections. 

10. (SBU) After terming the reforms which went into effect 
January 1 as merely "partial," Yushchenko proceeded to 
propose "real, comprehensive political reform."  Such real 
reform would be accomplished by establishing a constitutional 
commission comprised of political and party leaders, local 
authorities, academic experts, and members of civil society 
to develop a new Ukrainian constitution, conduct a nationwide 
referendum on accepting/rejecting the new draft, and pass a 
range of laws to develop constitutional norms.  All would 
ensure the efficient work of a new political model 
appropriate for the new Ukraine, based on the principles of: 
involving people in government decision-making, installing 
transparency and accountability into government; balancing 
powers and functions between branches of government; 
delegating more authority and resources to local government; 
fighting corruption; and improving the prestige of serving as 
a civil servant. 

11. (SBU) Amidst a groundswell of MP grumbling, a ringing 
bell calling for order, and isolated cries of "Kuchma" from 
the SPDU(o) MPs who only two years ago had been the avatars 
of Kuchmaism, Yushchenko finished with quotes from Ukrainian 
national bard Shevchenko ("When asked who was Ukrainian, 
Shevchenko replied: 'Those who died here, those who live 
here, and those who will be born here'") and Napoleon 
("Politics is our destiny") in appealing to the Rada to 
fulfill their duty, if not destiny, in working responsibly in 
the national interest and building a better country for 
future generations of Ukrainians. 

Round Five: Post-Speech spinning (and Poor Manners) 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 

12. (SBU) As could have been expected six weeks prior to 
elections, parliamentarians of all parties sought out eager 
journalists in the hallway of the Rada to offer their 
partisan spin on Yushchenko's remarks, reinforcing campaign 
ad themes.  Zarubinsky (Lytvyn's Bloc) echoed Lytvyn's 
campaign themes, panning Yushchenko's speech, ripping 
partisanship between both "blue" and "orange" parties but 
singling out Our Ukraine for most of the blame, including the 
Rada's failure to seat constitutional court judges, 
criticizing the Socialists for not voting for the 
government's military exercise plan, and claiming the country 
needed Lytvyn's middle force to tie the warring factions back 
together again.  Ne Tak!'s Shufrych continued his anti-NATO 
diatribe in Russian, while his bloc and faction leader 
Kravchuk critiqued a speech he had not heard in its entirety. 
 Socialist Leader Moroz dismissed Yushchenko's call for a 
people's review of the Constitution, predicting the current 
Constitution would still be in place ten years hence; 
Socialist industrialist Boyko attacked Yushchenko's economic 
policy. 

13. (C) Comment: Less impressive than expected pre-election 
posturing was the lack of decorum on the part of Rada MPs, 
from the pre-speech brawl initiated by the Communists to the 
constant ringing of cellphones (MPs, plus journalists and a 
Russian diplomat seated in the observer gallery).  Rada 
deputies had reacted with outrage in mid-January after Lytvyn 
reported Yushchenko had characterized them as "a bunch of 
schoolboys in short pants" during an NSDC session in the 
aftermath of the Rada's January 10 vote to dismiss the 
Yekhanurov government.  But their behavior February 9 before, 
during, and after Yushchenko's "State of the Nation" address 
did nothing to refute the charge. 

14. (U) Visit Embassy Kiev's classified website at: 
www.state.sgov.gov/p/eur/kiev. 
HERBST

 

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