Recently dismissed prosecutor general of Ukraine Svyatoslav Piskun forces his way back into his office, May 24, 2007.
Photo: Alexander Techinsky
Ukrainian State in Meltdown
The first clashes of law-enforcement bodies loyal to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and those loyal to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich took place yesterday in Kiev. The conflict arose after Yushchenko dismissed Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun. Interior Minister sent special forces troops to seize the Prosecutor General's headquarters, overcoming resistance by the State Protection Department. State authority has broken down into presidential and government camps.
The extended conflict among the Political elite of Ukraine has turned into open opposition, provoked by an ordering issued by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko yesterday firing Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun, whom Yushchenko himself appointed on April 26. The president explained that Piskun had not resigned from his seat in the Supreme Rada as a member of the Party of the Regions faction, and was illegally holding those two positions. In the same order, Yushchenko appointed Prosecutor General of the Crimea Viktor Shemchuk to replace Piskun.
The president's actions led to a fierce battle for control of the prosecutor's office. Piskun, indignant over the ignominious end to his prosecutorial career, stated that his dismissal could only be legal if the Supreme Rada agreed to it. “Let the president apply to the Rada, and then fire me,” he said. Piskun then tried to enter his office, accompanied by several MPs from the Party of the Regions. Members of the State Protection Department stepped in to prevent them from doing so, with chief of the department Valery Geletei at their head. A scuffle broke out that was soon joined by Interior Minister Vasily Tsushko, leading a unit of Berkut troops. They were followed by Communist leader Petr Simonenko and supporters of the Party of the Regions. All of them came to defend Piskun.
“With his order dismissing Piskun, the president has taken the path of forcible seizure of power,” Simonenko stated. While politicians criticized the president on the street, the special forces energetically broke through the gates in front the Prosecutor General's Office headquarters and the doors to the building and forced the State Protection Department representatives out of the Prosecutor General's reception area.
Having taken the Prosecutor General's building from Yushchenko's supporters, Tsushko called the president's decision to remove the head of that agency a “coup d'etat.” He also announced that the Interior Ministry would take over security at the building to guarantee the safety of those inside it. Berkut troops surrounded the building's grounds.
Events at the Prosecutor General's office sent shock waves through the Ukrainian state. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich returned from a summit of CIS heads of government in Yalta and called an emergency meeting of the government. At the same time, Yushchenko called an urgent meeting of law enforcement agencies. Defense Minister Anatoly Gritsenko was forced to cut short to trip to Poltava to attend. Arriving in Kiev, Gritsenko stated that e was prepared to call in the Army to solve the crisis as soon as the head of state gave the order. “If events develop in a dangerous way, the president, as commander-in-chief, has the right to employ those divisions within the law that can be employed for the solution of such problems,” he said.
After consulting with the loyal law enforcement representatives, Yushchenko decided not to call in the military. He stated that the actions of the interior ministry were criminal and an attempt at a coup d'etat. The president charged with Ukrainian Security Service and Prosecutor General's Office with handling the incident.
The dismissal of Piskun is being linked in Kiev to his unwillingness to support the president in his standoff against the Constitutional Court. The court is now considering a petition filed by MPs from the Party of the Regions to have the president's decision to dissolve the Rada and call early elections declared illegal. To insure against an undesirable outcome in the case, Yushchenko dismissed three Constitutional Court judges in an April 30 order. The three judges, Valery Pshenichny, Suzanna Stanik and Vladimir Ivashchenko, were accused of “violating their oath.”
The three judges, who were clearly sympathetic to the Party of the Regions, which opposes early elections, refused to step down. They were restored to their positions as they appealed the president's order in regional courts.
The judges' suit had a snowball effect. On May 21, Yushchenko filed a suit in Goloseev District Court in Kiev to have the actions of Judges Pshenichny, Stanik and Ivashchenko declared illegal. That court declined to hear the suit, however, saying that the conflict was not within the competence of administrative legal proceedings. The offended president instructed Piskun to handle the judges, but he decided to close the criminal case against the Constitutional Court judges for appropriation of authority. “It seems to me that the question was decided in Goloseev Court and judges' have a decision in hand. The Supreme Justice Council is now studying its legality.”
Then Yushchenko's supporters from the pro-presidential Our Ukraine Party appealed the restoration of the Constitutional Court judges to their positions in Shevchenkovsky Court in Kiev. That court was more loyal to the head of state than Goloseev Court and ruled on May 23 to ban Pshenichny, Stanik and Ivashchenko from serving as judges in the Constitutional Court. Pshenichny, Stanik and Ivashchenko not only refused to adhere to the court's decision, they struck back. On Wednesday, the Constitutional Court deprived the president of the right to appoint judges to administrative positions (which includes the posts of court representative and deputy court representative), finding that that privilege was unconstitutional. Stanik cast the decisive vote in that decision.
That was the last straw for Yushchenko, who turned to extreme measures. Late Wednesday evening, he addressed the Ukrainian public on live television. “The court is paralyzed and demoralized,” he said. “The sole organ of constitutional jurisdiction has issued an unconstitutional decision on the appointment of judges to administrative positions. The Constitutional Court is losing its constitutional legitimacy and is unable to perform the function of preserving the primacy of the basic law. I am instructing the Prosecutor General's Office to make an immediate legal assessment of the situation that has arisen in the Constitutional Court with the violation of the Constitution and national legislation.” Obviously, it had already been decided that Shemchuk, and not Piskun, would carry out that order.
The court wars and battle for the Prosecutor General's office has mobilized both the supporters and opponents of early elections. The Yulia Timoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine and Party of the Regions all issued statements accusing each other of trying to overthrow the government. Our Ukraine spoke first, stating that the interior minister used an armed formation to resist the president's order to dismiss the prosecutor general. The actions of Berkut were characterized as “an anti-state coup with the participation of representatives of the ruling coalition [consisting of the Communists, Socialists and Party of the Regions].” Timoshenko picked up from there, saying, “I cannot recall when in Ukrainian history a subordinate organ seized those that control it. The Socialists' brains, and Tsushko belongs to the Socialist Party, have shriveled out of fear that they will have to answer for themselves at early elections. That is the real, full clinical picture.”
The Party of the Regions was no less expressive. “The president uses the rhetoric of a democrat and a liberal, but he has shown himself to be a typical powermonger, very much like Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet,” a statement by Yanukovich reads. “Yushchenko's democracy is the philosophy of the dictate: punish those who get in the way, destroy rights, violate the law and rule single-handedly. By that logic, we are not far from mass arrests of dissidents and their public execution in stadiums. In short, democracy in Ukraine is in danger.”
With such a mood reigning over the opposing political forces, there can be no question of negotiations over the date for the early elections that Yushchenko and Yanukovich agreed on on May 4. Yushchenko acknowledged that the date of the elections had been agreed on between him and Yanukovich, but said that the latest events show that the majority in the government only wanted to draw it out. “Behind the back of the president and negotiators, charlatanry is going on to show that the crisis cannot be settled by democratic processes,” Yushchenko said yesterday. He announced that negotiations had reached a dead end and urged opposition forces in the Rada to resign, to deprive the Rada of a quorum and prevent it from functioning.
Speaker of the Rada Alexander Moroz, who had hurried back from Slovakia, called an emergency night meeting of the Rada when he heard that and the Regionals, Socialists and Communists began plotting counter-intrigues.
All the Article in Russian as of May 25, 2007