Ukraine's pro-Russian parties have formed a new governing coalition in a stunning move that promises to slow the pro-Western course taken by the ex-Soviet nation after the "orange revolution."
In front of reporters in parliament, the Regions Party and the Communists signed a coalition agreement with the Socialists, who in a surprise move had defected from the pro-Western "orange" camp the previous day. The coalition said it was open to other parties.
"We're not closing the doors," said Viktor Yanukovych, the leader of Regions. "They are open for other parties or groups of deputies."
The trio, which controls 240 seats in the 450-member Upper Rada legislature, said it would nominate as its prime minister Yanukovych, who lost the bitterly-contested "orange revolution" election contest to President Viktor Yushchenko in late 2004.
An election poster of Yanukovych
The coalition said it would forward Yanukovych's nomination to the president later on Friday, after which Yushchenko will have 15 days to submit it to parliament for confirmation, and would move quickly to form a new cabinet.
It was not clear whether Yushchenko's Our Ukraine party would join the new union to form a so-called "wide coalition" that would unite both pro-Western and pro-Russian forces.
Slowing NATO, but not EU membership
Pro-Western Yushchenko is not ruling out a coalition with his former rival
Analysts say a wide coalition would slow Kiev's aim to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), but would not affect the drive toward membership of the European Union (EU) and would provide stability to push through economic reforms.
In a televised interview, Yushchenko said that he did not see Our Ukraine in the role of the opposition, saying its absence from power would "lead to a serious revision of policies."
In earlier remarks to reporters, Yushchenko said a wide coalition would be the best option, but admitted that a new majority could exclude his party.
"It's not out of the question that we could have a situation where the courses of the president and the parliamentary majority differ," a gloomy Yushchenko told reporters. "I would really like to avoid such a scenario."
Tymoshenko won't cooperate
Tymoshenko would rather see new elections
The third member of the "orange" coalition, Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc, has ruled out joining a coalition that includes Regions, warning that it would lead to a return of the widespread corruption that marked the regime swept aside by the "orange revolution."
"A wide coalition is a wide grave for democracy and Ukraine's sovereignty," she said in a late-night political talk show. "We will either be in opposition or, if the constitution allows... we'll support the holding of new elections."
Yushchenko warned that if a new government is not formed by the end of July he could dissolve government and call new elections.
The March 26 parliamentary election did not hand any one party enough seats in the legislature to form a government alone. At present, Regions has 186 seats, Tymoshenko's bloc 129 seats, Our Ukraine 81 seats, the Socialists 33 seats and the Communists 21 seats.