The veteran Ukrainian politician has become accustomed to international plaudits since last December, when he succeeded in overturning the results of a rigged election by bringing thousands of protestors onto Kiev's streets before going on to decisively defeat his discredited rival in a re-run. Time magazine has since named Mr Yushchenko among the 100 most influential people in the world and he has received substantial recognition in America, including the sought-after John F Kennedy Profile in Courage award.
Few leaders of former Soviet republics get the chance to address the US Congress or receive the rapturous reception which he did. Fewer still find themselves in the running for this year's Nobel Peace Prize. However, Mr Yushchenko appears to be falling victim to a phenomenon which plagued a past winner of the Peace Prize, Mikhail Gorbachev. He was admired in the West for his role in peacefully bringing about an end to Communism but despised at home.
Mr Yushchenko is sliding ever closer to the same paradox. Respected abroad, many are already accusing him of betraying the ideals of the orange revolution he fathered. His critics allege that he has become so dazzled by international praise that he has taken his eye off the ball and presided over the replacement of one corrupt elite with another. That he has broken his revolutionary promises, befriended the very people he railed against during the revolution, failed to stamp out corruption nationally let alone among his own inner circle and not made a sufficient break with the discredited methods of his Soviet-era predecessor Leonid Kuchma. His critics' message is stark: the revolution has not delivered on its early promise and shows no signs of doing so.
Amnesty International yesterday added its voice to a growing chorus of criticism, accusing him of doing too little to stamp out police brutality and torture. The human rights group said that, although Mr Yushchenko's government had paid lip service to its concerns, little had been done since January when he took office. "Despite promising words from the new government, Amnesty International and local human rights organisations have received allegations of torture and ill-treatment in police detention in the six months since the new government came to power," it said in a statement. The Ukrainian authorities said they were not yet ready to respond to the report.
Mr Yushchenko is unlikely to welcome Amnesty's findings but what is likely to worry him more is the serious disenchantment setting in among many of his supporters. His main problem is that the "orange government" he put together at the beginning of the year no longer exists. Earlier this month he sacked his entire government after cabinet members began to publicly accuse one another of corruption and cronyism. Mr Yushchenko said petty infighting had brought the government to a standstill.
The most high-profile victim of his house-cleaning was his charismatic yet controversial prime minister, Julia Tymoshenko. Known as the "orange princess" because of her glamorous looks and decisive role in marshalling the crowds last year, Ms Tymoshenko was for many Ukrainians a symbol of the revolution. Analysts argue that Mr Yushchenko's decision to dismiss her and many of her closest aides from government has riven the orange movement in two and cost the president valuable support.
Apparently undeterred, Mr Yushchenko yesterday continued the process of naming members of his new government without Ms Tymoshenko's involvement. A relatively obscure Russian-born technocrat called Yuri Yekhanurov has taken her job as premier and Mr Yushchenko now faces the unsettling prospect of facing off against Ms Tymoshenko at the ballot box in elections at the end of March.
Once comrades-in-arms, the two have metamorphosed into bitter political enemies and Ms Tymoshenko makes no secret of the fact that she wants power at Mr Yushchenko's expense. In his bid to claw his way back to contention the Ukrainian President has struck a pact which appears to negate at a stroke the purpose of the orange revolution.
In essence, the revolution was about overturning the rigged election victory of Viktor Yanukovych, Mr Yushchenko's pro-Russian rival. Many of those who gathered in Kiev's Independence Square wanted Mr Yanukovych jailed for election fraud and other alleged crimes. Yet last week Mr Yushchenko was pictured on Ukrainian TV shaking his rival's hand after signing a deal with him which secured 50 extra votes in order to win a parliamentary vote on the appointment of his new premier.
In the eyes of his disillusioned supporters, he paid too high a price for the 50 votes when he granted Mr Yanukovych and his supporters a legal amnesty. Writing in the authoritative The Ukraine List, the analyst Mychailo Wynnyckyj said it was a betrayal. "Nine months after leading hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians into the streets to protest against falsified elections, the President signed 'a memorandum of understanding' with his former adversary ... in which he agreed to support the drafting of a law that grants amnesty to all those who committed or were complicit in falsifying the results of Ukraine's November 2004 vote!"
The pro-government daily Ukrayina Moloda also raised an eyebrow. "This alliance will dismay many supporters of both Yushchenko and Yanukovych," it wrote. "One of these politicians symbolises democracy, the other authoritarianism. This means that once more East and West and business and power will be mixed up. Many of those who stood on Independence Square will view this as a betrayal."
Many of the original revolutionaries also wanted Mr Kuchma, Mr Yushchenko's predecessor, to be held to account for alleged corruption. But according to Ms Tymoshenko, speaking in a recent interview with the Russian daily newspaper Izvestia, a decision has been taken to let him off the hook. She said: "Yushchenko has explained to everyone that Kuchma is not to be touched. He said that Kuchma is a former head of state and is therefore not to be hunted like a rabbit. He will be allowed to keep all his property, even unlawfully acquired property. In effect Kuchma has been granted a pardon."
Ms Tymoshenko also accuses her former boss of knowing "in detail" about corruption at the heart of his inner circle and doing nothing to stop it. She singles out the activities of Petr Poroshenko, a confectionery tycoon who headed the country's National Security Council until the government's recent dismissal and who came into open conflict with her. Mr Poroshenko, a close friend of Mr Yushchenko's, categorically denies her accusations that he was trying to block the renationalisation of key state assets so that they could be sold to wealthy Russian businessmen. An investigation is underway.
Mr Yushchenko has also seen his corruption-busting image tainted by revelations about the lifestyle of his 19 year-old son, Andrei, who is known in the Ukrainian media as "the Son of God". Last summer, Yushchenko Junior was revealed to be enjoying a sybaritic lifestyle, driving a rare BMW around Kiev, and brandishing a mobile phone and a watch beyond the wildest dreams of most Ukrainians. Mr Yushchenko weathered the scandal by publicly berating his son but the damage was done. There is also the troubling unsolved murder case of a leading investigative journalist.
Georgiy Gongadze's decapitated body was found in a forest outside Kiev two weeks after he was abducted in September 2000 while investigating allegations of corruption at the heart of Leonid Kuchma's government. Mr Yushchenko has repeatedly promised to bring the perpetrators to justice and indeed three former policemen are in custody and have apparently confessed to the murder.
But to the public's frustration, the people who ordered the killing remain at large. Earlier this month, the international organisation Reporters Without Borders criticised the Ukrainian authorities for dragging their feet. Mr Yushchenko tried to stem criticism by posthumously awarding Mr Gongadze the title "Hero of Ukraine" but the gesture won him little favour with Lessia, the journalist's mother. "Nobody informs me about anything and nobody contacts me," she said recently. "If it wasn't for journalists the case would have been forgotten long ago. Yushchenko and Kuchma are alike. Nothing has changed. I will not go to Yushchenko. I will not offer him my hand."
To add to Mr Yushchenko's woes, the Ukrainian economy is not doing well. Economic growth has slumped to 2.8 per cent this year compared with 12.1 per cent last year, prices are perceived to have risen unacceptably and there have been problems keeping the country's petrol stations supplied. Mr Yushchenko and his supporters blame the sacked Ms Tymoshenko, who played a large role in managing the economy. She says the figures look bad because in the past all the data was falsified. Mr Yushchenko has also accused his erstwhile ally of trying to use her post to get a $1.5bn tax bill owed by her former firm written off. She denies the claim and has said she would sue him under different circumstances.
It is all a far cry from last December, when the duo stood hand in hand in front of tens of thousands of jubilant supporters and promised to build a new Ukraine. A poll by the Kiev-based think-tank Razumkov last week showed that Mr Yushchenko's personal rating had plummeted to 19.8 per cent in September from 48 per cent in February. Ms Tymoshenko's rating, though a touch higher at 21.4 per cent, was little better. The polling organisation concluded that Ukrainians' overall trust in the government was "rapidly declining, and ... is approaching levels characteristic for the final days of ex-president Leonid Kuchma's rule".
Mr Yushchenko may have won the international community's respect but if he is to win back the goodwill he has squandered domestically in just nine months he has some work to do.Reuse content