Orange revolution comes full circle as pro-Russian PM is crowned

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The Independent Online

Less than two years after it made headlines across the world the spirit of Ukraine's orange revolution was extinguished yesterday when the pro-Russian politician widely perceived to have been its biggest loser was crowned the country's Prime Minister.

It was a dramatic comeback for 56-year-old Viktor Yanukovych but a bitter pill to swallow for President Viktor Yushchenko who swept to power on the back of popular orange demonstrations in 2004.

The two foes must now try to share power in what is likely to be a difficult cohabitation, something that would have been unimaginable during the euphoria of the revolution.

Back then, Mr Yushchenko was feted as the hero of the hour and was hailed as a progressive pro-Western champion of justice while Mr Yanukovych looked like a broken man who had been overtaken by the march of democracy and the political fashion of the moment: the velvet revolutions.

Mr Yanukovych's campaigners were exposed as cheats who had tried to rig an election in his favour and he was denounced as the Russian President Vladimir Putin's puppet.

But if a week is a long time in politics, 19 months appear to be an age.

Yesterday Mr Yanukovych was smiling as a pliant parliament sealed his political renaissance in a 271-9 vote. "I am itching to get down to work," he said before the key vote. "I've been ready [to serve as Prime Minister] for a long time."

The two men have very different views on issues such as European Union and Nato membership, the status of the Russian language, and relations with Moscow. However Mr Yushchenko persuaded Mr Yanukovych to sign up to a " universal declaration" of principles before the vote which he believes will guarantee the pro-Western course that he favours.

Mr Yanukovych's appointment will be a body blow for Julia Tymoshenko who stood shoulder to shoulder with Mr Yushchenko during the orange revolution only to fall out with him later.

She had coveted the Prime Minister's job and spent months negotiating with Mr Yushchenko to clinch it before talks collapsed in acrimony last month, opening the door for Mr Yanukovych.

Her supporters accuse Mr Yushchenko of betraying the revolution's ideals and of striking a pact with the devil.

She had urged Mr Yushchenko to disband the parliament and call fresh elections but the Ukrainian President is believed to have thought that would be too disruptive.

Yesterday most of the MPs in her Fatherland party boycotted the parliamentary vote and prepared to move into opposition.

Mr Yanukovych and his allies were busy thrashing out the cabinet line-up.

His own appointees will dominate but, under the Ukrainian constitution, Mr Yushchenko will take control of key ministries such as foreign affairs and defence. Though Mr Yanukovych will formally be the country's Prime Minister many believe the real power behind his throne will be the metals and energy oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man.

He has bankrolled Mr Yanukovych's political activities for years. The formation of a new government draws a line under a crisis that has left the country without meaningful direction since 26 March when the parliamentary elections took place.

Ukraine has traditionally been split along an east-west fault line and that was reflected in the March ballot where no single party secured enough votes to enable it to govern alone.

The largely Russian-speaking industrial east voted for Mr Yanukovych while the largely Ukrainian-speaking west split its vote between Mr Yushchenko and his onetime revolutionary ally, Ms Tymoshenko. Mr Yanukovych's Party of the Regions won more votes than any other while Ms Tymoshenko's Fatherland party came second. Mr Yushchenko's Our Ukraine Party was beaten into a humiliating third place.