Spheres of Influence.

The Ukrainian parliament remained deadlocked today with respect to the issue of linking electoral rules and constitutional changes to limit the future President’s powers (Reuters), despite the alleged agreement in yesterday’s round-table talks.

Hoping to be able to avoid the constitutional curtailing of the future President’s powers, Yushchenko’s supporters insisted on two separate votes today. The Kyiv Post quotes Yulia Tymoshenko –

“We won’t vote for any package deals,”

In addition, President Kuchma declared that the Yushenko camp stalled the negotiations by insisting on the government’s dismissal, before making a half-hearted move in that direction. Reuters notes that he issued a decree on Tuesady appointing Finance Minister Mykola Azarov as acting premier, due to Mr Yanukovich’s “decision” to concentrate on campaigning for the run-off election. The Kyiv Post speculates this might be a move indicating Kuchma’s willingness negotiate the opposition’s demand to fire Mr Yanukovich, quoting Mikhail Pogrebinsky, an analyst with supposed close ties to the outgoing President.

“Kuchma … has been slowly taking a step back every day.”

Although the newspaper also notes that, despite increasing lack of political allies, there might be an unexpected legal obstacle to Mr Yanukovich’s removal: apparently Ukrainian law bans the dismissal of presidential candidates from their jobs.

While legal issues are certainly important, they aren’t the only locus of political power in Ukraine these days., in fact, not even the most important. The prosecutor general?s office might threaten Yushchenko with an investigation for treason with respect to his aggressive interview in the British Sunday Telegraph (Maidan), but how much weight does that carry in light of his supporters’ determination to eventually end the deadlock, on way or another (Kyiv Post)

“We have been peaceful so far, [but if Yushchenko wants to force Kuchma to concede defeat] we are ready.”

Meanwhile, the OSCE’s ministerial meeting in Bulgaria saw a clash of Russia and the US over Ukraine, and accordingly failed to even reach the consensus needed for a final declaration (despite reaching agreement on 20 specific, low-profile, proposals). In light of the events in Ukraine, Russia refused OSCE demands to honor pledges to withdraw its troops from Moldova and Georgia. Accordingly, Powell reiterated that the US would not ratify the 1999 treaty about mutually agreed reduction of conventional forces in Europe (CFE), until Russia withdraw its troops from Georgia and Moldova. (AFP)

The Russian foreign minister repeated the Russian dissatisfaction with the OSCE’s role as election monitor. He could not resist to mention the many irregularities in recent American elections, stating that the OSCE was guilty of a double standard.

Trying to put the row into perspective, speaking to AFP, Dmitry Trenin, deputy head of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace’s Moscow office, remarked that Putin

“ha[d] suffered a personal political setback in Ukraine and he is very angry … I do not think this can be a good thing for anybody.”

Mr Tremin interprets yesterday’s angry statement by Mr Putin as a veiled concession of defeat. He may have hoped to be able to reach an agreement with the West, particularly the United States, profoundly misjudging the West’s ability to trade anything in this matter. Mr Trmin blames the current Kremlin’s decision making structure that he claims is “restricted to a narrow circle” for much of the recent Russian lack of geopolitical realism. The Kyiv Post has more thoughts on this matter.

The FT notes that, despite growing concern with respect to Russia’s Democracy, Washington still believes Mr Putin had not yet crossed a red line, understanding – used to President Bush’s often blunt statemtents aimed at a domestic audience – that much of President Putin’s harsh words is not just informed by his personal disappointment and KGB-socialisation, but also by the need to keep Russian conservatives happy by restating their believes about American meddling in allegedly Russian affairs.