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Published: Tuesday, 10/28/2008

Confusion in Ukraine

UKRAINE has shown unusual internal divisions in the face of serious issues confronting the former Soviet republic.

The struggle is among three strong personalities: President Viktor A. Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yulia V. Tymoshenko, and former prime minister Viktor F. Yanukovich. The first two worked together as Ukrainian nationalists in the 2004 Orange Revolution to overcome the latter, who is considered pro-Russian.

Since then, Mr. Yushchenko and Ms. Tymoshenko have fallen out, with the president considered pro-Western and the prime minister leaning more toward Russia. The president issued a decree this month dissolving the parliament and calling Ukraine's third parliamentary election in three years, but the prime minister is contesting the legality of the decree.

Among the issues hanging over Ukraine's future is an economy that is staggering as part of the world economic crisis. It seeks a $15 billion emergency International Monetary Fund loan; the IMF is waiting to see if the country has a government.

A second question is NATO membership. Mr. Yushchenko wants it; Ms. Tymoshenko and Mr. Yanukovich probably don't, and Russia is, of course, opposed. NATO is divided on the subject in the wake of the recent Russia-Georgia mini-war.

All three leaders want European Union membership for Ukraine, but the EU is skeptical in the face of Ukraine's political chaos.

Ukrainians are divided on whether to end Russia's naval presence at its Black Sea port of Sevastapol, given the economic and political implications in the decision. Russia, in the meantime, is looking at the Mediterranean port of Tartus in Syria as an alternative to Sevastapol.

In this sea of confusion, two things are clear. First, the Ukrainians need to get their own goals straight among themselves, by elections or some other means. Second, the United States and Russia should try to stay out of Ukraine's decision-making process. This is a country with serious problems and it is not doing very well in solving them.

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