- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2007

The United States, Russia and the European Union all issued urgent appeals yesterday for calm as the political standoff in Ukraine threatened to escalate into an armed confrontation between supporters of President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych.

The two longtime rivals held a meeting late yesterday in Kiev just hours after the pro-Western Mr. Yushchenko asserted he was taking control of some 32,000 troops assigned to the Interior Ministry, a move the prime minister, seen as closer to Moscow, denounced as “dangerous and unconstitutional.”

The move came a day after Mr. Yushchenko dismissed the country’s prosecutor general and criticized riot-control police who came to the office to defend the dismissed official. The police had gone to the office at the orders of Interior Minister Vasyl Tsushko, an ally of Mr. Yanukovych.

Mr. Yushchenko, in a statement on his presidential Web site, said he had acted “to prevent using Interior Ministry troops in the interest of some political forces that cause a threat for Ukraine’s national security.”

But Mr. Tsushko told Ukrainian television that unnamed figures in the president’s “entourage” were “pushing us toward civil war.”

Russia and the West had been on opposite sides in the 2004-2005 Orange Revolution, which overturned a fraudulent election in Mr. Yanukovych’s favor and installed Mr. Yushchenko as president.

But both sides yesterday were appealing for calm in the strategically situated former Soviet republic.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters, “We certainly expect the Ukrainians to follow their constitutional and legal processes and live up to their responsibilities in a democracy. We would certainly urge all parties to resolve these issues without violence.”

The European Union issued a similar appeal.

And Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov told the Interfax news agency that Moscow was following the events in Kiev “with a degree of concern,” calling on all sides to respect the constitution.

Ukraine’s “two Viktors” have been locked in a bitter power struggle for months, with the increasingly beleaguered president seeking to reassert the authority and recapture the popularity he enjoyed after the Orange Revolution.

As Mr. Yanukovych’s parliamentary majority began to grow this spring, the president issued an order dissolving the legislature and calling for immediate elections.

The prime minister blocked that move and the two sides have been negotiating ever since on whether and when a new election should be held.

The power struggle has spilled over into the country’s weak constitutional court, with both the president and the prime minister pressuring the judges to get a favorable ruling.

Unlike the Orange Revolution, when pro-reform demonstrators thronged the streets of the capital for weeks demanding change, Kiev has been quiet during the latest political maneuvering.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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