As of March 11, 2014, the Ukrainian Parliament’s decision to hold presidential election on May 25 of this year is coming under attack on two fronts. As reported by Espresso.TV, the first is a draft resolution registered in Parliament [on March 11, 2014] to postpone the election to December 7. The resolution is proposed by Eugene Murayev, a Member of Parliament with the Party of Regions who is considered to be a protégé of former Kharkiv Governor Mykhailo Dobkin. Opposition members have insisted that Murayev’s election in the Kharkiv oblast in 2012 stemmed from administrative pressure by Dobkin [who was Governor at the time but who announced in February that he intends to run in the presidential elections]. Dobkin, on the other hand, has long been considered to be an ally of Viktor Medvedchuk, [a pro-Russian oligarch and politician].
At the same time, a lawsuit has been filed in the Supreme Administrative Court of Ukraine (SACU) seeking to declare Parliament’s decisions to appoint Oleksandr Turchynov Acting President and to hold presidential elections on May 25 unlawful. The lawsuit has been filed by Volodymyr Olentsevych, a lawyer from Donetsk. Olentsevych spoke of the lawsuit to Russian newspaper Vesti [noting that, under the Constitution, there are only four grounds for the removal of the President, none of which have occurred]. According to Olentsevych, the hearing is scheduled for March 19. Olentsevych has previously resorted to the Donetsk Regional Administrative Court to challenge a decision by former President Viktor Yushchenko that had formally recognized Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych as Heroes of Ukraine. The Donetsk court ruled in favour of Olentsevych in April, 2010.
Olentsevych, Dobkin, Murayev, and Vesti are known for their pro-Medvedchuk (and thus pro-Kremlin) positions. However, an equally important factor is the fact that the presiding judge in Olentsevych’s March 19 case before the Supreme Administrative Court of Ukraine will be Mykhailo Zaytsev, who also leans towards Medvedchuk. Zaytsev is known to be a protégé of Andriy Portnov [a close ally of Yanukovych who is considered to have been responsible for the overhaul of the judicial system during Yanukovych’s rule]. It was, in fact, Zaytsev who led a panel of judges in the Supreme Administrative Court of Ukraine last March that stripped Serhiy Vlasenko, Yulia Tymoshenko’s lawyer and one of her closest supporters, of his parliamentary mandate.
In addition, it was Zaytsev who has presided over an administrative review of Parliament’s February 24, 2014 resolution which dismissed five judges of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine for violating their oath (Anatoliy Golovin, Mykhaylo Kolos, Maria Markush, Vyacheslav Ovcharenko and Oleksandr Pasenyuk). Zaytsev has elected to postpone the decision, on procedural grounds, until March 28. If necessary, however, the matter could easily be brought forward for an earlier hearing provided the judges in question declare that the plaintiff in the matter is acting on their behalf. At that point, the verdict would be easy to predict.
The plan to return Yanukovych to office, devised by Medvedchuk for the Kremlin, is premised on a March 19 ruling that the removal of Yanukovych and the appointment of Oleksandr Turchynov as Acting President were unlawful. It hinges on the court striking down Parliament’s resolution which removed Yanukovych and set the date for the presidential election as well as its subsequent resolution of February 23, 2014 (“Regarding Article 112 of the Constitution of Ukraine: Assumption of the duties of the President of Ukraine by the Speaker of the Parliament of Ukraine”).
Should the court rule on March 19 that these resolutions are unlawful, Parliament will be in for protracted political battles. In fact, it is for this very reason that Murayev has registered a resolution seeking to move the presidential elections to December. This would also be why the Party of Regions has postponed its convention to March 22 and the Russian Federation has decided to consider the annexation of Crimea on March 21. The goal, it appears, is for Yanukovych, as the “legitimate president”, to bless Crimea’s decision on self-determination.
Moreover, Yanukovych’s statement on March 11, which asserted, among other things, that the United States has no right [under US law] to provide aid to Ukraine’s “illegitimate” government, is linked to the expected decision by the Supreme Administrative Court of Ukraine. If the court rules on March 19 that Parliament’s resolutions were unlawful, there could be an attempt to reinstate the judges of the Constitutional Court who have been dismissed. If reinstated, these judges will immediately take up the question of the constitutionality of the actions of the current government.
All of this, it appears, is what seems to behind Yanukovych’s press conference on March 11, particularly his announcement that, given the opportunity, he will return to Kyiv – “sooner rather than later.” The Prosecutor-General of Ukraine has condemned the press conference as a provocation, but the Kremlin is using him not just to provoke, but as an instrument to bring down the current government.
Rulings by Ukrainian courts can also bolster Russia’s argument to the world: it will be able to hide behind not only the words of their puppet, Yanukovych, but also decisions of the Supreme Administrative Court and Constitutional Court of Ukraine.
Can all of this be fixed? Absolutely, yes. But it needs very quick political decisions. In this respect, the Supreme Administrative Court must be urgently disbanded – or Zaytsev, at the least, must be removed – and new judges must be appointed to the Constitutional Court. This would complicate the Portnov-Medvedchuk scenario and offer an opportunity to at least buy more time.
Translated by Anna Palagina, edited by Mariana Budjeryn and Lesia Stangret