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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kuchma: Taking the High Road

The script has already been written for President Leonid Kuchma of Ukraine's efforts to impose his authority and drive a coherent plan for economic reform past a reluctant, but constitutionally powerful parliament -- it was written in Russia.


Kuchma promulgated two decrees Monday, in which he appropriated greater powers over the government and economic policy at the expense of the legislature, or Rada. And with these decrees, his choice of strategy has become clear.


For where have we heard this before? The first two years of Russia's independence were dominated by an all-consuming power struggle between President Boris Yeltsin and the former Supreme Soviet over who should control the government, the pace of reform, and the fate of Russia in general.


Like the old Russian Supreme Soviet, the Ukrainian Rada is dominated by conservatives who suffer allergic reactions to reform. Both legislatures, similarly, occupied the dominant place in a Soviet era constitution that had been hurriedly amended to add the post of president but left the division of powers unclear.


Like Yeltsin, Kuchma has now trumpeted that he plans to establish a strong presidency by decree and to pursue economic reforms whether or not the Rada agrees. In truth he had few real alternatives. Ukraine has already experienced the parliament's do-nothing strategy, which has led to total economic collapse without the hope for regeneration that now exists in Russia.


The problem with this scenario is that in Russia's case, it ended with tanks thundering through the streets of Moscow and one of Russia's central institutions pounded into submission. This is a part of the script that Kuchma must try desperately to cut out.


In pursuing his goals, Kuchma should avoid basic mistakes that Yeltsin committed. Above all, Yeltsin failed time and again to pursue his advantage when he had it, instead confronting opponents once they grew strong and tackling them with force.


In that context, Kuchma' is smart to launch his plans immediately after his strong performance at the polls and while the Rada is in summer recess. Yeltsin, by contrast, failed to pursue his advantage after the failed August 1991 coup, when he should have sorted out a permanent division of powers with the Supreme Soviet. He failed again to act after winning an April 1993 referendum on confidence in his rule.


Kuchma has taken the right road. But he should learn both from Yeltsin's past mistakes in handling the former Supreme Soviet and from Yeltsin's success in building bridges to the newly elected State Duma. Only this way can Ukraine avoid the twin evils of stagnation and bloodshed.