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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yushchenko's Choice for Foreign Minister Denied

ReutersVolodymyr Ohryzko
KIEV -- Ukraine's parliament has rejected President Viktor Yushchenko's choice to be the country's foreign minister, dealing another major blow to his efforts to maintain control over foreign policy.

Volodymyr Ohryzko, a career diplomat nominated by Yushchenko to replace the ousted Borys Tarasyuk, won only 196 votes on Thursday -- far short of the 226 needed for approval. He failed to win the support of the majority coalition, whose members accused him of being unprofessional and hostile toward Russia.

Lawmakers also overwhelmingly rejected Yushchenko's choice of Viktor Korol as Security Service chief.

Yushchenko said he was surprised that parliament did not approve Ohryzko, who had served as Tarasyuk's deputy. He said he would re-nominate Ohryzko, as well as Korol.

"I want to hear from parliament why they are not satisfied with the candidacy of Ohryzko -- a person who during the last 10 to 15 year held a significant place in Ukrainian diplomacy, who worked in important diplomatic spheres, who has experience that not a lot of people in Ukraine have," Yushchenko was quoted by the Unian news agency as saying.

Yushchenko, who won the presidency after the 2004 Orange Revolution, has sought to pull Ukraine out of Russia's shadow and win membership for the nation in the European Union and NATO. But the president has fallen far short of his grand ambitions, and last year he saw his party humbled in parliamentary elections by the more Russian-leaning party of his political rival, Viktor Yanukovych.

When Yanukovych put together a majority coalition, Yushchenko agreed to nominate his one-time enemy to be prime minister, and the two now govern jointly in what has become a bruising battle for power -- with the president on the losing end.

Yanukovych forced out the pro-Western Tarasyuk last month after a months-long dispute that resulted in the government temporarily cutting off funding to the Foreign Ministry. Under the constitution, the president gets to nominate the foreign minister, but his choice requires parliamentary approval.

On Thursday, the parliamentary majority questioned Ohryzko about his perceived hostility to Moscow. He came under special criticism for his decision to speak Ukrainian -- and have it translated into Russian -- during a conference last year that included Russian and Ukrainian politicians and experts. Some attendees complained that it slowed down the talks and that Ohryzko, who is fluent in Russian, should have spoken Russian.

"He showed a total absence of professionalism. He showed that he is not a diplomat, but a person with an inferiority complex," Yanukovych's ally Yuriy Bondarev said.

Ohryzko, however, won the backing of Yushchenko's party and the bloc of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko for his ability to defend national interests, even against the Kremlin.

"He doesn't grovel at the feet of our big neighbor," said former Foreign Minister Hennadiy Udovenko, a Yushchenko ally, referring to Russia.

Later, in a sign of protest over parliament's actions, opposition lawmakers from Tymoshenko's bloc cut off lights in the parliamentary hall, forcing the evening session to be conducted in the dark. Lawmakers used flashlights and lights from mobile phones to continue working.