Ukraine Sacks Premier over Russian Gas Deal

The Ukrainian parliament voted to fire the prime minister and his Cabinet because of last week's gas deal with Russia. More than half the deputies voted against the government, angry that the deal means Ukraine will pay nearly twice as much for its gas imports this year.

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In the coming months, people will also be choosing new leaders in Ukraine, and yesterday, Ukraine's parliament voted to dismiss the government. That move underlines the political turmoil in a country that celebrated a political revolution just over a year ago. Here's NPR's Gregory Feifer.

GREGORY FEIFER reporting:

Tuesday's vote came as a complete surprise to most Ukrainians. There's widespread dissatisfaction over living standards and slow political reforms, but it was the opposition's criticism of last week's gas deal with Russia that forced the parliamentary speaker to table the no-confidence motion.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

FEIFER: Deputies were meeting for the first time since Moscow temporarily cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine during a bitter dispute over prices, and with important parliamentary elections coming in three months, some analysts said deputies chose the moment to step up the political campaign. Alexander Konovalov of Moscow's Institute for Strategic Assessments says he believes the motion's main instigators were Viktor Yanukovych, who lost in presidential elections in 2004, and Yushchenko's former close ally and ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Mr. ALEXANDER KONOVALOV (Institute for Strategic Assessments): Both insisted that the treaty, or the contract signed with Gazprom, with Russia, about settlement of the gas problem is not trustable and is not even legal one.

FEIFER: The measure passed with 250 votes in the 450-seat legislature. President Yushchenko was en route to Kazakhstan when the vote was taken. He spoke to reporters after arriving in the Kazakh capital, Astana.

President VIKTOR YUSHCHENKO (Ukraine): (Foreign language spoken)

FEIFER: Yushchenko called the decision illegal and later said it will be challenged in the country's constitutional court. He also said he'd consider suspending parliament. The legislature fired the government using new powers that went into effect this month. Under the new rules, the president no longer has the right to nominate the next prime minister but neither will parliament until after the next elections. Konovalov said the uncertainty could result in chaos.

Mr. KONOVALOV: It is to my mind to some extent maybe legal loophole. Nobody knows what is legal in this situation.

FEIFER: Since the constitutional reforms throw into question what comes next, after sacking the government parliament then asked it to stay on until the March elections. And since the new members of the constitutional court have yet to be chosen, it's not clear how far President Yushchenko will get with his plan to appeal the decision. Parliament's dismissal doesn't directly affect last week's deal with Russia under which Ukraine agreed to double the price it pays for gas, but Ukrainian political analyst Vitali Portnikov says politicians are right to question the agreement which involves a controversial little-known trading company.

Mr. VITALI PORTNIKOV (Ukrainian Political Analyst): (Through Translator) Neither Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yuri Yekhanurov nor any other member of the Ukrainian political establishment have been properly questioned about the legitimacy of signing such a gas contract with Russia.

FEIFER: President Yushchenko was meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Kazakhstan today. He said he has no plans to cut short his trip and will deal with the political crisis when he returns to Kiev.

Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Moscow.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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