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No bipartisanship here

Ukraine's president and prime minister feud as their country's economy sinks.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko (left) shakes hands with Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko during a session of the National Security and Defence Council in Kiev Feb. 10, 2009. (Mykola Lazarenko/Reuters)

KIEV, Ukraine — In Ukraine, it’s truly noteworthy only when the president and prime minister stop fighting.

President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko — who stood shoulder-to-shoulder just four years ago as Orange Revolution allies — have spent the better part of the last year at each others' throats, in a vituperative, take-no-prisoners struggle that has split the government down the middle and paralyzed the country’s political process.

The situation would be humorous if it were not so critical: Hardly a week seems to go by without some sort of outburst from the president (or his minions) against the prime minister (and her backers). The two camps regularly hurl back and forth phrases like “criminal,” “traitor,” “con artist” and “idiot."

(To get another view of the preposterousness, read Adrian Blomfield of London’s Daily Telegraph as he blogs about not being able to receive any information because the president and prime minister have reportedly bribed each others' press services.)

Meanwhile, Ukraine is facing its biggest economic challenge since the economic drought that immediately followed the Soviet Union’s breakup.

Industrial output declined by 30 percent year on year this January. The national currency, the hryvnia, has lost half of its value since highs last year. Banks have stopped lending, and many are permitting only miniscule withdrawals, to head off a run on banks. Factories, shops and businesses throughout this eastern European country of 46 million are closing their doors, while unemployment and public dissatisfaction are spiking.

“Re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” “Fiddling while Rome burns,” — so the local and international press describe the Ukrainian morass.

The Ukraine-Russia gas dispute was interpreted by many partially as a product of the two leaders’ struggle. In February, the second tranche of a critical $16.5 billion International Monetary Fund bailout program fell through because of infighting in the government. Finance Minister Viktor Pynzenyk, a Yushchenko ally, resigned in protest. Tymoshenko accused the president of spreading “falsehood, panic and hysteria.”