SO Ukraine's Orange Revolution, which ended the authoritarian rule of a pro-Russian government only last November after weeks of stirring street protests, has confirmed the old political rule that those who unite to bring about change often find it dificult to stay together to effect that change. On Thursday President Viktor Yushchenko, his face still pockmarked from an attempt to poison him, dismissed his glamorous and populist prime minister Julia Tymoschenko who often stood beside him on the platform in the centre of Kiev, the braids of her blonde hair glistening in the snow. Her dismissal brought into the open a conflict between president and prime minister that had been simmering for months and that spanned almost all the difficult issues that the new democratic and western-inclined Ukraine faces. An opinion poll taken in August found that the percentage of Ukrainians who thought that things were better under Yushchenko than they had been under the former regime had dropped to 37 per cent from 52 per cent in April.

The true test of political opinion cannot take place under the new constitution until the parliamentary elections next March. The interim period will probably be used by politicans, Ms Tymoschencko especially, to position themselves as favourably as possible with the electorate. In the meantime Mr Yushchenko has to keep the country running and, in particular, manage the difficult balancing act of looking hopefully westwards towards EU membership while keeping in with Russia on which Ukraine depends for energy supplies and other basic resources. Economic growth is slowing and inflation is rising and it is unlikely that Yushchenko will get many thanks from the electorate if he cannot make a breakthrough in what is a fairly depressing situation. Oddly enough, there are not great ideological differences between Yushchenko and Tymoschenko but she is much the more charismatic and active figure and by March she will be free of any responsibility for what seems likely to be a fairly hard winter in the Ukraine. However the voters will have to keep in mind that she is still on Moscow's wanted list for attempted bribery of Russian defence officials!