Ukraine : a new beginning ?

Sergey Panashchuk, in Odessa
1 Février 2014

Credits : Getty
Credits : Getty
It looks like protest and violence are the only languages Ukrainian officials are able to understand. Parliament has eventually heard the protesters’ demands. Prime Minister Nikolay Azarov has resigned therefore triggering the resignation of all members of the Cabinet. A package of controversial laws passed by the Parliament on January 16th was cancelled by the same Parliament 12 days after. The voting showed a remarkable result with 361 out of the 450 members of Parliament who voted in favour of the democratic changes. Ukrainians haven’t seen such a unity among MPs for a quite a long time.

So what is happening? Is people’s anger really what President Victor Yanukovich and deputies of the Party of Regions are afraid of? The riddle as to why the ruling Party of Regions changed its mind so drastically would be easily solved if we looked at the statements and actions of Ukrainian oligarchs. SCM, Rinat Achmetov’s own business group made an official statement on Saturday January 25th saying that using force against the people gathered in Maydan would be totally inappropriate. Achmetov is currently one of Ukraine’s righest oligarch with a fortune estimated at $23bn. He also happens to be very close to President Yanukovich.

Soon after, Minister of Defense Alexey Lebedev claimed the neutrality and non-involvement of the Ukrainian Army. And Victor Yanukovich himself for the very first time showed signs that he was willing to compromise when he offered the position of Prime Minister to opposition party leader Batkiwschina Arseniy Yatseniuk. The influence of certain oligarchs in this process cannot be undermined.

Oligarchs stopped the violence

Some pundits suppose that Yanukovich planned the violent suppression of protests to take place this Sunday. This was to be the complete and final suppression. After that there shouldn’t be any more protesters at the Kiev center. But at 3 am on Sunday, the Minister of Interior Affairs Vitaly Zacharchenko ordered the Special Forces squad to leave the Ukrainian House building located not very far from the heart of protests and which was surrounded by a large group of protesters. Since this Sunday night everyone was waiting for the Parliament’s extraordinary session which should have taken place on Tuesday, January 28th. On Tuesday, deputies from both pro-government and pro-opposition sides started looking very stressed and nervous. Dealing with such a dead end situation started feeling heavy on their shoulders.

More than a week before this session, protests spread outside the capital. Protesters were occupying 11 local government buildings and had started organizing alternatives to the official People’s Councils. The situation started to look very similar to the 1917 Russian Communist Revolution. The country was on the verge of separating and entering into a civil war. It obviously wasn’t the plan Achmetov and other oligarchs wanted for Ukraine and for their own fortunes. While the Tuesday vote in Parliament reflected an understanding of the gravity of the situation, it led into an easing of the tensions.

No more gas bombs were to be thrown at the police and no more protesters were to be killed. One of the protesters demands was an Amnesty law which should release from any penal liability those engaged in clashes with the police and those occupying local government‘s buildings. On Wednesday night, despite members of Parliament approving such a law, the opposition remained unsatisfied.

Credits : Reuters
Credits : Reuters
According to this law, amnesty will be granted to protesters 15 days after they have all withdrawn from Maydan and all the occupied Local Governments buildings have been emptied. But people are still afraid that officials are simply trying to fool around protesters. How could the government simply change its mind 15 days after th events at Maydan and offer amnesty to people they first wanted to imprison?

It was at this precise moment that President Victor Yanukovich was officially declared ill for a kind of acute respiratory infection. Some commentators speak about a gain of time when the laws passed by Parliament on January 27 and January 29 were to be examined.

"The person responsible for a bloodshed, for killings protesters, just takes a break of two weeks! ", Galina, in Poltava

Galina Kovalchuk, is 35 years old and owns a spa salon in the city of Poltava. She is very unsatisfied with the recent Presidential move.

She declared that it is Ukrainian officials’ tradition to become suddenly ill when the situation is getting out of control. And she continues: “It is just scandalous! The person responsible for a bloodshed, for killings protesters, just takes a break of two weeks! (Medical certificates in Ukraine are given either for one week period, or two weeks, ed.). He is the only person who can stop the political tension and he is not up to do so. He doesn’t have enough courage to admit his mistakes and he is too greedy for power to resign. His voluntary resignation would instantly solve the crisis. Now, despite being in a weak negotiation position, he continues to give ultimatums to the opposition. In this situation, Yanukovich’s illness looks rather like he is trying to cover for his lack a suitable solution. I am sure that most of the people in this country are waiting for Yanukovich’s resignation and for clear investigation of the cases of torture and murder conducted by the police. It is also not clear where are the hundreds of protesters which were declared missing. Everyone is waiting to hear the names of those responsible for the murder and torture of peaceful citizens. We would like those people to be found and we would like to see them at the court and behind the bars as soon as possible.”

"They wanted antidemocratic laws to be cancelled and so it is. So what? Are they satisfied? Obviously they are not!”, Nikolay, in Chernihiy

On the contrary, Nikolay Fedorenko, 31 years old is a media expert from the city of Chernihiv. He does not support the opposition’s actions: “they demanded to relaunch the talks with the EU about the association membership – the government tried to restart talks. They wanted Azarov and Zacharchenko to resign – they did so. They wanted antidemocratic laws to be cancelled and so it is. So what? Are they satisfied? Obviously they are not!”

And he continues: “there are only more demands to come. If the opposition refuses to take part in forming a new Cabinet of Ministers, it means they do not really seek any compromise. They only want to come to power.” But is the opposition controlling the crowds gathered in Maydan? The answer seems to be negative. And this explains the current uncertain situation in Ukraine. No leader has enough courage to take responsibility for what is going on and for what has happened. The opposition does not propose productive reforms. Officials are not acting either, too afraid that they are of possible EU or US economic sanctions and the blocking of their bank accounts abroad. So why are people still dying during clashes with the police?

“Both sides are responsible for the worsening of the situation”, claims Fedorenko.

The next session of Parliament will take place on Tuesday, February 4th. It is likely that the Parliament will be dissolved and a new date for an early election will be chosen. Though tensions have eased, there is still a long way to go before the full reconciliation and a new political balance.