Ukraine’s Opposition Leaders Shun President’s Peace Deal

Viktor Yanukovych's grip on power slip as his oligarchs, worried about risking their business interests in the West, defect

  • Share
  • Read Later
Brendan Hoffman / Getty Images

A Ukrainian protester burns tires during clashes with police in Kiev on Jan. 25, 2014

More than two months into the popular revolt in Ukraine, the barricades of ice and barbed wire still stand in the center of Kiev. The barrel fires smolder. And at dawn on Sunday, protesters camped out on Independence Square still broke into their hourly rendition of the national anthem, “Ukraine Has Not Yet Died.” Nor, clearly, has the violent uprising against President Viktor Yanukovych. The power-sharing agreement he offered his opponents on Saturday night, following a week of rioting in the center of his capital, was rejected within hours by the opposition leaders.

“No deal,” tweeted one of them, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who was offered the post of Prime Minister in a bid to appease the protesters. “We’re finishing what we started. The people decide our leaders, not you,” he wrote to the embattled President.

Even a week ago, it would have been hard to imagine the President ceding so much ground. But his position has grown increasingly desperate in the past few days as his grip on power keeps slipping. Not only have the protests spread to more than a dozen cities across the country — on Saturday, for instance, demonstrators seized the government headquarters in the region of Vinnitsa — but dissent within the President’s ranks have reached a breaking point.

The crucial shift, like so many in Ukrainian politics, seems to have occurred within the ranks of the country’s oligarchs. These tycoons control most of the national banking system, its industries, its mass media and a large portion of the lawmakers in parliament. During the current political crisis, most of them have stayed on the fence, trying not to antagonize the ruling circle of President Yanukovych, the political clan known in Ukraine as the Family. But as the clashes between protesters and police intensified over the past week, so has the pressure on the oligarchs to defect.

(MORE: Violence in Ukraine: Can Russia or the West Make It Stop?)

“They began to face the risk of becoming investors in a civil war,” says Volodymyr Tsybulko, a political analyst in the country’s capital, Kiev. In the past two weeks, as police began using force against the demonstrators, the U.S. and E.U. began threatening financial sanctions against the officials involved. This sent a worrying signal to the oligarchs. “All of them take loans from the West. They have business interests in the West. They cannot risk tainting their reputations in Western markets,” says Vadim Karasyov, director of the Institute of Global Strategies, a political-consulting firm in Kiev.

Their dissent began to show at first in subtle ways. News coverage on major television networks, which are mostly controlled by the oligarchs, began to take an increasingly critical stance against the President. Then the fan clubs of Ukraine’s football teams, which are also owned by the oligarchs, armed themselves with clubs and baseball bats to face down police in the streets. “These guys are organized, experienced fighters,” says Tsybulko. “And if the football clubs wanted, they could ask them to stand down. Instead they are the on the front lines.”

Still, the wealthiest and most powerful oligarch, the metals magnate Rinat Akhmetov, tried to stay out of the fight. For more than a decade, he has been one of the President’s key financial backers, and his fortunes are closely interlinked with that of the Family. But on Saturday, his corporation issued a statement that sought to tie the President’s hands. The only way out of the crisis, the statement said, is through “constructive negotiations,” while any attempts to “repress the standoff in the streets” would be unacceptable. “No resolution can be found through the use of force.”

That left President Yanukovych with little choice but to negotiate. “The truncheon had to be taken off the table,” says Karasyov. Hours later, Yanukovych offered the protest leaders a list of concessions. He said he would let his rivals lead a new government, grant a mass amnesty to the protesters and introduce constitutional reforms granting more power to the parliament. But the offer, generous as it seemed, came too late.

(MORE: Can Vitali Klitschko, Ukraine’s Revolutionary Heavyweight, Be Its Next President?)

Politically, the opposition leaders had little choice but to reject it. Their clout among the demonstrators had already been flagging for days. One of them, the former world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, argued last week that negotiations with the President were the only way to avoid more bloodshed and a possible civil war. In response, the crowd of protesters denounced him as a traitor, and one even sprayed Klitschko in the face with a fire extinguisher.

So on Saturday, when the President offered him the post of Deputy Prime Minister in exchange for ending the protests, Klitschko could hardly have accepted without seeming like a sellout. “This was a poisoned offer by Yanukovych to divide our protest movement,” he told a German newspaper that night. “We will keep on negotiating and continue to demand early elections.”

But granting that concession would likely spell the end of Yanukovych’s career. According to the most recent opinion polls, which were conducted in December, the incumbent would lose a presidential race against any one of the opposition leaders, including Klitschko and Yatsenyuk. Since that survey was taken, the deaths of several protesters amid the violent clashes in Kiev have only undermined his authority further. So if he continues to negotiate, it would likely be over the terms of his own political exit.

5 comments
famulla555555
famulla555555

After three weeks of the negotiations between the government and the opposition virtually no progress towards meeting Euromaidan’s demands has been made.


Meanwhile, the key question at the negotiation table is currently the changes to the Constitution which would limit the presidential authority and lay the foundation for the democracy restoration in the country. However, the Ukrainian political process over the years of independence was so entangled and misty that a vicious circle of illegitimate decisions has been created. Breaking this circle is a real challenge now.


In a nutshell, there have been two editions of the Ukrainian Constitution, adopted in 1996 and 2004.


The Constitution of 1996, adopted under Ukraine’s second President Leonid Kuchma, five years after Ukraine got independent, proclaimed a presidential-parliamentary republic and endowed the President with expansive authority.


The Constitution of 2004 was adopted between the second and the third tour of the presidential elections in Ukraine, thus allowing a peaceful resolution of the Orange revolution. Its key innovation was transfer of much of the presidential authority to the prime minister. However, the Constitution was adopted with numerous procedural violations, one of the most cited being the changes to the final document made after the Constitutional Court returned its verdict on the text’s legitimacy.


The ruling of the Constitutional Court of 2010 proclaimed that the Constitution of 2004 was illegitimate owing to the voting procedure violations. Hence, the Constitution of 1996 came into force. This instance also lacks in legitimacy. For one thing, it bypassed the Verkhovna Rada which is the primary body in the constitutional process. For another, the Court’s ruling did not contain a direct assignment to the restoration of the Constitution of 1996.


Currently, any solution out of the deadlock is not flawless. There is no constitutional majority for a new version of the Constitution in the parliament. Moreover, a new project would have to be approved at a referendum, while the current law on the referendum was ardently criticised by both Ukrainian and international lawyers and experts as conflicting with the Constitution and the European democratic standards.


In effect, only Constitution of 1996 was adopted according to the juridically correct procedure. However, as American scholar Paul D’Anieri observed, while there were no procedural violations de jure, de facto President Leonid Kuchma forced the parliament to pass his version of the Constitution under the threat of dissolution. Thus, what juridically was the start of the constitutional process, in reality was the triumph of the power politics. The latter has flourished in Ukraine up until now.

paulgeorges
paulgeorges

A country where an anti government protester is killed by police is no more a democratic country . If we fail to support Ukrainian people against their own government we are no more democracies !

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

The situation may spiral out of control.

'Moscow is ready to mediate between the opposing parties in Ukraine, only if it is asked to do so, but there hasn't been such a request yet', stated Russian foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at a press conference, noting that it is likely that such assistance from Moscow to Kiev is not required.

jankiiahir
jankiiahir

In exactly the same way as the Apartheid Afrikaaner government murdered black south Africans. They too are also murderers and they too should have been sent to Robben Island for life. These black people were murdered for thier beliefs.
http://www.whatismyresults.in/