Publicat în 29 ianuarie 2014, 13:11 / 230 elite & idei

Iulian Chifu: Ukraine at a turning point

Iulian Chifu: Ukraine at a turning point

by Iulian Chifu – Stratfor

January proved to be a month of turmoil after Ukraine’s President, Viktor Yanukovych, has shifted Ukraine’s orientation towards Russia in 2013. This led to the turning point where he and his Party of Regions could lose power. The withdrawal from the Association Agreement with the EU and the signing of a series of agreements with Russia and its Custom Union format led to the eruption of street protests. But the real trigger for today’s situation has been the use of violence by security forces and the bloodiest clashes since the independence of Ukraine in 1991, even though series of violent demonstrations are happened in cycles in the past.

The difference is that now riots took over all over Ukraine. The western cities like Lviv, Zhyitomyr, Rivne, Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk, Khmelnytskyi and Chernivtsi were “conquered” by local pro-European and nationalist forces and, in Central Ukraine, riots threatened local regional administrations. Odessa, Crimea and some other three Eastern regions of Ukraine witnessed only calm protests, even though in Donetsk, the very house of tycoon Rinat Akhmetov was under threat by local demonstrations.

Considering the pressure,  negotiations between president Yanukovych and the opposition lead to unexpected proposals: Ukrainian president accepted to concede power to the opposition, to offer the post of Prime Minister to Arseni Yatsenyuk, the leader of Batkivshchyna, and the post of vice prime-minister to Vitali Klitschko, still holding a heavy weight boxing title and leader of UDAR party, formally the future presidential candidate of the opposition.

But the opposition has not yet released any pressure because of tomorrow’s Verkhovna Rada session, considering its focus on the major points of the deal: deposing Azarov’s Party of Regions’s Government, changing the antidemocratic package of laws limiting the available actions for the opposition and creating a constitutional commission charged with limiting Yanukovych’s powers as President.

The opposition should focus on its requests: snap parliamentary elections and Presidential elections this year. With this in mind, the law on elections should be revised and guarantees for free and fair elections should be offered. The legal capacity of Yanukovych to dismiss any minister and to ask the Constitutional Court, that he controls, to reverse any law remains a problem.  That’s why the level of confidence is very low.

I think the opposition should accept to form the Government at least because it allows them to organize elections. This position could help in reinforcing even a fragile majority, which could help next month. But the pressure coming from the streets proved to be instrumental for transforming into fact the will of 52-54% of the population to get close to the EU – of which 60-70% are located in Western Ukraine, the most developed region of the country. A lot has to be done and challenges are still there for the pro-European opposition even if things are moving smoothly towards a transition of power.

Among others, the chaos in the country, the debt for gas that is to be paid in the coming days, the winter which arrived with a lot of snow and cold weather and, finally, the low chances that the EU and the West will help with money and credits are problems that concern any future government in Ukraine

The coalition of the pro-European parties is not really seasoned in political fights and governance. The participation in the coalition of the Svoboda Party, led by Oleg Tiaghnybok, a nationalist party, can lead to future problems even on the short term, before the early parliamentary elections. The party has came in with numerous far right elements, with violent messages and assumed the destruction of the statues of Lenin both in Bessarabskaya Square in Kiev and in Odessa, a town dominated by a Russian majority. While their destruction is a symbolic step, the fight against the statues is not really the most courageous action and it will also harm bilateral relations with Russia.

Considering today’s situation we have to conclude that either Yanukovych refused to use the bulk of his forces to shut down the revolution on the streets, or the chiefs of those institutions convinced him it wasn’t worth to use force, in spite of the pressure coming from Moscow to put an end to the riots and take control of the streets. The authorities preferred to stay below the radar using techniques like text messages, pressure against opposition leaders, clashes, but tried to avoid shootings. Even in these conditions the revolution claimed 6 lives up to now.

At this point I don’t think there is a way back unless President Yanukovych accepts violence, terrible bloodshed and harsh criticism from the west, a choice which is not probable. But the concessions that the opposition needs, if made, have to be balanced and they need to come with numerous guarantees. Otherwise, the way forward may replicate the post Orange Revolution fight between Yushchenko and Iulia Timoshenko, and the fall of the public support for the leaders in favor of the democratization of Ukraine.

Read more: Ukraine at a turning point | Stratfor
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