Ukraine should find way out of crisis without external interference

February 25, 2014 8:27 am

The international community continues to discuss the Ukrainian political crisis that started in November 2013. Protests in response to a government decision to suspend the integration process with the European Union escalated into violent clashes between radical opposition members and law enforcement officials in January, when the Verkhovna Rada adopted a number of laws banning unsanctioned gatherings and imposing multiple restrictions on mass demonstrations.


When entered into force, the laws provoked clashes in downtown Kiev, where on 22 January 2014 two protesters were killed by gunshots. Another man wounded in the mass riot died in hospital on January 25. According to reports, there are hundreds of victims on both sides.

To date, the protesters in several regions of the country continue to hold regional administrations under their control.

The Ukrainian Security Service reported anonymous threats to blow up hydro-powered and nuclear power plants, which have already tightened security by the order of Energy and Coal Industry Minister Eduard Stavitsky.

“Alongside manifestations of extremism, there have been anonymous threats to blow up hydropower and nuclear power plants, damage to which may have unforeseen and extremely serious consequences for the population of Ukraine and neighboring states,” the Ukrainian Security Service report says.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara also commented on the possible provocations:

“Information says attacks can be made on the Central Post Office and on the building of Kiev regional state administration where the central election commission is headquartered. This would be very dangerous,” he said at a meeting with reporters, adding that the government “has information on extremist attacks on laying mines at gas pipelines and key facilities.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed deep concern about the situation that has developed as a result of unconstitutional actions of the Ukrainian radical opposition.


“We are aware of the surge in extremist sentiment, including reports of anti-Semitic rhetoric in the protest camps, which were not covered by European structures,” the Foreign Ministry website states.

Meanwhile, after another round of talks Ukrainian president and opposition leaders have agreed to scrap anti-protest laws, and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the opposition Batkyvshchina’s leader, rejected the proposal of President Viktor Yanukovych to lead the government.

Commenting on the internal situation in Ukraine, Denis Denisov, head of the Ukrainian branch of the Institute of CIS countries, described the situation as very complicated.

“Protests continue in the center of Kiev and in some regions of Ukraine, some state institutions are still seized. Meanwhile, there is a pause in negotiations of the authorities and so-called opposition which is unlikely to be overcome because neither side is willing to compromise at the moment. At the same time the external factor represented by the Euro-Atlantic community demonstrates open interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine taking the side of the so-called opposition,” he said in an interview with news agency PenzaNews.


‘Freedom’ party members, also known as the Svoboda activists

According to him, there is a kind of uncertainty in the relations of Ukraine and the EU because of the Ukrainian authorities’ refusal to sign an association agreement with the EU.

“Despite European politicians’ alleged readiness to sign this document, we can say that the issue is no longer on the Ukrainian foreign policy agenda. However, in case of a fundamental change of power there may be a new powerful momentum to the agreement,” he notes.

In turn, Alexei Tolpygo, the expert of the Kiev Center for Political and Conflict Studies, also suggested that there has been rising influence of Nazi-esque politics in the country, for example, the emergence of the far-right neo-fascist party ‘Freedom’.

“Many experts believe that Viktor Yanukovych and the Party of Regions intentionally allowed them to expand their influence to create the situation “Yanukovych against Tyagnibok” in the elections of 2015. If there really was such an intention – it can hardly be called forward-looking. In any case, this growth is extremely dangerous, especially as it runs parallel with the growth of extreme right parties in Western Europe. However, none of the parties in the West is as close to Nazism as Freedom party,” the analyst said.

He also expressed confidence that someone supports and pays for all the rallies and protests.

“As for the assessment of the actions of supporters and opponents of European integration, no one of them understands what for or against what they are struggling,” he explained.

According to him, the position of the EU integration supporters is absurd for the following reason: Ukraine has sought to conclude the notorious agreement with the Europeans, and the government tried to somewhat improve its conditions and get some concessions. Meanwhile, the so-called EU integration supporters insisted on an early signing of the contract, as it was offered by Europe.

“However, the conditions that were offered in November seem to be very disadvantageous. Roughly speaking, the problem was not even the fact that the EU was going to buy the Ukraine but the fact that it wanted to do it very cheaply. For example, all the help that the European Union had provided to Kiev for 20 years of independence was less than Poland receives from Europe for a year,” Alexei Tolpygo stated.

In his opinion, the European Union and the United States are putting strong pressure on Ukraine.

“It is proved by the talks about possible sanctions against Ukrainian leadership, by Western politicians visiting Kiev and openly supporting Maidan against the government and their demands not to sign any agreements with Russia,” the expert said.


According to Tolpygo, Moscow also puts pressure on Kiev but refrains from imposing any direct requirements, stressing that Ukraine itself should make its choice and pay for it.

Leonid Gusev, Senior Research Fellow at the Analytical Center of MGIMO, shared the opinion concerning external pressures, adding that today, a rapprochement with the EU ceased to be the main objective of Maidan activists.

“At first supporters of European integration gathered under these slogans, but now people go out mainly against the government as such. Recent events have fully pushed European integration on the back burner,” the expert stressed.

From his point of view, the internal situation in the country is very difficult.

“Currently, there are differences and contradictions not only between the opposition parties Batkyvshchina, UDAR and Freedom, but inside the Party of Regions, where there is a powerful lobby of importers, for whom the creation of a free trade zone with the EU would be extremely beneficial as it will lead to a sharp increase in the volume of imports into the country,” the analyst noted.

According to Gusev, the Ukrainian nation is represented in government by the so-called “young reformers” Among them, there are the First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Arbuzov, and former head of the presidential administration (now his advisor), Sergei Levochkin.

“After the most recent events that took place against the background of the adoption of anti-protest laws, the situation escalated to the limit, regional administration buildings were seized in some regions in the west and center of Ukraine, and straddle began among the largest oligarchs of the country. On 25 January 2014 there was a meeting of the oligarchs without the participation of the president, who, according to media reports, discussed the situation in the country. Rinat Akhmetov, Dmitry Firtash and Igor Kolomoisky took part in it.”

“At the same time there were negotiations of Viktor Yanukovych and the oligarchs with the West in particular, with the US Vice President Joseph Biden and European Commissioner Stefan Fule. Just after the negotiations, there was a meeting with representatives of the opposition where the president offered Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Vitali Klitschko to take the positions of Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister for Social Affairs correspondingly,” Leonid Gusev said.

Meanwhile, Gusev stresses that the opposition is insisting on full implementation of the conditions contained in the ultimatum, which include complete abolition of anti-protest laws and early presidential elections.


“An extraordinary session of the Verkhovna Rada is scheduled for January 28. But it must be emphasized that the radical wing of Maidan and Hrushevskoho Street, which is not controlled by the opposition, pushes it to go all the way,” he added.

Stefan Meister, Senior Policy Fellow at European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, also pointed to the escalation of the crisis.

“Neither the president and the government have the situation under control nor the opposition leaders. President Yanukovych does not know how to come out of the situation and is in an deadlock, because, if he would use force, it will worsen the situation even more and if he leaves his office, he might follow Julia Timoshenko’s fate. Every action he takes will worsen the situation. The opposition is still divided, unable to decide for one leader. Extremists are getting more influence.”

In his opinion, what we observe is also a generation conflict.

“The initiators and main part of the demonstrations at the beginning were young people who see their future in the EU. These people are really pro-European and are against any integration with Russia. On the other hand there are also nationalistic and right-wing groups which have an interest in violence and fighting. They are Ukrainian nationalist and anti-EU,” the expert noted.

From his point of view, there is a stalemate between power and opposition; and escalation will go on as nobody has the control.

“Violence is no solution, but both sides are not willing to make compromises. The situation is so much heated up, and president Yanukovych is losing legitimization because of the actions he did with violence and the way they pushed through the Rada the anti-demonstration laws,” he explained.

According to him, a solution could be early elections, that people decide who should lead the country and finish this situation.

“Negotiations could be supported from outside because of the stalemate, but both the EU and Russia have their interests in the country, which means they are not honest brokers,” the expert concluded.

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