Archives for : Yanukovych regime

How To Help Save Ukraine’s Revolution

Special Report
How To Help Save Ukraine’s Revolution

But it will mean a defeat for heavyhanded Moscow.

By Stephen Blank – 2.1.14

An authentic revolution is now occurring in Ukraine, with uprisings in the capital city of Kyiv (Kiev) and throughout both Western and Eastern Ukraine
. This groundswell of popular unrest underscores not only the loss of legitimacy suffered by Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, but also the danger of the country’s potential disintegration if a resolution is not reached soon.

Indeed, Russian media sources are openly speculating about the prospects of a civil war and, worse still, the possibility of a partition of Ukraine. Typically, Moscow now blames unnamed outside forces for both Ukraine’s original crisis and its latest, violent turn. Ironically, Russia is correct — because it is Moscow itself which deliberately has triggered this crisis.

Moscow threatened Ukraine (along with Moldova and Armenia) with economic war and catastrophe if they signed an Association Agreement with the European Union. Except for Moldova, the countries folded in the face of this brutal pressure.

In Ukraine, the results were immediately apparent. Russian pressure highlighted the fact that the Kremlin accepts neither Ukraine’s sovereignty nor its territorial integrity as fixed principles of international law (or that of other post-Soviet states, like Georgia or Moldova, for that matter). As well, since November, in return for cutting gas prices and underwriting Ukrainian state bonds, Moscow has extracted some key concessions from Ukraine, including the building of a bridge over the disputed Kerch Strait into the Sea of Azov — a transit route that furnishes Russia with an excellent highway for either seizing the Crimea or invading Ukraine, should it be of a mind to do either.

Ukraine likewise has been strong-armed into ceasing purchases of non-Russian gas, thereby deepening its addiction to Russian energy. And the Ukrainian government has taken steps to reorient Ukrainian civil and defense industry toward the Russian market, effectively turning away from Europe and creating even more points of leverage for Moscow within the Ukrainian economy and politics.

But this was not enough for Russia. Moscow has also likely told its man in Kyiv that he needs to squelch the country’s opposition protests. Predictably, laws passed by the Yanukovych government in January have effectively criminalized the Ukrainian people’s exercise of basic civil rights, representing an obvious attempt to replicate Putinism in Ukraine, ensure Yanukovych’s reelection in 2015, and silence the opposition. These laws are what triggered the latest bout of unrest, which began on January 16.

So the situation stands. The Yanukovych government, entrenched in Kyiv and bolstered by Russian backing and funds, is not eager to negotiate with its opponents — a dialogue that is likely to hinge upon the current president’s departure from the political scene. It is also quick to use violence to suppress the protests, and state security services are already responsible for the death of three protesters, one by torture. Meanwhile Russia’s clients in Kyiv are trying to entrench themselves and avert another revolution that could only end with their ouster.

To avert such extreme outcomes, Washington and its allies in Europe must grasp the strategic consequences of chaos or of a Russian takeover of Ukraine. Either option — revolution or overwhelming state force — would make adjoining countries (namely Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania) front-line states in every sense of the word. They would also bisect Europe into two hostile alliance systems. Moreover, either of those outcomes further undermines the principles enshrined in the Helsinki Final Act and the accords ratifying the post-1989-91 European settlement.Effectively, they would return Europe and Eurasia to the law of the jungle, where insecurity replaces peace and prosperity as the dominant fact of life in the region.

Therefore, Washington and the EU must act together to rescue Ukraine economically and politically from the Yanukovych family and entourage — and from Russia. They must also make clear to Russia that the West has a vital interest in defending Ukraine’s sovereignty and integrity, and that commitment will be backed by concrete political action.

This would entail quickly devising a large-scale, comprehensive program of economic relief for Ukraine, and announcing that if Ukraine is willing to resume negotiations with Brussels then over time it will qualify for EU membership. The message should be clear: if Kyiv undertakes the heavy lifting, Washington and Brussels will stand ready to substantially assist it in righting its ship of state.

Such change won’t happen with the current regime in place, however, so a prerequisite must be that the Yanukovych regime departs, to be replaced by a caretaker government that will implement immediate relief measures but also conduct a free and fair election. The government thereby elected can then continue implementing the relief and reform program outlined above.

Should Yanukovych resist, he must be put on notice that his family and entourage risk losing access to their stolen assets in the West, and face the prospect of criminal investigations at home. To deter Russian threats and pressure, meanwhile, Moscow should be referred to the WTO for its economic blackmail of Ukraine, as well as Armenia and Moldova.

Unfortunately, neither Brussels nor Washington has shown the strategic vision or imagination to formulate such a coordinated action program to date. But while it might not be too late to do so now, time is rapidly running out for a peaceful solution to Ukraine’s crisis. Business as usual simply won’t do; the United States and its allies must act vigorously together in order for Ukraine to have a chance to save itself.

The West including NATO, the EU, the US,the UN and the WTO must do everything possible to send Putin a unified and clear message “Hands off Ukraine!”

Love and Hatred in Kiev

Op-Ed Contributor
Love and Hatred in Kiev

January 29, 2014

KIEV, Ukraine — It has been severely cold here lately, with temperatures dipping below freezing night after night. What sustains the protesters at Independence Square in weather this bleak can only come from inside: an exceptionally hot mix of despair, hope, self-sacrifice and hatred.

Yes, hatred. Morality does not forbid hating murderers. Especially if the murderers are in power or in direct service of those in power — with batons, tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, and, starting Jan. 22, live ammunition.

That day, the news came about the first two protesters to be shot and killed by the police since the protests began in November. One of them, Serhiy Nihoyan, a 20-year-old Ukrainian of Armenian heritage, dreamed of becoming an actor. The other, Mikhail Zhiznevsky, a citizen of Belarus, was also young, just 25 years old. An ethnic Armenian and a Belarusian, giving their lives for the freedom of Ukrainians — this gives the lie to the fears, held by some in the West, that the democracy movement here is being hijacked by Ukrainian nationalists.

If anyone is promoting hatred it is the government. My friend Josef Zissels, chairman of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine, and vice president of the World Jewish Congress, wrote a few days ago that the website of Berkut, the special police force (and a final line of defense for the powers that be) had been “flooded with anti-Semitic materials that allege that the Jews are to blame for organizing at Maidan,” the central square, which has become synonymous with the protests.

Mr. Zissels wrote: “This is completely absurd, but those who are armed with batons and shields, now facing the protesters, believe this. They are brainwashed into believing that the Maidan is a Jewish project, and thus there is no need to take pity on anyone — you can beat them all.”

Beat them all. The police have beaten women and children, and even priests trying to intervene to stop the bloodshed. Berkut not only beats; it maims, tortures and kills. Its members like to pounce on individuals who have gotten separated from the crowd of protesters. Some have even posed for thecameras, their boots on the heads of victims lying on the ground. They proudly upload these photos and videos to their personal pages at social networking sites.

Article 21 of our Constitution states that “human rights and freedoms shall be inalienable and inviolable.”

The abuses by the ruling authorities, and their escalating use of violence, have threatened to make the Constitution a joke.

On Jan. 16, the government of President Viktor F. Yanukovych pushed through Parliament a package of laws severely curtailing freedom of speech and assembly. This week, the prime minister resigned, and the majority of the repressive laws were repealed, partly because of the wave of international condemnation.

It is precisely for their rights and freedoms — long and brazenly violated by the Yanukovych regime — that the Ukrainian people are now fighting. They have been given no other choice. Our national anthem says, “We will lay down our body and soul for our freedom.” On Jan. 19, the protests turned violent. But if no one resists the riot police, the thinking goes, Ukraine will be turned into one large prison in a matter of weeks.

This is why an acquaintance of mine, a translator of Kierkegaard and Ibsen, now spends her time making Molotov cocktails, and her young sons, classics majors, aged 17 and 19, throw their mother’s products in the direction of the wall of smoke on Hrushevsky Street, which runs past major government buildings.

This is why an 80-year-old Kiev grandmother brought her knitting needles to the protest headquarters and gave them to the first protester she saw with the words, “Take them, son. If you don’t kill the monster, maybe you’ll at least stop it.”

This is why even the Hare Krishnas in Kiev now carry baseball bats.

We are defending ourselves, our country, our future, Europe’s future — some with Molotov cocktails, some with knitting needles, some with paving stones, some with baseball bats, some with texts published on the Internet, some with photos documenting the atrocities.

The police have been targeting journalists as rabidly as they have targeted medics taking the wounded out of the scene of clashes. Berkut has been treating journalists with cameras and notebooks as the enemy. Several dozen journalists have been wounded, hit by stun grenades, tear gas or rubber bullets.

Recently, coordinators of the protest made an appeal across online social networks for medicine and diapers —which are excellent at absorbing blood. The people of Kiev began bringing drugs and nappies to the protest headquarters at such a scale that in just a few hours a new message went up online: “Enough medication for now! We don’t have enough storage space! But we urgently need warm clothes, bread, tea and coffee!” And again, people from all over Kiev brought everything they could to help.

The authorities can’t understand this. Recently, some unknown thugs in civilian clothes kidnapped an activist and spent the night torturing him, demanding: Who is funding the Maidan? Which Western sources? Is it the State Department, or someone else?

The regime’s mental system of coordinates cannot fit one simple fact: The Maidan funds itself, through its own love and its own hatred.

I have never loved my homeland as much as I love it now. Before, I had always been skeptical and restrained toward it. I am 53 years old, and had long put sentimentality behind me.

But these days I see our women, young and old, sorting with amazing efficiency the donated medications and food supplies, I see hipster students in hockey masks and camouflage pants fearlessly going onto the frontline barricades, I see our workers and farmers providing security for the Maidan protesters, our grannies and grandpas who keep bringing more and more hot food to Independence Square, and I feel a lump in my throat.

Yuri Andrukhovych is a poet, essayist, translator and the author of the novels “Perverzion” and “The Moscoviad.” This article was translated by Vitaly Chernetsky from the Ukrainian.

The Fascist Yanukovych regime is Ukrainophobic , Anti-Semitic and Pro-Russian!

Thoughts from Kyiv – Jan 28, 2014

Thoughts from Kyiv – Jan 28, 2014

Maybe I’m imagining things, but I have the distinct impression that the mood on Maidan and Hrushevskoho St. changed significantly in the wake of today’s events in Parliament. The resignation of Prime Minister Azarov was accepted by the President today, and each minister in Ukraine’s government is now (as a result) an “acting minister”. The draconian laws passed with massive procedural irregularities on January 16 were also rescinded today by Parliament. Both of these events presumably should have been celebrated by the protesters – in fact, many are worried, twitchy, and apprehensive. Tension is particularly high near the barricades on Hrushevskoho St. where defenses are most comprehensive, but also where police lines are in plain view of the demonstrators. Standing next to a burning barrel (temperatures have dropped to about -15 C during the day) listening to conversations between helmet-clad young men, it seemed to me that a single “spark” (in whatever form) would be enough to rekindle violence.

One wonders how the good natured atmosphere of seemingly calm but determined protest that I experienced on Sunday could have transformed so quickly (by Tuesday). Demonstrators continue to cooperate, and their individual resolve certainly has not slackened, but the openness, collegiality, and implied trust in one’s fellow protestor seems to have become (temporarily – I hope) moderated. Clearly the problem is trust – or rather its absence – both in the leaders of Ukraine’s opposition parties and in the proclaimed promises of the Yanukovych regime. Everyone that I have spoken to recognizes the need for negotiations because the alternative is more violence, and more casualties. However, the ongoing negotiations between the regime and the opposition involve the opposition party leaders only (no representatives of the Maidan are present), and the implementation of negotiated concessions (of necessity in stages) requires a certain degree of trust not only of allies, but also of one’s opponents.

Few on Maidan rejoiced today after the announcement of Azarov’s resignation. Many (like me) were cautious that this might some sort of trap: before noon we pointed out that the resignation still needed to be accepted by Yanukovych; then the Presidential decree dismissing the government was published, and the Jan 16 laws were abrogated, but people are still asking “what’s the catch?” After all, Interior Ministry troops continue to be mobilized across the country; strange concrete barriers were set up overnight around key government buildings in the center of Kyiv, and then suddenly disbanded around noon; rumors abound regarding the contents of special telegrams being sent last night by the Presidential Administration to Army officers in the regions; oblast governors, who had previously remained relatively tranquil when faced with mass demonstrations in front of their administrative offices, today suddenly became more vocal in their demands for order; police attacks on AutoMaidan leaders continue with several now in jail, and Dmytro Bulatov still missing; ominously, today was the day that Ministry of the Interior Directive №1011 (originally passed 24 Oct. 2013) which legalizes the use of lethal rounds in firearms by Berkut special forces came into force. The demonstrators on Maidan have many reasons not to trust the regime, and many still believe a declaration of martial law is in the works. Furthermore, given that during the past 2 months of protests many on the Maidan have viewed the 3 opposition political party leaders as allies, rather than “team members”, they do not fully trust Klitschko, Yatseniuk and Tiahnybok. All of this (unfortunately, and according to my subjective impression) has led to a decreased level of interpersonal trust on Maidan.

The reality is that the regime changed its tune exceptionally quickly. Whereas yesterday the entire country seemed to be preparing for a declaration of martial law, suddenly today, Azarov was fired and the “dictatorial” legislation passed on 16 January was rescinded. As was the case with Yanukovych’s previous about-face with respect to EU Association, many are asking “why?” I have spent most of the day (like many others I expect) trying to figure out an answer to this question, and what follows is a theory that (I stress) is based on “educated speculation”. Please do not criticize me for providing insufficient evidence for my claims. I recognize that I am being insufficiently “scientific” in drawing conclusions – but these are revolutionary times, so I ask for some indulgence.

During a short telephone conversation this morning with a friend who is highly placed in the current government, the phrase “revolt of the oligarchs” was all that was offered as an answer to the query as to what is happening within the regime. It will come as no surprise to anyone that the ruling Party of Regions is not a monolithic political force: according to an article in the Ukrainian edition of Forbes magazine (Oct 2013), 7 identifiable groups exist within the parliamentary faction (187 MP’s), with four representing the core of the Party. Specifically:

1) The Firtash group, nominally led in Parliament by Serhiy Tihipko, but in fact (until last week) forming the base of support for Serhiy Liovochkin, Yanukovych’s Presidential Administration Head; Yuriy Boyko, Deputy PM responsible for energy, represents the interests of the gas tycoon Dmytro Firtash in relations with Russia.

2) The Akhmetov group which is represented in the Presidential Administration by Irina Akimova (as of Jan 17 she is the “President’s representative in the Cabinet of Ministers), in Parliament by Yuriy Voropayev, and in the government by Deputy PM Oleksander Vilkul, Health Minister Raisa Bohatyriova, Economics Minister Prasolov, and Sports Minister Safiulin

3) The Kliuyev group, led in Parliament by Serhiy Kliuyev, whose brother Andriy was until recently Secretary of the National Security Council, and last week replaced Liovochkin as Head of the Presidential Administration; Andriy Portnov (legal counsel of the Presidential Administration) is considered to be part of this group.

4) The Yanukovych group which represents the interests of the President directly – in Parliament, in the Executive and in Ukraine’s murky world of big business. First Deputy PM Arbuzov (now Acting Prime Minister), Justice Minister Olena Lukash, Interior Minister Zakharchenko, Defense Minister Lebedev and Revenue Minister Klymenko are all considered to be directly loyal to the Yanukovych “family”.

The three additional (less influential) groups within the PR include a) the Ivaniushchenko group – represented in the Azarov government by Agriculture Minister Prysiazhniuk and Ecology Minister Proskuriakov, b) the Russian lobby represented in Parliament by deputy Kolisnichenko (author of the Jan 16 laws), and in the executive by the notorious Education Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk, and c) the Luhansk group led by Parliamentary faction leader Yefremov, and represented in government by Social Services Minister Nataliya Korolevska.

Clearly the above characterization is “broad-brush”, but it seems to reflect some interesting cleavages within the Party of Regions. As we can see, prior to the current political crisis, the four main power groups seem to have found a means of balancing their interests against one another – effectively by dividing specific spheres of influence among themselves. This balance was delicate, but it held until the middle of January 2014 – although it had begun to unravel approximately 2 months before. The catalyst for the conflict seems to have been the EU Association Agreement turn-around: Firtash and Liovochkin had supported its signing whereas Kliuyev and the Russian lobby had opposed it. During the week before the Vilnius summit, Azarov sided with the latter group.

It is rumored (I have no evidence for this, except authoritative statements by “people in the know”) that Serhiy Liovochkin, Head of Yanukovych’s Presidential Administration, had in fact supported the initial Euromaidan student protests in the run-up to Vilnius. Immediately after the November 30 beatings of students on Independence Square (according to testimony by former Kyiv mayor Popov given to prosecutors, this attack had been ordered by Security Council Secretary Andriy Kliuyev), Liovochkin submitted his resignation, but it was not accepted by Yanukovych – likely because such a change would have tipped the balance between interest groups within the Party of Regions. Liovochkin’s resignation was finally accepted on January 17, and separate decrees firing the President’s press attaché Darka Chepak, and Andriy Yermolayev, the Director of the National Institute for Strategic Studies (both Liovochkin loyalists) were issued on the same day.

By pushing Liovochkin (and the pro-EU “doves”) out of the President’s inner circle, and simultaneously pushing through draconian laws through Parliament, it would seem that the Kliuyev group (considered the “hawks”) had scored a decisive victory, and that a forcible removal of protestors from the center of Kyiv was inevitable. It is for this reason that many insiders considered the initial violence on Hrushevskoho St. on Jan 19 to have been instigated deliberately – as a front that would provide an excuse for the future imposition of martial law.

However last Saturday, it would seem that Ukraine’s richest oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov decided otherwise. The holding company System Capital Management (SCM) which he owns, issued a public statement condemning the use of force to resolve Ukraine’s ongoing political crisis. It offered “deepest condolences to the families and relatives of those who lost their lives” and called for “constructive negotiations” and “compromise” in the interests of the whole country. By Monday, swiftly organized negotiations between the President and the opposition had resulted in Yanukovych’s offer of the Prime Minister’s job to Arseniy Yatseniuk – an offer that has been rejected, but nevertheless was seen as a very real olive branch from the regime. Incidentally, influential journalist Serhiy Leshchenko today reported that a Swish bank had informed Akhmetov on Friday that due to the political situation in Ukraine, it would be forced to reevaluate its financing arrangements with SCM. In addition to irritants such as pickets in front of Akhmetov’s apartment in London, the warning of future difficulties accessing cheap loans may have been the final catalyst for the oligarch’s decision to press Yanukovych into real negotiations to end the violence.

What does all of this mean? Well, it shows that the Party of Regions is far from monolithic, nor is it completely pro-Russian. When negotiations begin on the formation of a new post-Azarov Cabinet of Ministers (according to the Constitution, Yanukovych has 60 days to submit a candidate for PM to Parliament for approval, but he has promised to do so within a week), we will see whether the pro-EU Firtash-Liovochkin group has been completely sidelined within the Party, or whether it reemerges with some representation in the executive. However, before this happens, the latent conflict between Akhmetov’s “doves” and Kliuyev’s “hawks” must be resolved.

Prior to the Azarov resignation this morning, the conflict had clearly not been resolved: some branches of Ukraine’s government were still preparing for martial law (e.g. setting up barricades, organizing a massive “Anti-Maidan” gathering in the park near Parliament) while others were working towards a peaceful solution. Some of the anxiety on Maidan may well be a reflection of a feeling in Kyiv that the conflict within Ukraine’s political elite is (perhaps) more dangerous to human lives than street fighting and protest.

There are two unknown elements within this elite power game that could dramatically affect the direction in which events evolve in the near future. Firstly, which side will the Yanukovych group within the Party of Regions choose to ally with? Yanukovych is clearly still in control, and he is surrounded by a loyal inner circle (including Acting Prime Minister Arbuzov), but the financial and political resources that his loyalist group controls are insufficient to maintain power without cooperating with others. So, will he choose the “hawks” and Russia, or Akhmetov’s “doves” and Europe? Both groups are composed of individuals from Donetsk with whom Yanukovych has long-standing ties, so the President’s decision will not be based on regional preferences – a fact that may make it even more difficult for him.

Secondly, in a post-Azarov world, how will Ukraine’s political-economic elites build a new balance of power? In other words, if an internal compromise cannot be found, and the President makes his choice (be it for Kliuyev or for Akhmetov), what does the losing side do? Could the current crisis gradually turn into a Godfather-style “hit the mattresses!” gang-war between former Party of Regions “business” partners? Recent Ukrainian history (and specifically Donetsk during the 1990’s) has seen precedents of this kind of open warfare between business groups. Indeed, such a gang war could actually be in Mr. Putin’s interests: with Ukraine descending into anarchy during the coming weeks he could move in as a legitimate peacemaker immediately after the Sochi Olympics. Then, Russian military intervention in Ukraine would not be masked under the questionably legitimate pretext of “helping brother Slavs” in border regions, but rather as a humanitarian mission aimed at ending uncontrolled street violence.

What worries me in all of this (and I suspect it worries many of the demonstrators freezing in Kyiv’s city center) is that resolution of the current crisis through either a war or a deal between the oligarchs leaves little space for the Maidan as an independent political actor. In order for the events of the past 10 weeks in Ukraine to truly transform into a revolution (i.e. systemic change in Ukraine’s society – including both its political and economic spheres), rather than a coup d’etat (i.e. a rotation of elites), the protestors must make themselves heard. The Maidan cannot remain a social force (however massive) that relies on having its political interests represented by the opposition party leaders. The Maidan must become an independent political force that is able to counter/ally with (as distasteful as this may sound) at least one of Ukraine’s oligarchic groups in addition to allying with the opposition.

One option might be to ally with oligarchs that are not represented in the Party of Regions (e.g. Viktor Pinchuk or Ihor Kolomoyskiy). Since the start of protests, they have largely remained politically neutral. The extent of their activism has been to allow journalists working for their media outlets to report on the situation in Kyiv without having the TV channel owner’s editorial preferences imposed upon them. However, given their political passivity under Yanukovych during the past 4 years, I believe that they are unlikely to become overt allies of Maidan during the coming end-game (except for Poroshenko who has already clearly demonstrated his political preferences and ambitions – other smaller oligarchs like Zhyvago or Bakhmatiuk may yet follow his lead).

So we are left with the distasteful prospect of cooperating with a group within the Party of Regions. Furthermore, if further violence and casualties are to be avoided, the Maidan may yet be forced to accept a Yanukovych presidency (although with reduced powers – the return of the 2004 Constitution seems to basically be a done deal) likely lasting until at least the end of 2014. In such a scenario, will the protestors remain on the Maidan? Will they remain united? For how long?

As I was leaving Independence Square today, the last thing I noticed was a large sign with the following questions:

1) Where are those who beat students on the night of Nov 30?

2) Where are those who beat journalists and wrecked property?

3) Where are those who kidnapped and killed Yuriy Verbitsky?

4) Where are those who killed Serhiy Nigoyan and others?

5) Where are those who have harassed and attacked Kyiv residents?

6) Where are those who destroy the property of AutoMaidan activists?

7) Where are those who enjoy abusing and then being photographed with nude Ukrainians?

Finding these people – these are the basic demands of the Maidan – not who is going to be responsible for what ministerial portfolio…

If we are to find the answers to the above questions, and if we are to duly prosecute those responsible, “we” on the world’s Maidans may have to make some difficult compromises; possibly allying ourselves with some distasteful people. The alternative (unfortunately) is to remain a social movement that delegates its political agency to the leaders of Ukraine’s opposition parties. To many, that prospect is even more distasteful…

God help us!

Mychailo Wynnyckyj PhD

Kyiv-Mohyla Academy