Saturday, November 25
Укр Eng
Log In Register
PoliticsNeighboursEconomicsSocietyCultureHistoryOpinionsArchivePhoto Gallery
1 February, 2014  ▪  Oleksandr Kramar

A Debilitating Truce

The authorities’ “concessions” did not address any of the original causes of the mass protests, leaving the confrontation at a standstill

The regional demonstrations that swept the country last week brought the protest to a new level and forced the authorities to take negotiations with the opposition seriously. However, the type of “compromise” proposed by the regime would mean the negation of recent protest efforts.

CREATING PROBLEMS IN ORDER TO SOLVE THEM

In Ukraine’s bureaucratic circles there is a common saying: “We can solve your problems for a fee. If you don’t have any problems, then we’ll create some for you.” In this way, the government has set the stage for “compromise” with the opposition and public over the last two weeks. Upon stepping down from the post of Prime Minister on 28 January, Mykola Azarov said that, along with “other decisions by the Parliament”, his resignation is a sufficient basis for a compromise between political forces in order to “end the crisis that has begun”.

Yanukovych has not addressed any of the people’s demands. We’ve simply returned to the status quo of 16 January

The EU immediately responded positively to the Ukrainian parliament’s adoption of the decision. According to sources, there is even hope that the opposition can now create a national unity government together with Party of Regions representatives.

However, the Parliament resolved to repeal only some of the repressive laws that were passed on January 16 in violation of official procedure. The “compromise” was also supposed to include a law granting amnesty to protesters and security forces (at the time of writing, the vote on this proposal had been continually postponed) and the creation of a temporary parliamentary committee for the development of a new constitution. However, Yanukovych has delayed signing into law the abolition of the 16 January laws and the creation of the constitutional commission, making these governmental “concessions” (and not simply amnesty) contingent upon the withdrawal of protesters from the Maidan and all occupied government buildings nationwide. In other words, total surrender.

If the Maidan disperses or is forced to go back into “hibernation” in exchange for Yanukovych’s imaginary concessions, then the opposition and (more importantly) the public will lose much of their leverage.

Yanukovych, in fact, did not address any of the demands brought to him by the opposition leaders on behalf of the people, with the exception of the ritual resignation of Azarov. Neither Minister of Internal Affairs Vitaliy Zakharchenko nor those involved in the beatings of demonstrators last November-December (not to mention the deaths and mutilations of the past two weeks) will be held responsible. Thus, law enforcement officers are reminded, “We take care of our own. Follow our orders and everything will be fine”.

READ ALSO: The Anatomy of Power

In return for the complete surrender of the Maidan, Yanukovych agreed only to restore the status quo of the morning of January 16 – before the budget and repressive laws were passed. It should be noted that the budget whose approval the opposition attempted to block is no longer subject to appeal. Thus, the situation looks like a successful sting operation by the administration: the approved January 16 laws were used as a bargaining chip to pressure the opposition and even some of its own MPs. The repeal of the laws posed a threat not only for members of the opposition but also for some Party of Regions MPs who had either been absent on January 16 or had simply not understood what they were voting for. The simplification of procedures for the removal of immunity would make them even more vulnerable to Yanukovych.

Azarov’s resignation changed nothing. After all, no one doubted that this political pensioner was simply creating a façade by supposedly “sharing experience” with the younger generation of Yanukovych’s “Family”. It is clear that neither Arbuzov nor Zakharchenko were receiving their orders from Azarov. Just as The Ukrainian Week predicted one year ago, Serhiy Arbuzov has legally become Prime Minister. Thus, the “Family” has fulfilled the very aspirations that it failed to realize in December 2012 due to lack of support within the governing conglomerate.

The repeal of the 16 January laws leaves Yanukovych no less authoritarian than he was prior to their passing. Furthermore, it is still unclear whether additional government orders will be cancelled, including those permitting law enforcement officers to use live ammunition and imposing restrictions on citizens’ rights to travel freely, as well as possible orders to increase the number of “Berkut” police and other special units to 30,000. If not, it simply means that Yanukovych will be better prepared for the next clash with the masses. And this may come sooner than the 2015 elections.

Amnesty for the protesters is even being bundled together with amnesty for the security forces, releasing them from all liability for their clearly criminal abuse of authority. However, even if the government were to grant amnesty, the question would remain: what was the point of the protests? If we had simply not taken to the streets, or at least not taken action, then amnesty would not be necessary. After all, no one is guaranteeing amnesty for future actions. It would be a serious demotivation to risk your own life and health simply so that you could later be freed from responsibility for defending your position.

READ ALSO: Mafia State

If amnesty were the main issue, the question would remain: what was the point of the protests?

With the current government preserved, even with amnesty in place, unofficial repression, persecution and harassment of activists and their loved ones, both by governing bodies as well as hired “titushky”, is likely to continue. Equally urgent is the threat of reprisals by the regime against Party of Regions MPs and government officials that have shown their lack of loyalty to the President by their willingness to vote for opposition bills in Parliament.

Thus, with the Prosecutor General, police, and tax service in hand, the President retains ample opportunities to put pressure on potential defectors. As a result, necessary steps will be taken to vaccinate the government against future disloyalty by eliminating anyone who cannot be completely relied upon. Therefore, the President will be decidedly better prepared for the next inevitable confrontation with the masses. And this may come sooner than the 2015 elections.

Amnesty for the protesters is even being bundled together with amnesty for the security forces, releasing them from all liability for their clearly criminal abuse of authority. However, even if the government were to grant amnesty, the question would remain: what was the point of the protests? If we had simply not taken to the streets, or at least not taken action, then amnesty would not be necessary. After all, no one is guaranteeing amnesty for future actions. It would be a serious demotivation to risk your own life and health simply so that you could later be freed from responsibility for defending your position.

With the current government preserved, even with amnesty in place, unofficial repression, persecution and harassment of activists and their loved ones, both by governing bodies as well as hired “titushky”, is likely to continue. Equally urgent is the threat of reprisals by the regime against Party of Regions MPs and government officials that have shown their lack of loyalty to the President by their willingness to vote for opposition bills in Parliament.

Thus, with the Prosecutor General, police, and tax service in hand, the President retains ample opportunities to put pressure on potential defectors. As a result, necessary steps will be taken to vaccinate the government against future disloyalty by eliminating anyone who cannot be completely relied upon. Therefore, the President will be decidedly better prepared for the next inevitable confrontation with the masses.

Information from the provinces confirms that the hawkish wing of the administration is rapidly gaining strength across the country. Arrests of peaceful protesters and illegal use of force continue, even in areas where protesters had occupied regional administrations and proclaimed People’s Councils. The head of the Luhansk Oblast Administration has warned that “aggressive agents will be dealt with harshly”, while the head of the Mykolaiv Oblast Council has threatened that various “outsiders” will be “erased from the face of the earth”. Police and “titushky” have begun to hunt pro-Maidan football “ultras” in Donetsk as well.

Former Minister of Defence Anatoliy Hrytsenko has spoken of attempts to subordinate army troops under the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Similarly, the headquarters of the national resistance has stated that the Ministry of Defence is pressuring the military to initiate a state of emergency, making active appeals to the President and threatening dissenters with dismissal. Given Yanukovych’s personal visit to a Party of Regions faction meeting on January 29 as well as information regarding his “pressuring” of 52 rebellious MPs who, according to sources, were prepared to vote for opposition-backed “unconditional amnesty”, there is no doubt that the President now supports the hawkish faction of his party.

In these circumstances, if the Maidan disperses or is forced to go back into “hibernation” in exchange for Yanukovych’s imaginary concessions, then the opposition and (more importantly) the public will lose much of their leverage.

The creation of the commission to develop amendments to the Constitution does not mean that the Constitution will actually be amended to curb the President’s power. If a return to the Constitution of 2004 was not undertaken on 28-29 January, the probability that this will happen before the 2015 presidential elections as public resistance subsides is even more diminished. Meanwhile, the postponement of this decree until before the presidential election will simply create a safety net for the ruling regime in case of electoral defeat. Yanukovych or some other ‘chosen’ figure could then end up in the Prime Minister’s seat until at least early 2018 (the next parliamentary elections are slated for late 2017).

Yet even a return to the Constitution of 2004 would not be a concession to the opposition. Oligarchs who lost their positions in favour of the “Family” through the arbitrary powers of the President have long demanded such a move. Thus, the “resurrection” of the Basic Law of 2004 would only be a triumph for the oligarchs, who in this case would reap real benefits from the weakening and balancing of the branches of government.

READ ALSO: A Burden on the Economy

Moreover, it’s no secret that in recent years the return to the 2004 Constitution has been actively promoted by one of its own initiators, Viktor Medvedchuk. This is hardly a coincidence. By ushering in a chaotic power struggle like that of 2006-2010, it is possible to create favourable conditions for introducing Russian policies in Ukraine.

Revolution in the provinces: strengths and weaknesses

It is now clear that the only real solution to these problems would be a complete change of government resulting from early presidential elections and a parliament based on new electoral laws and a reformed Central Election Commission. Until then, the country is doomed to live in a forced truce characterized by high emotions and periodic outbreaks of conflict. The format of the truce that the government is currently forcing upon the opposition will wear down the protesters and provoke disillusionment among the masses while exacerbating the country’s socioeconomic woes and leaving the country more vulnerable to Russian interference. Meanwhile the Yanukovch regime has every opportunity to build muscle and ponder its previous missteps.

However, the compliance of the opposition, which is currently concentrating all its efforts on the nuances of the amnesty law, shows that its leaders are not confident in their abilities to outmaneuver the regime.

Despite having forced the authorities to return to the negotiating table, the revolution in the provinces has several vulnerabilities. The demonstrations that took place in every oblast capital and a number of regional centres caught the regime off guard; it was not able to dispatch security forces to disperse the protesters because its resources were concentrated on suppressing the protests in Kyiv. The attempt to expand the scope of the Maidan protest to cities nationwide created a panic among Party of Regions members and local administrators that was akin to the uproar following the December 1st demonstrations in Kyiv.

The regional protest actions that captured several administration buildings were largely spontaneous and poorly organized. This exposed the opposition’s unfortunate lack of a unified organizational structure. The opposition was only able to create ‘executive committees’ and attempt to revoke power from regional administrations in western oblasts where pro-Maidan majorities were mobilized in the oblast councils.

In the central oblasts, protesters were only able to capture administrative buildings due to the element of surprise and the lack of local “Berkut” and other special forces. As the situations in Cherkasy and Sumy demonstrated, a relatively small number of aggressive law enforcement officials were able to nullify the protesters’ gains and inflict a large amount of injuries. Meanwhile in the East, authorities have succeeded in containing the situation by employing hired ‘titushky’ thugs to disperse protests through intimidation (Zaporizhia and Dnipropetrovsk oblasts) and preventative measures (harassment of ultras and activists in the Donbas and Kharkiv).

The continued complacency of the inhabitants of these regions showed that they are no longer willing to support the regime, but not prepared to take part in the protests, undoubtedly due to the regime’s threat of force. Attempts to fuel pro-Russian vs “pro-Bandera” regional divide are becoming increasingly widespread.

READ ALSO: Uncompromising: Yanukovych and the opposition

The occupation of oblast administrations, regional councils and other administrative buildings was more symbolic than practical. This is due to the fact that the People’s Councils that were declared as local authorities are unable to ensure effective protection to themselves, let alone enforcement of decisions. The police, prosecutors and courts continue to control the regions are still subject to the president. The tax authorities continue to collect taxes in the regions. Therefore, the fact that oblast councils have taken over the powers of their Oblast State Administrations in a number of provinces in Western Ukraine could easily become a trap. They will be unable to collect the funding to cover local budget expenditures given the current subordination of local tax officials to the central government and the payment of taxes to them, and the government could try to teach the rebels a lesson by freezing budget transfers to them.

The relative passivity of the authorities toward the occupied regions shows an apparent reluctance to disperse its power, but it may also be a calculated tactic: if a “solution” is found in Kyiv, it will be relatively easy for the regime to regain control at the local level. However, the pro-Russian lobby in the government may attempt to exploit the rift between regions. It would be to their advantage to blame the country’s disintegration on “separatists in the western regions”. If a part of Ukraine ends up absorbed into Russian rule, these regions will become electoral ballast and could be split off. 

 

Taken Hostage?

At the time this article was written, 232 MPs (189 from the Part of Regions, 32 Communists, and several unaffiliated) voted in favour of the bill by Yuriy Myroshnichenko, which would only grant amnesty to the protesters in exchange for their evacuation of administrative buildings and roads (including the territory of the Maidan in Kyiv). According to several MPs, this vote was achieved thanks to Yanukovych’s intimidation of junior deputies who had previously shown support for an opposition-sponsored bill that would have granted unconditional amnesty


Related publications:

  • November 21, the 4th anniversary of the Maidan, begins in Kyiv with a prayer for the Heavenly Hundred, the protesters killed at Instytutska Street in February 2014, and the victims of earlier shootings, police violence throughout the revolution
    21 November, Stanislav Kozliuk
  • Ukraine’s Parliament has started to change the electoral system. Will they be able to finish the job and what will change if the reform goes through?
    20 November, Andriy Holub
  • What political ambitions do Yulia Tymoshenko and her party hope to achieve before the 2019 elections?
    20 November, Roman Malko
  • According to recent sociological studies, there have been no significant changes in the mood of Ukrainians over the last three years. The scarcity of demonstrations cannot be attributed to loyalty to the current government, but rather to the fact that the opposition is equally far away from understanding what the citizens need and how these needs can be met
    20 November, Andriy Holub
  • Mostly discussed for its regulation of the language of instruction in schools, the new law offers more overlooked important innovations intended to change the quality and the content of education in Ukraine
    7 November, Hanna Trehub
  • The new law on the reintegration of the occupied parts of the Donbas qualifies them as such and names Russia as the occupier. Yet, it does not launch the process of deoccupation or change the mechanism envisaged in the Minsk Agreement
    20 October, Maksym Vikhrov
Copyright © Ukrainian Week LLC. All rights reserved.
Reprint or other commercial use of the site materials is allowed only with the editorial board permission.
Legal disclaimer Accessibility Privacy policy Terms of use Contact us