Victor Yanukovych is no stranger to negotiations with his opponents. On November 26, 2004, as Prime Minister and a presidential candidate, he proposed group negotiations with his opponent Victor Yushchenko in order to “find a way out of the crisis” as protesters rallied on Kyiv’s Independence Square against the rigged election where he was announced the winner. Yushchenko agreed and the two sides met the following day, a Saturday, at the Hotel “Salute”, where negotiations lasted an hour and a half. The process came to a halt at this stage, with Yanukovych insisting (as he continues to insist) that he was legitimately elected President of Ukraine in November 2004. Thus, he was unwilling to make any substantial concessions to the “insolent usurpers”. Instead, outgoing president Leonid Kuchma opted for a compromise, but only under guarantees from the West.
For over nine years, Presidents Kuchma, Kravchuk, and Yushchenko have played the ignoble role of extras in Yanukovych’s political farce – remember the meaningless “round table of four presidents” in December 2013? Officially, Ukraine’s former presidents met with Yanukovych in order to “avoid violence”; now the whole world can see just how successful their meeting was.
Yanukovych’s appointment of Defense Secretary Andriy Kliuyev as head of the team tasked with negotiating with the opposition on January 20 was a thinly veiled mockery. The opposition has accused Kliuyev of initiating the “cleansing” of the EuroMaidan on November 30.
In this situation, the President’s “offer” of the post of prime minister to opposition leader Arseniy Yatseniuk and that of deputy PM to Vitali Klitschko has several obvious goals. First, such an arrangement would humiliate Klitschko once more and fuel distrust between the three opposition leaders—including Oleh Tyahnybok, who was not offered anything. Second, it would threaten to hold opposition MPs responsible for supporting “extremists”. Third, it would strategically trap the opposition in feigned “negotiations” indefinitely, allowing Yanukovych to keep the upper hand.
The President has not yet shown a willingness to engage in real negotiations. This is evident in the government’s list of proposals. Give Yatseniuk and Klitschko cabinet posts? What about the rest of the government? And how can we know that the President is sincere in his proposals? Sources close to the opposition leaders state that the offers of government posts were not overtly stated, but merely hinted at.
Instead, the President’s latest appointments speak for themselves. Kliuyev, who we’ve already mentioned, was named head of the Presidential Administration, Portnov, his deputy, and loyal MP Volodymyr Makeyenko, head of the Kyiv City Administration. This is a straightforward means of maintaining the President’s power structures.
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During the government’s “negotiations” with the opposition, Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko described his party’s position: all opponents of the regime should “abandon the radicals” and go to “a safer place”. “Those who remain on the Maidan or in occupied buildings will be considered extremist groups”, he added. Note that even Kyiv’s central square is now off-limits for civil protest.
In short, Yanukovych’s position remains quite clear: everyone that opposes him is a criminal, while those on his side are infallible. More precisely, the law does not apply to his side. This is not just about the current murder and kidnapping, but the regime’s previous years that led to the current mass protests. It is clear that the current regime has no intent to “reform”.
The Yanukovych regime has refused to compromise even after the deaths of several protesters, and there is no indication that any number of victims will change this. Nothing is likely to change as long as the heads of government—and their ill-gotten wealth— remain safe.