“All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed.
No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
Worstward Ho, Samuel Beckett
The allusion to the quotation from Samuel Beckett, a classic Theatre of the Absurd playwright, in the article headline is not accidental. Most Western analysts describe the current situation in Ukraine as “fail” or “epic fail” and thus show much more skepticism and caution about the developments there than politicians in their own countries.
If after twenty-plus years of independence street battles of sticks and stones are the main way to solve political problems, this is a failure. However, the author of this article is not ready to speak of Ukraine as a “failed state.” Firstly, this is not a fact. Secondly, this definition is only an emotional and largely meaningless assessment which does not explain anything for the future.
This article attempts to answer standard questions: Who, how, why and what is next? Many of the answers are not evident and are not even sought, considering the tense situation in Ukraine. In addition, some of the answers are not politically correct, and many Ukrainian politicians and analysts do not dare voice them.
UKRAINE AS IT IS
For the sake of simplicity, let me call the ex-ruling party in Ukraine “the Donetskie” (a common grassroots definition of the Party of Regions). “The Donetskie” has neither positive nor negative connotation, but it better characterizes the power structure of Ukraine.
The rules of the 2012 parliamentary elections (to the Verkhovna Rada) almost automatically guaranteed victory for Yanukovych people because they gave three obvious bonuses to “the Donetskie” and their political allies.
First, they vitiated the traditionally high turnout in Western Ukraine (which is very important in a proportional election system). Second, they nullified the effect of “political” voting in southeast Ukraine. Part of the population in all regions of the southeast (except for Donetsk and Luhansk) traditionally vote against Donetskie candidates for ideological reasons. In the 2010 presidential election, Yulia Tymoshenko gained more than 20 percent of the vote in Odessa and almost 30 percent in Kharkiv. In a mixed system, this effect disappears. In the 2012 elections, the Party of Regions won in all constituencies in the Kharkiv Region. Third, in Central Ukraine and some areas of Western Ukraine in situations where there are two main candidates – a “moderate candidate with (administrative) resource” (that is, supported by the former authorities), and a candidate from a national bloc – the electoral situation turns upside down. The former opposition immediately loses its big edge in votes which it would have under the proportional system. For example, a voter in the Volyn Region, Western Ukraine will never vote for “Donetskie” candidates but will willingly vote for deideologized candidates from his own area and for candidates other than national-democrats (nationalists). Hence the victories of “the Donetskie” in four of the five Volyn constituencies. In any other country, including Eastern Europe, this would be impossible; in Ukraine this is routine. Over the last ten years (since the single-member voting system was abolished), the situation has not changed much, which means this is not a coincidence or happenstance.
The former authorities understood well all these three peculiarities when they changed rules for local elections in 2010. Opposition parties understood them too but somehow voted for the new rules, although they failed to give a distinct explanation for their decision. The changes in the electoral system have made a victory by the opposition so unlikely that no one discussed such an option seriously before the 2012 elections. Everyone knew the winner in advance, although the combined rating of the United Opposition (Fatherland and Freedom) and UDAR significantly exceeded the combined figures for the Party of Regions and Communists. In other words, by allowing changes in the election rules the opposition denied itself a victory. This is another incomprehensible Ukrainian paradox.
Therefore it was not at all accidental that the news that broke on the evening of January 29 that President Victor Yanukovych was going to dissolve the Verkhovna Rada sent the opposition parties in the parliament into a stupor. They reacted by arguing that a dissolution of the parliament was “unconstitutional,” even though they had demanded early elections throughout the previous two months of public protests in Kyiv. Under the current voting rules, the former opposition can win parliamentary elections in only two cases: either Yanukovych is removed from power, or the system begins to fall to pieces and the authorities lose control over the situation in the country. On January 29, this scenario was not at all evident, while the opposition did not need just early parliamentary elections, even despite the low popularity ratings of the president and the Party of Regions.
Meanwhile, there was a wake-up call for the former authorities in the 2010 local elections, and the call was loud and clear. The victories in Kharkiv, Luhansk and Odessa, won only due to the administrative resource and efforts by territorial election commissions, and the crushing defeat in Zaporizhia were signs that even loyal voters in loyal regions got tired.
Few people remember it now but the civil conflict began in Ukraine right after the 2010 local elections. On November 18, 2010, the Verkhovna Rada adopted a new Tax Code (Tihipko-Azarov), and a few days later, on November 22, mass protests began, dubbed “Tax Maidan.” Just as today, protesters chanted familiar slogans: “The Azarov Government Must Resign!” and “Early Elections to the Verkhovna Rada!” Just as today, protesters tried to block the buildings of the presidential administration and the Cabinet. In 2010, the authorities, above all Yanukovych, reached agreement with the protesters – by making “interesting proposals” to some of them or retreating on some issues. As a result, the Tax Maidan divided, suspended the protests and actually ceased to exist.
Some basic things, which became clear already then, played a role later on. Election results do not matter to opponents of “the Donetskie.” They are ready to actively protest and fight in any case. Everything depends on the virtual (rather than actual) number of the discontented – and on the presence of wild activists. It was not accidental that the Tax Maidan became a launch pad for the leader of the Spilna Sprava (Common Cause) opposition group, Olexandr Danylyuk. Radicals saved their strength for new battles against the “criminal authorities.” They saw no other option. The more active part of society, online social networking services and the blogosphere were definitely against the authorities, without even trying to delve into the core of the matter – just because they “don’t like” them.
The above suggests that the actual balance of political forces in Ukraine differs greatly from the nominal one, and that the virtual component of politics can well compete with the real one. In other words, the political forces active in Ukraine today include both formal and informal political groups, and the latter are strong and stable enough to exert serious pressure on the ruling regime – irrespective of their real popularity ratings and votes they win in elections.
CHARACTERS: THE DONETSK AND KYIV POLITICAL GROUPS
“The Donetskie” is a stable and internally consistent association of groups of Donetsk and Luhansk (as junior partners) origin. The main Donetskie figures are well known. Ex-prime minister Mykola Azarov, ex-parliament speaker Volodymyr Rybak and others have small groups of their own, too. Politically, this community was formed after the 1994 elections to parliament. First, there were two groups in the Verkhovna Rada – the Inter-Regional Deputy Group and the Party of Regional Revival of Ukraine. Later they merged and formed the Party of Regions. Over the 20 years of its existence, the Donetsk political project has not seen a single public scandal or internal feud. There were not serious divisions even after the third round of voting in 2004 when Victor Yushchenko became president. Even now those that are leaving include largely sympathizers from western and central regions.
Siding with the Donetsk group is a large part of the Dnipro group, especially since father and son Alexander and Yuri Vilkul (deputy prime minister in the Azarov government and mayor of Kryvyi Rih) became actual leaders of the Party of Regions in the Dnipropetrovsk Region. The same applies, although to a lesser extent, to the Kharkiv and Crimean groups. These have internal opposition, which constantly gives rise to problems. Members of the Odessa political group and those of other Black Sea areas were part of the Regions team for two reasons. The first one is the inertia of voters who are accustomed to the Party of Regions and its leadership. Secondly, the new authorities arouse even less sympathy. In fact, the Party of Regions could lose everything in a free and open vote. The dubious victories in Mykolaiv and Kherson and the mayorship of Eduard Hurvits in Odessa are patent proof of that.
The former opposition and new authorities comprise three major segments: the Kyiv group, the Galician (Western Ukrainian) group, and national-democrats (and/or nationalists). Names may vary; brands have no practical significance at all.
The Kyiv political group (or “the Kyivskie”) is the biggest mystery. Its political positioning has become increasingly intricate over time, and the situation in the city, which has had no mayor for nearly four years, has long come out of control. In Soviet times, Kyiv viewed itself as a real big capital, but after Ukraine became independent, it became clear that Kyiv’s influence is limited even in Ukraine. This became evident already in parliamentary elections of 1994, in which only four deputies were elected to the Verkhovna Rada from Kyiv. No wonder, the parliament totally ignored the interests of the capital.
It was then that the troubles with mayorship began. Then-president Leonid Kuchma actually removed from power Leonid Kosakivskyi, elected mayor in 1994. For the next few years, Kyiv had no mayor but only the head of the city state administration (as is the case now). At the same time, national-democrats, who had been in constant conflict with Kosakivskyi, did not support and even opposed ??early elections to the Kyiv City Council.
Later, the situation somewhat changed. The introduction of a proportional election system markedly increased the number of Kyivers in the Rada. They represented two political parties headquartered in the capital: Reforms and Order, and Forward Ukraine. Both parties were largely targeted at Kyiv voters. Olexandr Omelchenko became a full-fledged mayor of Kyiv and formed a political party of his own, Unity. None of Kyiv political projects had much success but each played a role in the political self-organization of Kyivers.
The more active part of the Kyiv electorate consolidated during the first wave of protests, dubbed “Ukraine without Kuchma.” It became obvious then what the Kyiv group wanted. It wanted power but power that would be different from that in the country, which was embodied by the rising Donetsk group. Indeed, there were few members of the Kyiv elite at the top, and their number kept decreasing. Kyiv had nothing to oppose to Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk and massively joined the opposition.
The five years of Victor Yushchenko’s presidency did not change the situation, rather to the contrary. An “alternative party” was formed in Kyiv, which united the passive part of the population. The active part calls it “Chernovetskyi Grannies” (after Leonid Chernovetskyi, mayor in 2006-2012), although they are neither “grannies” nor in any way linked to Chernovetskyi. Each of the large electoral groups in Kyiv is a complex, multi-layered construct requiring special description. Now one can only draw preliminary conclusions about links between the city and the protest community.
The Kyiv group is a league of its own – they are not nationalists, not even “national democrats,” and not Galicians. But they have no other allies in struggling against the Donetsk group (with its exaggerated Soviet-like ideology and practices). As a result, anything goes – from simple Banderovite rhetoric (“Bandera will come and put everything in order!” is an official slogan of the Right Sector opposition group) to football fans, and from radical nationalists to street fighters. Off the record, they will tell you straight that “no one likes the Right Sector’s actions here, but how else can “the Donetskie” be removed?” There is no other way because “there is no agreeing with them.”
This very dangerous conglomerate did not appear out of nowhere. Ukraine and its capital have been in ideological vacuum throughout the 23 years of independence. Everyone is confused or, rather, no one has ever known what the doctrines of the main political forces in Ukraine are. Hence the exaggerated and absolutely empty patriotism – “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to Heroes!” Hence the remarkable phrase “I know how to build an independent Ukraine,” which I heard from a dozen people in all Ukrainian regions. And, as a result, we see National Democracy (repeatedly sliding into pure nationalism) as the only more or less mature ideology. Right-wing national democrats, left-wing national democrats, national populists and others – this cocktail cannot but hit hard now and then; at least, because the presence of these people in power is everyone’s headache (suffice it to recall the leader of the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, Oleksiy Ivchenko, heading Naftogaz). By the way, the gas contracts signed by Yulia Tymoshenko were largely a result of Ivchenko’s presence in Naftogaz. The situation reached such an impasse that required at least some normalization.
Both Galicians and nationalists view national democrats exclusively in two capacities:
- as an official brand which alone can bring the entire segment to power. These are people who can be presented to the West as “decent” ones. Even Oleh Tyahnybok has image problems (ten years ago he was expelled from the Our Ukraine parliamentary faction for extremism and anti-Semitism), let alone the Right Sector and other still-political or already militant groups;
- as forced companions. Neither the “Galician hromada” nor “neo-Banderovites” conceal that friendship with national democrats can be only temporary. People from the Right Sector say straight that a mechanical change of power in favor of the opposition will not be enough and that they see the meaning of their actions in a “national revolution.”
This approach has one very important consequence. As is easily seen, since Vyacheslav Chornovil’s death in 1999 all national democratic projects in Ukraine have been short-lived: first, Victor Yushchenko and the Our Ukraine bloc, now almost forgotten; then Yulia Tymoshenko and her bloc. She was followed by the United Opposition in the person of Arseniy Yatsenyuk who headed Fatherland. Today Yatsenyuk has an even lower rating than Petro Poroshenko. There is a simple and obvious reason for that. The electorate of national democrats are not at all supporters of democracy. Most of them are die-hard nationalists who vote “rightly” for “partners” who have a chance to come to power. Then it turns out that national democrats are not “real” ones and that “more real” – and less compromised – ones are replacing them. And so on in circles.
One can hear the opinion that radical nationalists have appeared in Kyiv and the rest of Ukraine and have become a real political factor only now – as a “combat unit,” of course, but now many things in Ukraine happen for the first time. Even though there had been many Maidan-like protests, “Ukraine Without Kuchma” and other actions before, there had been no real street fighting in the country. There is no doubt that this role is assigned to radicals. But as regards political projects, radicals have long been present in Ukraine. In the parliamentary elections of 1994 and 1998 they won in many single-member constituencies – in the west of Ukraine and even in Kyiv. Then came the “Kuchma freeze” and the “Yushchenko” project, and radicals moved into the background for some time. In fact, things just go in circles. Radical elements understand that they have no chance to come to power and therefore support the “moderate,” and so on and so forth.
After Yanukovych came to power, “the Donetskie” made every effort to get rid of all “allied” political projects. For example, Leonid Chernovetskyi brought many young and absolutely new people to politics. Over time, this team could evolve into something functional. But it turned out that this was absolutely unnecessary and even dangerous for his rivals. The position of national democrats and nationalists is understandable (“Chernovetskyi is the devil incarnate”), but “the Donetskie” also saw only an unwanted rival in him. Chernovetskyi is gone, along with the idea of new politics – not for good, of course, but here and now. In order to understand that this team had a potential, suffice it to look at the 2012 election results in Kyiv in single-member constituencies. All members of the Chernovetskyi team showed very good results (although none won), even though they did not have administrative resources, nor even access to electronic media. They had nothing except for non-negative memory.
“The Donetskie” removed Chernovetskyi on purpose. Simultaneously, all “allied” projects were disbanded – Serhiy Tihipko’s Strong Ukraine, and the Republican Party of Yuriy Boyko and Kostyantyn Hryshchenko. (The People’s Party of Volodymyr Lytvyn retained a small and very formal element of independence.) Social-Democrats can well be forgotten. “The Donetskie” wanted to rule alone. They had it their way but this did not bring them political dividends: at first, the Tax Maidan, then the unpleasant and tough elections to the parliament, plus constant popularity rating problems. “The Kyivskie” and its allies grew more and more hatred towards the ruling regime. This hatred was already in the air. Rephrasing the well-known “Chekhov’s gun” metaphor, guns hang for so long that shots were only a matter of time.
PROTEST OR RESISTANCE?
Throughout the ten years that have passed since the successful Maidan-2004, a large part of the Ukrainian expert and political communities felt pity that no new Maidan was taking place. At the same time, many of them did not understand when I asked them why they needed it.
Emotional statements that “a new nation is being born on Maidan” have turned into a vapid cliché. No one knows why Ukraine should need “Maidans,” which only produce problems and absolutely no achievements, except for the “baptism by fire” of right-wing radicals and the satisfied pride of a small group of intellectuals. From a practical point of view, the Maidan is more than harmful. I do not even mean what the center of a European capital has been turned into. It is not difficult to remove garbage from the streets. I mean things that are much more important.
First of all, I mean relations in society. When a large (and very active) part of it considers it possible to use force to bring about a power change, it thereby locks itself into a dark closet. As the events of 18-22 February have shown, the end of the confrontation turned out even more tragic than it might have been expected.
In Eastern Europe, various things have happened over the last 20 years. Acts of civil protest and even disobedience took place everywhere, but nowhere, except for Bulgaria recently, did things end up as they are now in Ukraine. The experience of former socialist countries suggests that a situation like that in Ukraine is extremely dangerous for the whole of society and, oddly enough, for the former opposition in the first place. It is very difficult to close Pandora’s Box, and politicians should remember it all the time. The use of radical methods to solve current political problems destroys statehood. In Bulgaria, this became especially clear, and a negative result was not slow to arrive. The authorities there are demoralized; the opposition is marginalized and is already unable to give up banal invectives. The times when Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was prime minister (2001-2005) evoke nostalgia, although it was only recently, and Bulgaria (unlike Ukraine) has been an EU member for seven years.
Yatsenyuk’s speech at an annual Munich Security Conference on 1 February was very symptomatic in this respect. His very long speech contained nothing addressed to the citizens of Ukraine. Yatsenyuk proposed a plan which the West, acting as an intermediary, should impose on the then Ukrainian authorities. Also, the West should give Ukraine a lot of money, which it had denied to Yanukovych.
What happened in Kyiv and some regional centers was not a protest. There were elements of protest in the actions of citizens, but not in the actions of politicians. It was not even planned. Actions of protest are a very different kind of civic activity, which is radically different from what happened in Ukraine.
Firstly, civil protests cannot escalate into resistance to police and attempts (partly simulated) to overthrow the regime by force. Mass pogroms are an immediate political and fast legal death for any European political or social force. In all countries where there are clashes with police, politicians immediately dissociate themselves from it. This is the case in France, Spain, and even Greece where the opposition is led by radical communists. These are the rules of the game in democratic countries where there are taboos. The opposition in Ukraine was guided by other rules, by which anything goes. And it got away with it.
Secondly, at the height of the clashes with police, the opposition behaved in a mysterious and contradictory way: it declared radicals’ attempts to storm government offices a provocation; it itself occupied government offices, including in the regions; it did not allow the authorities to restore order and remove “provocateurs” from the streets; it said that it did not control “radicals”; it held talks with the authorities on radicals’ behalf and, at the same time, it opposed to radicals’ participation in the negotiations.
It was like a detective story, Soviet-style, where the finale is known from the beginning. What happened was not actions of protest, but planned resistance intended to impress other countries and cause their reaction. The president of Lithuania condemned the Ukrainian authorities and accused them of the willful killing of a peaceful demonstrator half an hour after the first report of the death. Neither the victim’s name, nor the reason for killing was known, but the declaration was already ready.
The authorities were never afraid of the Euromaidan, although it was not peaceful. They saw no threat to themselves in it. One can only guess whether or not the police actions and the dispersal of the protesters on the night of 30 November were accidental, and what would have happened if some hotheads had not decided to install the Christmas tree on the square. But most likely, it was only a matter of time. Few people took notice of it then (and now everyone has forgotten about that), but the authorities knew already in the morning of 30 November what would happen in the afternoon. It was clear that a “formidable radical force” would appear on the stage, and that the situation would change dramatically.
The authorities found themselves in a difficult dilemma. A use of force would send the situation out of control, and Kyiv would have to use violence for a long period of time. The renunciation of force brought about a stalemate when everyone found oneself locked in a dark closet. There were no moves available, so it remained only to invite those who opened doors and possibilities (see Yatsenyuk’s speech in Munich).
In fact, radicals came only when they were guaranteed protection, as they had no chance in an open clash with police. Dmitro Korchinskiy and Oleksandr Danylyuk, whom the opposition did not need, were easily surrendered, and the “peaceful protesters” did not even notice it. The Right Sector was not surrendered; it was used exclusively as a battering ram. Yatsenyuk, Vitali Klitschko and their Western partners understand that if the negotiations had been conducted by Euromaidan Commandant Andriy Parubiy and Tryzub leader Dmitro Yarosh, the opposition would have lost a large part of its legitimacy in the eyes of the Western community, which was highly undesirable. After all, the entire plan is based on the Western man-in-the-street’s view that “Ukraine is struggling for democracy and for Europe.”
It all worked as a scarecrow. When radicals were attacked, Yanukovych was accused of atrocities against peaceful protesters. When the situation stabilized, the opposition said that it “did not control the radicals” and that among them “there were many provocateurs sent by the authorities.” Meanwhile, the latter were stupidly losing time and inevitably approaching a terrible end.
IN A GEOPOLITICAL TRAP – BETWEEN RUSSIA AND EUROPE
Europe and the West were not very fond of the former Ukrainian authorities. They suspected Kyiv of propensity for a too close friendship with Moscow. The present position of the West towards “the Donetskie” and their partners was formed in the times of the “multi-vector policy” of Leonid Kuchma. Put in very simple terms, Europe believed that Yanukovych & Co impeded Ukraine’s European integration and thereby created conditions for Russia’s geopolitical strengthening.
It is very indicative that, while the EU association negotiations were underway, Europe forgot about all its claims (except for Tymoshenko). After the sharp turn in developments, it recalled the claims (and forgot about Tymoshenko). It should be added that the Tymoshenko issue was raised not by EU officials but personally by Alexander Kwasniewski and, almost certainly, for his own purposes. Kwasniewski, who showed himself as an effective negotiator on Ukraine in 2004, decided to play the same card to return to politics when the chance arose. According to many EU officials, Kwasniewski ad libbed and hindered the process. For various reasons, it was impossible to stop him, but after the failure the ex-president receded into the background. Perhaps, he thought there was nothing interesting left for him to do there. This example illustrates well how Europe views Ukraine – solely as an object.
According to the collective opinion of the collective West, Yanukovych needed to go. The question was how. The best option would be voluntarily and quickly. But Yanukovych had already gone from power twice and did not want to do that again. He needed to be “helped” to make the right (and only right) decision. The “Yatsenyuk plan” made public in Munich spoke volumes, because it was not Yatsenyuk’s plan but an EU plan – a plan for mediation and settlement between the authorities and the opposition. This was a plan that the Ukrainian actors themselves did not have. For some time, Yanukovych stood firm and did not agree to intermediaries, but this did not last long. He got tired, panicked and began to act spontaneously, after which the situation quickly and easily ended in a collapse of the ruling regime.
Prominent German (or German-Russian) political analyst Alexander Rahr explained the situation in very plain words in an interview to the Inpress.ua news and analytical portal in late January. The interview is so significant that it might be quoted almost in full, but let me cite just a few sentences: “I think the most important thing for the West now would be Ukraine not becoming part of Russia. There is still a political confrontation between Russia and Europe, or between Russia and the West. […] Without Ukraine, there will be no Russian Union. Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus alone are unable to build a Russian Union. They need Ukraine as a powerful factor for this union.” One serious European analyst has told me: “Russia says that 2013 was a year of unprecedented successes of the Russian foreign policy. We cannot afford to allow this to continue at our expense.” No further comments are really needed.
At the same time, it would be wrong to assume that the “collective West” can only be tough. Obviously, in the EU there are supporters of consultations and even negotiations with Russia over Ukraine’s future. European politicians (among them new German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier) understand that it is too dangerous to rock the boat. Yet the guilty verdict against the former Ukrainian authorities has not been rescinded, and Russia failed to promptly provide disproof of this policy.
Many of the analysts who worked with Yanukovych believed that conflicts with the West should be avoided and that Russia should be kept at arm’s length, at least in order to maintain the status quo. In this situation, the best (or even the only) way out was to wait, to establish contact with radicals and explain to them that the opposition would cheat and betray them. All they needed from radicals and their supposed masters was a year of peace. As for the opposition, they would somehow sort it out with it.
In my opinion, this approach was wrong from the beginning, both for the authorities and for Ukraine. The only real way for the former authorities to survive and maintain hope for the future was to initiate and carry out the required reforms (at least, partially). To put it briefly, “the Donetskie” were to build a different Ukraine by the time they leave power, but failed.
A HORRIBLE END AND NO END TO HORRORS
Despite the seeming mystique of the “semifinal stage of the Ukrainian revolution,” which took place from 18-22 February, there were no mysteries in it. The main problem for Yanukovych was his inability and unwillingness to make a choice, to make the right decision at the right moment. Everything else developed in a standard way, although with some Ukrainian peculiarities.
Back on 17 February, things seemed to be fine for Yanukovych and his team. The truce was in effect, the opposition was leaving administrative buildings it had seized before, and the authorities rejoiced at the peace and quiet – not even realizing that there could be neither peace nor quiet. Of course, there were those who warned Yanukovych, but they were in the minority then and later.
The assault attempted by radicals on 18 February came as a surprise to the authorities, who were not prepared for it. They had to urgently send units of the Berkut special force from Bankovska Street to the Verkhovna Rada building. The move exposed the rear of police units. It was later that the opposition began to speak of “provocations.” At that very moment, it was in euphoria and discussed the possibility of storming the building of the presidential administration, no longer guarded by Berkut.
I am far from thinking that the “treacherous” opposition organized the assault of 18 February. No, it did not. But it knew perfectly well about everything and did not try to stop the attackers. If radicals had seized the Verkhovna Rada building, the opposition would have declared victory. If not, then it would have said, as usual: “It was not us, it was a provocation, the bloody regime, stop the killer of innocent people.”
It is also clear why the militants hurried to storm the building. There were two reasons for that. Firstly, they had realized already after the truce agreement was signed that the opposition was ready to betray them, and this required an adequate response. Secondly, the militants and their bosses were losing strength. Actually, it was the last storm, and it became obvious within a few hours.
After the seizure of the Party of Regions headquarters in Lypska Street and the killing of an innocent employee (the opposition chose not to mention this), siloviki recaptured the initiative, and Yanukovych was already unable to stop them. If he had ordered them not to act, that would have caused a very negative response from all state power agencies.
The militants’ resistance was weak, and police established control over the entire center of Kyiv within hours and approached the Maidan. It denied the population and transport access to the center, and it only remained to “clear” the square, but this required a go-ahead from Yanukovych.
Two things should be mentioned here. First, police did not use firearms in the operation. People accusing the authorities of excessive use of force must take this into account. There was no need for police to shoot. The operation was carried out quickly and efficiently. Secondly, neither the AutoMaidan (a drivers’ movement within the Euromaidan), nor other “combat units” of protesters could prevent police from blocking entrance to the city and approaches to the center. Meanwhile, all analysts agree that police forces were not strong, which means that the Maidan was even weaker.
Everyone with whom I exchanged views on Tuesday night was sure that the Maidan would be “cleared.” Everyone except me. For some reason I thought of personal qualities of Yanukovych, and I had doubts. After a sleepless night, “the mountain brought forth another mouse.” Yanukovych did not even tape a video address, which had been announced the night before. At 6 am, there appeared an “address” on a website saying about the need for a “peaceful settlement.” It said that unnamed people had tried to persuade the president to use force but that force would not be used. “Hawks” again found themselves in the minority; “doves” wrote a profoundly meaningless text; and the opposition troika could not believe their luck after the troubled night.
It was very difficult to understand the logic of Yanukovych at a moment like this. I think the logic of his actions (or rather its absence) at critical moments is the main mystery of what happened. One can only speculate about this. Yanukovych did not like using force. He always seemed to believe that there was still a chance for a peaceful outcome, and in such moments he was obviously inadequate. In addition, he somehow believed that his power (as a legitimate president) was unshakable and that even the opposition did not seek to encroach on it – at the most, it wanted early elections. All this did not scare Yanukovych. He was ready to make some concessions and could not understand why it was not enough to finally stabilize the situation. On the night from Tuesday to Wednesday, “doves” convinced him that now he was the master of the situation, that the opposition would surely agree to hold negotiations, and that he would be able to conduct the negotiations from the position of strength. After all, the Maidan was surrounded, and, therefore, the opposition should be more compliant. Why mop up the square then?
It would have been funny if it had not been the truth. Neither the “doves” nor Yanukovych himself bothered to think of all possible implications of such an approach. They did not think that they were letting siloviki down, who had for almost three months ensured their political survival. They did not think that they were demoralizing their supporters, who did not know what to do now. They were trying to solve their problems the way they had used to throughout the four years of their stay in power.
After the senseless standoff on Wednesday, all became clear. Police forces found themselves in a trap. They received no order to advance, or to retreat. Now, looking at those events from an operational point of view, it does not really matter who those snipers were that shot alternately in both directions, but they timed it right. The crowd, maddened by the shots, stormed Berkut forces. Somehow, the crowd happened to have firearms. Berkut forces were caught between two fires. Police had to shoot to withdraw some of the allied forces from the battlefield. A drama turned into a tragedy with a horrible ending.
The regime began to collapse instantly. Already on Thursday, there began a mass exodus from the Party of Regions, accompanied by a wave of resignations. The situation went out of control within hours. Yanukovych lost everything in no time. He had to agree to negotiations with the opposition through Western mediation. The parties agreed on a neutral and mutually acceptable text, but the situation developed faster. Yanukovych understood that he had lost everything.
He felt that he was highly vulnerable in Kyiv and fled to Kharkiv, where he hoped to meet popular support. But he found no support there, which probably had never existed. Realizing this, he fled and fled. There were no mysteries, only miscalculations and inability to make decisions.
Unfortunately, a horrible ending has taken place. Hopefully, it will not be followed by horrors without end.
The opposition did not expect to win power so fast and was not ready for it, so now it has a mixture of euphoria and confusion. It wants so much, and so much is just one step away. Yet, it can afford so little!
The very first moves by the new authorities evoked serious fears. There is an impression that the only thing they can do is ask money from the West, fight separatism and ban languages spoken by ethnic minorities. I have never before seen four countries (Russia, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria) simultaneously complain to the Council of Europe. They complained about the repeal of the law on regional languages – an amazingly hasty and unjustified decision based on pure ethnic nationalism, on the wish to separate clean and unclean, right and wrong – contrary to statements that “Ukraine should be united.”
Unfortunately, this was not the most serious mistake. Actually in every decision of the authorities (I will not analyze here the removal of Yanukovych, contrary to the previously signed agreement), they go beyond the frameworks of the reinstated Constitution of 2004. It seems the new authorities simply do not realize that politics has rules and not only “revolutionary expediency.”
While taking “pleasant” decisions, the new authorities did not even notice that they had passed the point of no return. Back on Sunday, 23 February, the situation seemed to be under control, and the enemy seemed to be demoralized. On Tuesday, there appeared signs of anxiety, and from Wednesday on, developments began to snowball. Most likely, it was the repeal of the law on languages that became a point of no return for the south and east of Ukraine.
The majority of people in those regions realized that there was nothing more to wait for, and began to work for their self-determination. Naturally, Crimea was the first.
MORE THAN CRIMEA – AND STILL WORSE
Crimean political analyst Olga Dukhnich, who comes from Western Ukraine, in an interview to Lviv’s Zaxid.net admitted that Ukraine “has lost Crimea in the political sense and not today. Unfortunately, over the last 20 years Ukraine has failed to build a constructive dialogue with Crimea. It viewed Crimea as a sort of backyard where there could not be any important affairs.”
The appeasement of the Crimean autonomous republic in 1995-1996 rested on Russia’s actual non-resistance. Russia agreed that Crimea was part of Ukraine and that its autonomy was curtailed. At the same time, Ukraine guaranteed a “special language regime” for Crimea and the preservation of its autonomy de jure. Even in the times of Victor Yushchenko Crimea’s status quo was not threatened. Now things looked different: nationalists who came to power in Kyiv, the repeal of the law on languages, and, most importantly, the uncertain legitimacy of the central government.
Kyiv never paid much attention to the political situation in the south and east of Ukraine. It was believed that people in those regions were passive, were not interested in politics, and were accustomed to being economic donors of Western Ukraine (even during the presidency of Yanukovych). This time the point of no return was passed. Further events unfolded without much effort, as a ball rolling down a hill.
Now the West, above all the United States, is voicing numerous complaints against Russia’s actions in Crimea. At the same time, it does not realize that without Russia’s participation the situation will grow increasingly worse. Things will come out of control, triggering long internal conflicts, which can be extremely dangerous in today’s Europe. Russia must ensure peace and calm in Crimea. No one else can do this.
The meaning of these complaints is very difficult to understand. There is no escalation of violence in Crimea. Before the referendum Russia was not influencing the political situation in Crimea in any way. Russia had never said that Crimea should become part of Russia. Ultimately, it is for Crimeans to decide. But Kyiv is not ready for cooperation or dialogue, and this is the central issue.
If the U.S. Department of State has doubts whether there is a threat to Crimea from Kyiv, it can look at official documents adopted by the new government recently in response to decisions by the Crimean parliament. Prosecutor General Oleh Mahnitskyi (Freedom party) has said: “There have been no abuses of rights of a particular group of citizens in the country, therefore separatist actions do not have any real grounds.” Justice Minister Pavlo Petrenko (a protégé of Yatsenyuk; both were born and grew up in Chernivtsi): “The decisions to hold a referendum on the status of Crimea and to dismiss the Crimean government were made in a seized parliament building, and the results of the votes were totally rigged. The referendum decision was made despite the fact that Article 137 of the Ukrainian Constitution does not provide for any local referendums on Crimea’s independent status.” The position of the new Ukrainian authorities is clear – no negotiations, “backyard.”
Let me now add two remarks to illustrate the Ukrainian and European approaches. Vitali Klitschko about federalization: “Any talk of federalization is a provocation. And we must do everything to prevent such ‘ideas’ from materializing. A federalization of Ukraine is a path to its destruction. And those who advocate this path are people working against Ukraine. They cannot be called Ukrainians.”
Klitschko’s idea is clear: Ukraine does not fight for democracy (let alone liberalization) at the level of laws. Power means much more than reforms and the country’s development – the 23 years of independence have proved that. Governing the country alone and appointing heads of regional administrations is much nicer and more comfortable than understanding that “federalization” is nothing more than a term, that Scotland and Catalonia want to hold referendums on independence, although the UK and Spain are not federal states. It is not at all necessary to call it federalization and adopt regional constitutions. Ordinary statutes and elements of economic decentralization would be enough. What Klitschko says means “democracy for a poor European province.”
And now democracy for Europe. The newly appointed prime minister of Italy, Matteo Renzi, during his visits to Bolzano and Trentino in South Tyrol on 27 February, 2014, met with activists of the autonomist parties SVP and PATT (many people in Italy believe that these are not autonomist but separatist parties). He told them that the special autonomy of Trentino-Alto Adige is a model of effective governance and an example of how a politician can get closer to people. He described the autonomists as a “valuable and reliable ally interested in addressing real problems in the area and willing to use all their energy to solve them.” If we are to look for differences between these two approaches, we will see that they are entirely different. If, after the election of Serhiy Aksyonov as prime-minister of Crimea, Kyiv had immediately expressed its readiness to cooperate with the new Crimean government and to discuss any issues with it, the situation might have developed differently.
However, given the present circumstances, Crimea and Russia had no choice. The creation of Self-Defense Forces of Crimea and the participation of Russian military (but not Russian troops) in it was inevitable. Any provocation can trigger a bloody conflict, in which Kyiv is least interested. In other areas of the south and the east, the situation was still calm. People were waiting for a new government and hoped for understanding.
However, there was not a single representative of the south or the east in the new government. That was the final signal for all those who still believed that it was possible to agree with the new government. For them to change their mind requires the formation of public opinion in southern and eastern Ukraine, strong enough for Kyiv to hear.
What has been happening in the south-eastern regions since Saturday, 1 March, has been called “counter-Maidan.” Within a few days, the political situation in Ukraine has changed dramatically. Regional activists have taken over the initiative. Meanwhile, they themselves do not even know their real capabilities, the level of support they enjoy and their final demands. Power in Ukraine is so much delegitimized that it now really belongs to the people, without whom it would be very difficult and almost impossible to make any binding decisions.
And one more example. As a goodwill gesture, well-known oligarchs, Ihor Kolomoyskyi and Serhiy Taruta, have become governors in the Dnipropetrovsk and Donetsk regions, respectively. Taruta has always gravitated towards national democrats, so there was very little chance that Donetsk would accept him. Kolomoyskyi has always been “between” and he has some chance for “calm” in his native Dnipropetrovsk region. But the main thing here is not the chances of the oligarchs but the approach itself. For three months, the Maidan fervently fought for the “liberation of the country from the domination of oligarchs.” Now they are appointed governors in an effort to make the two largest regions in Ukraine into a sort of “protected oligarchic territory.” Meanwhile, at a meeting with the newly appointed governor of the Ivano-Frankivsk Region, Andriy Trotsenko, the leader of the local Right Sector organization, Vasil Abramiv, said sternly: “We need action, not words. For example, a bank account must be opened, into which oligarchs should transfer the money they have stolen. And let them do it voluntarily, or we will come after them.”
In other words, the new authorities will have two kinds of social and economic policies. One for “the advanced west of Ukraine” where “oligarchs will serve the people” under the Right Sector’s control. The other will be for “the lame east” where everything will be the opposite. As a matter of fact, the coming of oligarchs into politics is not welcome in any (even remotely democratic) country, especially when they are appointed (rather than elected) to posts having to do with the distribution of funds. There is a name for it – a conflict of interest.
Naturally, fussy and senseless moves by the authorities cause rejection. Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv, Odessa – the developments there are the worst scenario that could be imagined, both by Kyiv and Moscow. First of all because it requires an immediate and unmistakable response in order to prevent the situation from becoming irreparable, including for the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
All this is really very dangerous. In any case, Ukraine will have to go through very hard and painful social and economic decisions. Going through such tests for a disunited and almost ungovernable country is a political suicide. In addition, differences between recent allies will not be long in coming. As a result of “intricate intrigues,” Klitschko has been left without posts and without influence on decision-making. Suffice it to look at the National Security and Defense Council’s meeting attended by Yulia Tymoshenko – in an unknown capacity and with unknown powers. However, it was her who determined the content of the discussion and who proposed the final draft of the decision.
The new authorities have very little time left. A decision on negotiations with the south and the east must be made immediately. At present, negotiations cannot be binding and cannot produce any immediate solution. For now, this can only be negotiations about negotiations. But if they are started immediately, then maybe it will not be too late.