Under pressure from all sides, and with Moscow signaling that it wants a low-key approach to the rebellion in Kiev, the government in Ukraine has cut a deal to end the standoff in the streets. President Viktor Yanukovich has agreed to early elections in December, and more critically a return to the constitution that was superseded in 2004, which will make the presidency a weaker office. Power would shift to a coalition government, to which all three major parties in Ukraine have agreed.
But will that be enough? CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh wonders whether the Euromaidan protesters will be satisfied with a deal that leaves Yanukovich in power at all:
The Washington Post’s Will Englund thinks it will take guarantees that Yanukovich has been bypassed in order to sell the deal in the streets of Kiev:
The protesters want Yanukovych out of office immediately and have sworn they will not leave the Maidan, the protest epicenter also known as Independence Square, until he leaves the presidency.
Opposition political leaders also would have to be assured that a coalition government — that is, the prime minister and cabinet — would have real authority and not simply be window dressing for Yanukovych.
Yanukovich won’t have much choice in the matter. The parliament, nominally controlled by his party, demanded a withdrawal of police from Independence Square the day after clashes in the streets left dozens dead, some from Berkut snipers captured by videographers. That was followed by the entry of police officers from the western-Ukraine city of Lviv into Independence Square — to side with the protesters:
Just 24 hours earlier, as she had said on Thursday, it was “absolute chaos” in the city’s Independence Square. Clashes between security forces and protesters left dozens of people dead. More than 70 have been killed since violence erupted on Tuesday.
But by midday Friday in Kiev, as Soraya reported on Morning Edition, much of the “debris and chaos had been swept up and swept away.” One dramatic moment: the arrival of police officers from the city of Lviv. They announced they were were to support the protesters, Soraya says.
The scene is “180 degrees different,” Soraya added.
Yanukovich is seeing his political support crumble underneath him. Englund further notes for the Post that a new envoy from Moscow may have made the difference between defiance and deference to popular will:
A key player in the talks could turn out to be Vladimir Lukin, dispatched from Moscow Thursday by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Until now, Russia’s lobbying of Ukraine has been so aggressive that Europeans have characterized it as bullying. But Lukin is a respected low-key figure, and his appointment seemed to signal a change in the Kremlin’s tone.
Putin has tried to bind Ukraine and Yanukovych to Russia with economic ties and stymie closer relations between Kiev and the European Union. But Russian analysts said Thursday that the Ukrainian president has shown he cannot defeat the opposition and that the past two days of street fighting, coupled with defiance throughout western Ukraine, have exposed his weakness. If that thinking now extends to the Kremlin, Putin might try to cut the best deal he can.
Any new government in Ukraine will still have to maintain a working relationship with Moscow. The cultural, political, and economic ties are too strong for a complete break, and no democratic government in Kiev could sustain that kind of rupture for long. Putin may have had his knuckles rapped by Ukrainians in this case, but he can still cut deals — as long as he doesn’t give the appearance of propping up a dictator, especially if that means sending troops and tanks over the border as Putin did in Georgia in 2008. The arrival of Lukin may have included a message that no such help would be forthcoming, and that Yanukovich needed to cut a deal soon.
We’ll see if it holds, but if it does, Ukraine may have made a big step out of the Cold War shadows.
Update: German negotiators say the Euromaidan protesters have agreed to the deal:
BREAKING: German Foreign Ministry: Ukrainian protesters agree to president's proposal on defusing crisis.
— The Associated Press (@AP) February 21, 2014
We’ll see how soon they begin leaving Independence Square, though. They may wait for the coalition government to form and take power first.