Video: Ukraine signs pact to reform gov’t, Russia snubs ceremony; Update: Vote to free Tymoshenko?
posted at 12:41 pm on February 21, 2014 by Ed Morrissey
The question will be whether the Euromaidan protesters will accept it … and whether Vladimir Putin will tolerate it. This ABC News report suggests both questions are hanging over Ukraine:
It remains to be seen whether the pact will defuse violence in the capital of Kiev where protesters have battled security forces, leaving about 100 people dead. One of their main demands was Yanukovich’s resignation. The terms of the deal, as reported by a Ukrainian newspaper, were quickly and loudly rejected by the masses occupying Kiev’s Independence Square. A radical wing of the opposition, the Right Sector, which sparked Thursday’s violence by attacking police, said they did not trust Yanukovich and planned to continue the fight until the government steps down, according to Interfax.
The deal, as announced on Yanukovich’s website, would “initiate” early elections, return to the 2004 version of Ukraine’s constitution, and form a government of “national trust.” The announcement did not say when elections would be, but sources told Ukrainska Pravda newspaper the deal would revert to the 2004 constitution within 48 hours, form a coalition government within 10 days, and hold elections in December, just a couple months before they were originally scheduled. Interfax reports that under the agreement, some of Yanukovich’s authority would be curbed and the current interior minister and prosecutor general would not be allowed to take part in a new government.
What was the Russian reaction? Er …
The arrangement appears to have been a disappointment for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has backed Yanukovich and opposed Ukraine’s embrace of Europe. The Kremlin’s appointed mediator, Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin, reportedly planned to return to Moscow. According to Russia’s Interfax news agency, Lukin declined to sign on to a peace deal.
The Euromaidan protesters aren’t happy with the deal, either. The chant of “No deal!” went up from Independence Square even as the Ukrainian parliament voted to reinstate the 2004 constitution that limits President Viktor Yanukovich’s powers, a constitution which Yanukovich superseded with a 2010 replacement making the presidency the center of Ukrainian power. Failing Yanukovich’s immediate ouster, Euromaidan protesters want him prosecuted:
The chant of “death to the criminal” — a reference to two later-pardoned convictions for petty crime Yanukovych received in the Soviet era — rose over Kiev’s iconic Independence Square overnight Thursday.
“I think that Yanukovych must leave now, and never come back,” said a middle-aged protester named Lyudmila.
“We do not need any elections. He should not be allowed to run.”
The massacre yesterday may make it difficult to convince the demonstrators that anything will change while Yanukovich holds office in any form, and may still put the kibosh on this agreement. And Russia’s pointed snub may mean that Vladimir Putin has a far different idea of how to resolve this crisis than any of the negotiators involved, too. If Yanukovich remains president and suddenly declares a crisis and Russian assistance, Putin wouldn’t need much more convincing to intervene on behalf of his client. If Yanukovich sees this ending with him in the dock for murder charges, he’s going to make that cry for help — and if the new coalition offers him amnesty, expect the streets to erupt again.
This isn’t over. It may be just beginning.
Update: Speaking of beginnings, the newly-empowered parliament voted to remove criminal penalties for the law that allowed Yanukovich to imprison his chief political opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko. Yanukovich still has to sign it for Tymoshenko to be freed, so this will be an interesting early test of reform.
Update: Max Fisher at the Washington Post sees the parliament acting immediately to sideline Yanukovich — including dozens of members from his own party:
Over the past 24 hours, Ukraine’s parliament has passed a series of resolutions that aggressively undermine Yanukovych, curbing both his actual power and his legitimacy as national leader. This may actually be Ukraine’s best shot at ending its three-month crisis and averting disaster. But it’s an even bigger deal than that, because of what it means not just for Ukraine’s present crisis but for its future as a fledgeling democracy.
Here are some other resolutions that parliament has passed in the last 24 hours: ordering security forces to pull back, amnesty for jailed protesters and firing the interior minister who led the crackdowns. These don’t just call for an end to the crackdown, but take much of that authority away from the president entirely.
This could be an attempt to head off a Russian intervention by making it clear that Yanukovich has lost the confidence of the Russophiles as well as the Europhiles. It’s a smart move, especially for Yanukovich’s party, which will take the brunt of voter anger in the December elections.
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