Now that the Olympics in Sochi have closed, the real games will now begin. Just hours after the international community celebrated the end of the athletic spectacle, Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev blasted the regime change in neighboring Ukraine, calling it an “armed mutiny.” He also questioned the EU for recognizing “Kalashnikov-toting people in black masks who are roaming Kiev” as a legitimate government:
Russian news agencies quoted Medvedev as saying the new authorities in Ukraine have come to power as a result of “armed mutiny.” He lashed out at what he called the EU’s recognition of the new authorities as an “aberration of consciousness.”
He said Russia would be ready to resume relations with Ukraine once it sees a “normal, modern government based on laws and constitution of Ukraine.”
“If you consider Kalashnikov-toting people in black masks who are roaming Kiev to be the government, then it will be hard for us to work with that government,” he said.
Russia recalled its ambassador in Ukraine, citing threats to “the life and health of our people in the embassy.” That is an ominous move under any circumstances, and especially at this moment when Russia no longer needs to keep up Olympic pretenses.
Meanwhile, the new government in Kyiv has transferred presidential power to the speaker of the parliament until elections can be held in May. They have issued an arrest warrant for deposed president Viktor Yanukovich, who tried to flee the country but was stopped by alert border guards. Activists want him tried for mass murder after 82 protesters died in shootings by police last week:
Ukraine’s acting government issued a warrant Monday for the arrest of President Viktor Yanukovych, last reportedly seen in the pro-Russian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, accusing him of mass crimes against protesters who stood up for months against his rule.
Calls are mounting in Ukraine to put Yanukovych on trial, after a tumultuous presidency in which he amassed powers, enriched his allies and cracked down on protesters. Anger boiled over last week after snipers attacked protesters in the bloodiest violence in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history. …
Ukraine’s acting interior minister, Arsen Avakhov, said on his official Facebook page Monday that a warrant has been issued for the arrest of Yanukovych and several other officials for the “mass killing of civilians.” At least 82 people, primarily protesters, were killed in clashes in Kiev last week.
Avakhov says Yanukovych arrived in Crimea on Sunday, relinquished his official security detail and then drove off to an unknown location, turning off all forms of communication. “Yanukovych has disappeared,” he said.
Initially, people thought Yanukovich would hole up in Kharkiv, farther north but still in his presumed power base in the east. A move to the Crimean peninsula may mean that Yanukovich’s support may not be as strong as he’d thought in that region. It will remain strong in Crimea to the bitter end, though, as the region is heavily Russian rather than Ukraine, and dependent on the Russian navy for its economy. As the Financial Times reports, it may be the pretext for Russian intervention, too:
As Ukraine’s opposition leaders consolidate power over Kiev’s parliament, some of them privately admit they are worried over the fate of Crimea. They fear it could be most susceptible to secession or at least a useful tool for Russia, which has used separatist regions in Georgia, Moldova and Armenia to exert its influence in the post-Soviet geopolitical space.
A law passed by Ukraine’s parliament on Sunday removing Russian as an official languages risks further stoking tensions between the Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine and Crimea, and the largely Ukrainian-speaking [west].
“We’re not going to let someone come in and say you’re going to speak in Ukrainian and send your children to these kinds of schools,” said Samvel Martyan as he collected signatures of Simferopol locals ready to defend the peninsula’s autonomy.
“We are defending our Crimea from our comrades [the western Ukrainians] who in 1941 let the fascists in,” he added.
The memories of World War II hang heavily over this near-civil war. Long memories of bitter division are reawakening in Ukraine, and it may make a compromise impossible. But more recent memories are taking precedence in Kyiv and the west, as John Fund reports on a remarkable moment on Ukrainian television:
But for many Ukrainians, there was another moment when they realized the ground was shifting beneath them. It came last Friday evening, during one of the most popular talk shows on Inter, the most-watched Ukrainian network. Lidia Pankiv, a 24-year-old television journalist, was invited on by host Andriy Danylevych to discuss the need for reconciliation following the agreement signed by Yanukovych and dissidents earlier that day. While reporting on the Maidan protests, Pankiv had helped persuade the Berkut riot police not to use further violence against the activists, and she had disclosed that one of the Berkut officers was now her fiancé. But reconciliation was not what Pankiv wished to discuss. Asrelayed by journalist Halya Coynash, Pankiv had a different message:
You probably want to hear a story from me about how with my bare hands I restrained a whole Berkut unit, and how one of the Berkut officers fell in love with me and I fell in love with him. But I’m going to tell you another story. About how with my bare hands I dragged the bodies of those killed the day before yesterday. And about how two of my friends died yesterday. . . . I hate Zakharchenko, Klyuev, Lukash, Medvedchuk, Azarov. I hate Yanukovych and all those who carry out their criminal orders. I came here today only because I found out that this is a live broadcast. I want to say that I also despise Inter because for three months it deceived viewers and spread enmity among citizens of this country. And now you are calling for peace and unity. Yes, you have the right to try to clear your conscience, but I think you should run this program on your knees. I’ve brought these photos here for you, so that you see my dead friends in your dreams and understand that you also took part in that. And now, I’m sorry, I don’t have time. I’m going to Maidan. Glory to Ukraine.
Danylevych immediately tried to return to the night’s topic of reconciliation. But he was stopped by guest Konstantin Reutsky, a human-rights activist from Luhansk. Reutsky agreed with Pankiv, saying that Inter journalists had “lied and distorted information about Maidan over the last three months.” Danylevych tried to interrupt Reutsky, who went on to say that the protestors had tried for months to avoid bloodshed. “But what happened yesterday is a point of no return,” Reutsky continued. “After that you can no longer say, ‘Sorry, we got carried away, let’s turn the page and start afresh without offense.’ What happened yesterday is impossible to forget.” Danylevych, after shouting down Reutsky’s further attempt to discuss the crimes committed by the government, changed the topic. But a chief media mouthpiece of the regime, owned by the president’s oligarch backers, had been exposed. Hours later, the president fled his palace.
Partition might end up being the least of the evils left on the table.
ABC News has a good update on developments this morning. Events are moving fast, though, and even quick posts risk turning obsolete in a hurry.