Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovich went on sick leave this week, but that’s not stopping people from attempting to get his attention — inside and outside of Ukraine. The most ominous message comes from Ukraine’s military, which told Yanukovich today to find a way to settle the conflict soon. The message obliquely warns that any further escalations might become their business:
Ukraine’s armed forces on Friday urged embattled President Viktor Yanukovych to take “urgent steps” to ease the crisis in the ex-Soviet country, entering the fray on the political crisis for the first time.
“Servicemen and employees of Ukraine’s armed forces…have called on the commander-in-chief to take urgent steps within the limits of existing legislation with a view to stabilising the situation in the country and reaching consent in society,” the defence ministry said in a statement. …
“The servicemen and employees of the armed forces called unacceptable the seizure of state offices, preventing representatives of state and local authorities from fulfilling their duties,” the statement said.
They “noted that a further escalation of the confrontation threatens the country’s territorial integrity,” the statement added.
One could read that in several different ways, which the military no doubt intended. Since the message is directed at Yanukovich — the commander-in-chief of the military — it might mean that either he gets control of the situation, or they will. To the opposition, it might sound like a warning that any more building seizures will not get a police response but martial law. Either way, it works to light a fire under Ukraine’s parliament to figure out how to address the situation before they become irrelevant to it.
The very fact that the military feels the need to enter the political realm, and address their own C-in-C in doing so, sounds as though the military wants its distance from Yanukovich, which can’t be good for his “illness.” On the other hand, they may want that distance in the event of a UN investigation into the practices of the police and other security organs in Ukraine, which the UN high commissioner for human rights has now demanded:
The UN’s human rights office on Friday called on Ukraine to launch an independent probe of deaths, kidnappings and torture amid raging political unrest.
“We are appalled by the deaths reported in recent days in Kiev, which should be promptly, thoroughly and independently investigated,” said Rupert Coville, spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights.
“We are also calling for an investigation into reports of kidnappings and torture,” he told reporters.
Colville’s comments as a missing Ukrainian opposition activist was found badly beaten, saying his captors cut off his ear and drove nails through his hands.
Dmytro Bulatov, a 35-year-old activist from the Avtomaidan group that organised protests against President Viktor Yanukovych, stumbled into a village outside Kiev more than a week after his wife first reported him missing.
If the Ukraine military has nothing to do with these incidents, it would make sense for them to start standing more at arm’s length from the Yanukovich regime. Any UN investigation would take months just to start, let alone conduct the probe, and a domestic settlement of the political crisis would likely involve amnesty for the top officials involved (including Yanukovich, which is why he was reportedly open to remaining President while the office devolved to figurehead status). If that’s not forthcoming, then everyone will be running away from Yanukovich.
Meanwhile, the US weighed in today on the crisis. Secretary of State John Kerry asked other countries to stay out of the crisis — a warning to Russia — and dismissed Yanukovich’s proposed reforms as not “sufficient”:
Kerry, speaking with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier during a visit to Berlin, also said “outside powers” should not get involved in a crisis that he said was for the Ukrainian people to resolve.
“The offers of President Yanukovich have not yet reached a level that would be sufficient regarding the reforms,” Kerry said, according to a German translation of his remarks.
In other words, the US aligns itself with the EU and against Russia in this crisis. We’ll see what impact that has on the situation, but it’s a sideshow compared to what the military may have in mind.