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Dangerous illusions concerning the situation in Ukraine

ImageLately some Western journalists, observers, and even diplomats, praise the concessions that Yanukovych has made, including the recent “amnesty law”. However, this position is based on very dangerous illusions, misperceptions, oversimplifications, and superficial observations. In fact, further support of this law in particular, and Yanukovych with his regime in general, can only bring more violence and even death to my country. Why do I think so?

Of course, it is good news that the Ukrainian Parliament (Rada) repealed the most restrictive “laws” of Jan.16. However, firstly, the legal situation has just returned to Jan.15, though not in full – is it really a concession? Secondly, in fact these “laws” have never been duly adopted (the procedure was impudently violated, and no majority vote was actually in place), so instead of repealing they should be recognized “null and void”. The difference is that in the latter case the people arrested according to these “laws” need no amnesty whatsoever, and should be treated as erroneously arrested (often with major injuries) – with all duly compensations. Above all, the repealing de facto legalizes these “laws”.

Appreciating the next “concession” – the “amnesty law” – is even more dangerous. Why? Because it forgives the Ukrainian authorities, both for the very “strange” substance of this law that actually makes all of the people arrested so far hostages of the regime, and for the way this law has been adopted – again, with an impudent violation of normal parliamentary procedure. It is also very strange to hear such words from diplomats, because they should be aware about the problem of credibility. The promise of the authorities to free the hostages is not credible by any means.

First of all, according to this law, the moment the authorities release the hostages Maidan should be already weakened. As of now, the insurgents control about one-third of the country, while if they free the oblast administrative buildings, their control would shrink to less than one square kilometer. Secondly, Maidan will become divided – because such a compromise would never be supported not only by the radicals, but also by the most of the protesters who understand the credibility problem better than a Western diplomat, and also for the reasons discussed below. This would further weaken the protest. Thirdly, there are no guarantees that the same hostages or other ones will not be taken and tortured again. According to the present Constitutional arrangement, Yanukovych is fully able (and actually wants) to preserve the positions of all the top officials that are now responsible for arrests, torturing, kidnapping, shooting, and so on; as well as the ones that are reluctant to prosecute these violations. Most of them are going to preserve their positions, and still nobody is going to be punished for the crimes they already committed (including deliberately injuring peaceful protesters in the night of Nov.30 and afterwards, injuring and shooting journalists, and recorded war crimes, like torture as well as  destroying the first-aid hospital atHrushevskiy 4, etc.).

Hence, the only “guarantee” for the protesters that the law on “amnesty” provides is Yanukovych’s promise. Therefore, the “amnesty law” is actually NOT a mutual compromise, but a (pyrrhic) victory for Yanukovych. It is very significant that he had to brutally coerce his own faction at the Parliament in order to force it to vote for this bill, as opposed to the one put forward by the opposition. And eventually it was not duly voted, since the procedure was impudently violated.

Moreover: do these journalists and diplomants really trust Mr. Yanukovych? Does even Russia trust him? I guess, no one in the world is so foolish to believe in his honesty and good will – at least, after the dirty games he played with the EU agreement this fall. So, why do the Western diplomats and journalists suppose that the protesters should trust his word? The protests initially started mostly because the people lost the last drop of trust to the president of their country! Not to mention the attempt to dissolve the Maidan right after he promised to abstain from the use of force on Dec.10. Thus, this law is at best futile and will never work under the current circumstances. The Maidan people do no like to become victims, and the opposition leaders are not going to commit a political suicide. This goes without mentioning that the purely peaceful protest made no impression on Yanukovych so far.

The above-mentioned misinterpretations stem from a popular illusion that Yanukovych should be treated as a “legitimate democratically elected President”, as, for example, in this (editorial!) article. Yes, initially he was elected by decently free and fair elections. However, Hitler, Ferdinand Marcos, Lukashenko and many other tyrants had also come to power this way. It is just that afterwards they seized the power – but this is exactly what Yanukovych did in part, and tried to finalize recently!

Before and right after the 2010 Presidential elections many observers believed that under Yanukovych’s presidency Ukraine will enjoy more checks and balances than under Tymoshenko. The Parliament majority by the moment of his inauguration was also formed by decently free and fair elections. And it was in the opposition to Yanukovych, for which reason that he should normally have to negotiate with it (especially given that he was elected with only a marginally relative majority, much less than 50%).

Nothing like this happened, however. Yanukovych has blackmailed the opposition MPs and formed a coalition that did not reflect the actual voters’ will — contrary to the ruling of the Constitutional Court (ironically, passed at the request of the PR’s MPs) that has directly forbidden such a coalition. Then, by this illegal (not to mention politicaly illegitimate) majority in the Rada, Yanukovych has appointed the loyal Cabinet, including the Minister of Interior; the loyal Attorney General, etc. And rotated the members of the Constitutional Court. The new loyal composition of this Court had altered the previous ruling (again, unlawfully), and in such a way “legitimized” the coalition retroactively, post factum. Then, the Constitutional Court, now fully loyal, had revoked the Constitutional Reform of 2004 – again, in a very doubtful way, and without appointing the early elections that should follow this step according to its logic. As a result, Yanukovych has seized the authorities that he was never endowed by his voters. Thus, he seized the power. No surprise, the free and fair elections in Ukraine ended since then.

At those times I said that in such a way he sealed up the democratic “safety valves”, which will lead to an explosion sooner or later. I guess those of our business clients that trusted my opinion are now happy that they did and acted timely.

But this was still not the end of the story. On Jan.16 Yanukovych has finally eliminated any opportunity for free and fair elections by pushing a package of “Draconian” laws through the Rada (where he controls the disciplined majority voting for a country’s budget in 10 min.). Hence, in such a way he has seized the power forever, since these laws all together left no way to change the power by the elections. Moreover, these laws were not actually passed by the majority vote of the MPs (with photo and video evidence available), but Yanukovych has still set his hand on them — now, in fact, violating the Constitution. Thus, he has committed a crime, and should be impeached — if just the impeachment procedure, and an independent court, would be in place. But he, along with his predecessors, did not allow stipulating a legal framework for an impeachment procedure. Moreover, he has eventually destroyed the court system, particularly deprived it from the last traces of independency.

What would the Americans or Europeans do in such a situation? Wouldn’t they use their right to revolt? So did the Ukrainians.

By no means I justify the use of violence. Moreover I guess it was senseless and futile, or even strategically harmful for the protest. But I cannot condemn those guys who rested to it either. Because the government has declared the war to every consciousness citizen (including myself) by the impudent imposition of so called “laws” of Jan.16th. I guess, there were much wiser ways to carry out the battle (see, I hope the English translation will be available too), but if the people remain just dancing at the street in response, they will be treated like sheep.

Still, what the people at Maidan demand is NOT a “coup” (as the NYT article implies dubbing the popular illusion), but just de-seizure of power: (1) returning to the 2004 Constitution that contained at least some imperfect checks and balances (although I always add — with more balanced control over siloviki); and (2) early elections. And these demands are subject to nearly consensus among the protesters: even the ultra-radicals from the “Praviy Sector” support them! Are they non-democratic? No way. So, why doesn’t the West support those demands? Is it just because Yanukovych do not like them?

I would welcome a compromise if could it be reached. But the cruel reality, and the main cause of the crisis is that Yanukovych is a bully thug, so by his very mindset he does not accept any kind of real compromise. The fact is that there are many millions of people very decisive in their unwillingness of living under his rule anymore – for different reasons, including rampant corruption; monopolization of the politics and the economy; a shameless “auctioning” of the country’s future that resulted in concession to Russia for US$ 15 bln., and so on. Any kind of a democratic and responsible political leader, a one that does care about the country’s unity and does want to avoid further escalation of the conflict, under these circumstances should have at least consider the Maidan’s demands seriously. Yanukovych does not, because he is not going to step down from power – whatever the price. What Yanukovych offers so far are mainly mocking and/or tricking, foxing the opposition (his adepts are openly proud of this!). This confirms that at least as of now he acts as an irresponsible and non-democratic dictator. So, why the Western authorities still back Yanukovych and call the rebels to commit a suicide by agreeing on his terms?

One could, of course, wonder why such a guy could have been elected in a European country having a universal franchise, educated population, and even a non-violent political culture (now, unfortunately, destroyed by him) that used to be so much praised by the West. This is a separate cumbersome question – by the same token one can ask how could it happen that Hitler managed to come to power in Germany. I can and probably will write on this soon. But the fact is that in Ukraine we now have a very unwise kleptocracy akin to Mugabe or Stressner. Now, the main question is how to make him go without a war. This should be a genuine matter for a feasible compromise.

We learned very well and now know for sure that Yanukovych understands only the use of force. This force can be of a different nature though. The more a diplomatic and “soft” force will be used — by the West, among all — the less “hard” force will be needed to coerce Yanukovych to unseize power: calling early elections and returning to the Constitution under which he was elected. The more statements like the ones I quoted above — the more violence and death. Alas.


On top of this, please try to distinct between the protesters throwing the Molotov cocktails on the police in the countries where it IS a genuine police; and the seemingly similar pictures from Ukraine. The police, by definition, acts strictly within the law, doesn’t it? If so, the Berkut special force is NOT a police.

In general, we know for many years that the “militsiya” (police) in Ukraine is corrupt, widely uses tortures, and often acts against the law. However, what all of us have seen after the night of Now.30 was really outrageous. Since then, at least Berkut bands should not be called “police” at all. Even if they had an unpleasant order to disperse small and peaceful protest, the police could easily do it without a cruelty. Instead, the Berkut have been chasing the protesters, even girls, and beating them almost to death even one kilometer from the Independence Square. Moreover, now we can see how this “police” cooperates with the criminals, hire “Tonton Macoutes” — or, rather, actually become them. The Maidan activists disappear, some of them are being found tortured to death, some of them being kidnapped by the “civilians” later on appear in custody with numerous injuries, etc. These are not the ways a real police operates, this is a gangster’s style.

Volodymyr Dubrovskiy,

senior economist and member of supervisory board of CASE Ukraine

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