Monday, November 29, 2004

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The Ukrainian opposition rolls the dice

Ukrainian opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko and his supporters are now making demands of president Leonid Kuchma. Here's the Reuters report -- but Maidan has an English translation of the actual demands:

The Committee of National Salvation of Ukraine, headed by Viktor Yushchenko, has issued an ultimatum to Leonid Kuchma.

Within 24 hours, the Committee demands that Kuchma fulfill the following terms:

1) Discharge Yanukovych from his position of Prime Minister, because of his instigation and support of the falsification of the election and in the separatist actions;

2) On the demands of of the decision of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) of November 27, immediately to begin an investigation into new candidates for membership of the Central Election Committee;

3) Discharge from their positions the directors of the Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv regional administrations -- the initiators of the break-up of Ukraine;

4) Give a deadline to the Attorney General and the Security Services of Ukraine to open a criminal investigation against the separatists/secessionists of Ukraine.

In the case of noncompliance with the ultimata, "we will judge Kuchma's inaction as a crime against the people, with results indicated in the Criminal Code of Ukraine," continues the ultimatum.

"If the demands are not met, we will begin blocking with people the movements of Kuchma himself on the territory of Ukraine. We know where he is and how he is moving about. And we are able to ensure that he will not make a single step without complying with our demands," stated Yulia Tymoshenko, who read the ultimatum at the meeting.

That 24 hours thing is funny, because according to the Post-Modern Clog, "Kuchma has given the protesters blockading the Cabinet building a 24-hour deadline to clear out."

Actually, it's not funny. Supporters of Yushchenko want to believe that Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich commands little support, even in the Eastern part of the country - but Reuters reports that "an estimated 150,000 demonstrators took to the streets in Donetsk" in support of Yanukovich. Yanukovich may be a toady of Kuchma and potentially Vladimir Putin, but he's not wrong when he says, "If only one drop of blood is shed, we won't be able to stop the flow." The thing is, both sides have now dug in, and although the Ukrainians are masters at muddling through, it's becoming increasingly difficult to see how this can be resolved through non-violent means.

Peter Finn writes in the Washington Post:

The stoking of historical fears about what many perceive as a Russophile East and a nationalist West could continue to split this country long after the dispute over voting is settled, if they do not rupture it beforehand, analysts say.

"I think the tragedy of this campaign is the use of stereotypes by both sides, but especially Yanukovych's people," said Yulia Tishchenko, an analyst at the Ukrainian Center for Independent Political Research, "and the dangerous consequences are now becoming apparent. Everyone thinks that if they lose, they lose everything."

[Why can't there be a velvet divorce between the regions, a la Czechoslovakia?--ed. Erin Arvedlund explains the myriad economic problems with this idea in the New York Times, but it's even more problematic than that. Yushchenko's response to the eastern threats of autonomy show that nationalists are, well, nationalist -- they don't want only half the country.]

I have to think Yushchenko is gambling on Kuchma lacking the ability to use force. However, Mark Franchetti reports in London's Sunday Times that:

Some feared that the joyful street parties and open-air concerts could still turn into a bloodbath. Lurking in the background, phalanxes of stone-faced riot police and Ukrainian special forces in black body armour and helmets, brandishing machineguns and batons, stood guard silently around the presidential palace.

The key to the revolutions of 1989 was the compliance of the security forces in bowing to the wind of change. There has been little sign that today those same forces would be prepared to switch sides and join the opposition.

(link via NRO's Andrew Stuttaford)

The other thing to worry about is the Russian response to any escalation in the crisis. What will Putin do? Helen Womack reports in the Christian Science Monitor that, "The likelihood for a fresh poll increased when a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Russia, which had overtly backed Yanukovich, said Moscow also now favored a rerun." However, Askold Krushelnycky and Mark Franchetti report in London's Sunday Times about a more disturbing possibility:

A senior figure in the Ukrainian presidential administration who declined to be identified said that Boris Gryzlov, President Vladimir Putin’s personal envoy to Ukraine, had promised “diplomatic cover” against any international backlash prompted by such a move.

Developing... and not in a way that I'm at all sanguine about.

posted by Dan on 11.29.04 at 01:01 AM


Two comments;

* An interesting lack of involvement from the UN on this matter. not that any action the UN would take would have any relevancy, anyway, in light of their own scandal.

*I'm waiting for someone to blame George W. Bush, saying it's all about the oil, there.

posted by: Bithead on 11.29.04 at 01:01 AM [permalink]

Think meets your requirements, Bithead. (Nothing about oil, but a gratuitous reference to exit polling seems equivalent...)

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 11.29.04 at 01:01 AM [permalink]

I don't know enough about Ukraine to know whether partition into two countries could be a good thing, but that's the way things are headed. Western support for Yushchenko was far more defensible than what we've done in Iraq. In each case, elections may bring partition because minorities won't put up with majorities that we back, in countries without democratic traditions. The irony is that the majority which will win an honest election in Iraq is Shiite and will be anti-American. The US is John Wayne, insisting that the election must be held, no matter what the consequences.

posted by: Anciano on 11.29.04 at 01:01 AM [permalink]

I'm not sure Gryzlov's "promise," assuming he made it, is quite what it seems. The Times does say he made it at the beginning of the Kiev demonstrations, which subsequently got bigger and lasted longer than anyone expected.

Redoing the election would provide a way for Putin to back down gracefully; while he does want a Ukraine pulled closer to Russia he cannot want another civil war right on his doorstep. He could conceivably get one if he allows some of Yanukovych's supporters in east Ukraine to take extreme positions thinking they have full Russian support. The Foreign Ministry statement notwithstanding, the actions of some Russian officials (e.g. Moscow Mayor Luhzkov) seem directed at encouraging precisely this kind of thing.

Also -- and I speak based only on what I've read recently -- Yanukovych and Kuchma while allied now do not appear to represent the same constituencies (meaning business interests and oligarchs). There may be limits to how far Kuchman is prepared to go in backing Yanukovych.

posted by: Zathras on 11.29.04 at 01:01 AM [permalink]

Let's say we have a new election. What are the things necessary to ensure that the re-run is a fair one? Who would be in charge of declaring the re-run free and fair? Would that entity be legitimate to all the actors in Ukraine? Will the Yushchenko campaign commit to accepting the results of the re-run?

Perhaps Kuchma will begin to negotiate a post-Kuchma deal for himself, as Pinochet did.

And can everyone, please, pronounce Yushchenko's name correctly? It's not Yuschenko; It's Yush-chenko.

posted by: Anonymous on 11.29.04 at 01:01 AM [permalink]

I'm waiting for someone to blame George W. Bush

Certainly the best minds of the Democrat Party (Smirking Chimp notwithstanding!) are working on it as we speak. I put my bet on Terry McAuliffe or Howard Dean to be the first.

posted by: Al on 11.29.04 at 01:01 AM [permalink]

I suppose that since the Kremlin reportedly dumped a few hundred million into an election in a neighboring country favoring one candidate, they should have no problem with Western nations dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the campaign coffer of the candidate they want to win.

Anyone know where Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko went to University?

posted by: Brennan Stout on 11.29.04 at 01:01 AM [permalink]

Lets have Kramer and Newman settle the issue over a game of Risk. The Ukraine is strong!

posted by: Mark Buehner on 11.29.04 at 01:01 AM [permalink]

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