The Corner

From Kiev to Kharkov

His estate (expensive, expansive, kitsch) and private zoo may now be being ‘inspected’ by crowds from Kiev, but reports that Ukraine’s President Yanukovych has resigned may well have been premature.

Russia Today (ahem) reports:

14:06 GMT:

Yanukovich has accused the opposition of staging a coup d’etat and has no plans to resign, according to advisor Anna German, a Party of Regions deputy, who was interviewed by UNIAN news agency.

13:48 GMT:

Party of Regions deputy Vadim Kolesnichenko has blamed “foreign agents” for the unfolding events.

“The situation in Kiev has taken years to prepare. Foreign agents of influence have spent over $10 billion in recent years to execute this coup. The money has been channeled into so-called non-governmental organizations,” Kolesnichenko told the ITAR-TASS news agency.

13:47 GMT:

Opposition deputies claim they have received verbal assurances from Yanukovich that he will resign.

And from the same source, this:

The public gathering of deputies from local councils of southeastern Ukraine have declared they are taking responsibility for constitutional order in the country, as thousands of people have assembled in the city of Kharkov.

“We, the local authorities of all levels, the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Sevastopol region decided to take responsibility for ensuring the constitutional order and the rights of citizens on their territory,” their resolution said.

The Kharkov public gathering has announced a number of measures local authorities should take in response to the developments in Kiev. They should take full responsibility for all decision in respective regions with no regard to authorities in Kiev until the constitutional order in Ukraine is restored, a resolution of the gathering says. The authorities should take measures to protect arms depots and prevent their take-over and looting by radical opposition activists. The deputies have criticized the decision adopted by the Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) in the last few days, saying they are raising doubts about its legitimacy. The gathering says the legislative acts may have been passed involuntarily and are neither legitimate nor lawful. The recent decisions of the national parliament were taken in conditions “of terror, threats of violence and death,” the resolution says. Meanwhile, citizens are encouraged to form local militias to protect public order. Local authorities are to fund and support those militias. Over 10, 000 people have gathered at the city’s Sport Palace, where a total of 3,477 deputies have been holding a meeting.

Over the last few weeks there have been repeated claims that Ukraine is not so divided between east and west as many suggest. There may be something to that, but even if we take note of the source, and allow for some desinformaziya, there still appears to be enough division in the country to cause a great deal of trouble.

Writing a a day or so ago in The National Interest, Nikolas Gvosdev (a commentator sometimes seen as more willing than some to give a hearing to the case made by the Putin camp) looked at the possibility of a divided Ukraine whoever prevailed in Kiev. Given that Yanukovych has now decamped to Kharkov in the east, and is stepping up his rhetoric (“I won’t sign anything with bandits who are terrorising Ukraine”), it’s worth reproducing this extract from the Gvosdev piece:

If Yanukovych resigns and agrees to hold new elections for both the Rada and the presidency, it is not automatic that pro-Western candidates would prevail in a new ballot. What would happen if south and east Ukraine essentially return the same people to office, for fear that a change in government that shifts to privilege Western Ukrainian interests would end up be detrimental to theirs? A new government could be seated that looks quite similar to the current one—at least in terms of its policies (including maintaining close economic links to Russia and maintaining the status of the Russian language). The problem that has always beset Ukrainian politics is that the West remains outnumbered—in terms of votes—by the south and east. If the latter regions believe that the westerners are attempting to gain by protest what they could not win at the ballot box, then a shift in government does not guarantee renewed political stability. If the triumvirate of the opposition were to take power in Kyiv, would key regions of Ukraine in the east refuse to recognize them as the legitimate government of Ukraine, and in turn begin to agitate for the creation of a separate East Ukrainian state? (Again, Ukrainian history provides a template, the so-called “hetmanate” set up by Pavlo Skoropadsky in 1918).

I’d be watching the Crimea more than anywhere else. The peninsula (previously a part of the Russian SFSR, it was only ‘given’ to Ukraine—then the Ukrainian SSR—in 1954) has a high degree of autonomy, a Russian-speaking majority and plays host to a large Russian naval base at Sevastopol.

There have already been reports that some groups in Crimea are asking Russia for protection.

That’s not good. 

Update

The Ukrainian parliament has just voted to fire Yanukovych. Elections set for May 25.

Alea iacta est. 

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