Archive for February, 2014

ARMED MEN TAKE AIRPORT IN UKRAINE’S CRIMEA, REPORT SAYS

February 28, 2014

Fox News on February 27, 2014, published an AP report on dozens of armed men in military uniforms seizing an airport in the capital of Ukraine’s strategic Crimea region, a report said. Excerpts below:

Witnesses told the Interfax news agency that the 50 or so men were wearing the same gear as the ones who seized government buildings in the city, Simferopol, on February 27 and raised the Russian flag.

The report said the men with “Russian Navy ensigns” first surrounded the Simferopol Airport’s domestic flights terminal.

The events in the Crimea region have heightened tensions with neighboring Russia, which scrambled fighter jets to patrol borders in the first stirrings of a potentially dangerous confrontation…

Russia also has granted shelter to Ukraine’s fugitive president, Viktor Yanukovych,…

Yanukovych was said to be holed up in a luxury government retreat, with a news conference scheduled Friday near the Ukrainian border. He has not been seen publicly since February 22.

On February 27, as masked gunmen wearing unmarked camouflage uniforms erected a sign reading “Crimea is Russia” in Simferopol, Ukraine’s interim prime minister declared the Black Sea territory “has been and will be a part of Ukraine.”

Yanukovych’s [humiliation] was a severe blow to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had been celebrating his signature Olympics even as Ukraine’s drama came to a crisis. The Russian leader has long dreamed of pulling Ukraine — a country of 46 million people considered the cradle of Russian civilization — closer into Moscow’s orbit.

“Regional conflicts begin this way,” said Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, calling the confrontation “a very dangerous game.”

Russia’s dispatch of fighter jets on February 27 to patrol borders and drills by some 150,000 Russian troops — almost the entirety of its force in the western part of the country — signaled strong determination not to lose Ukraine to the West.

Crimea only became part of Ukraine in 1954 when Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred jurisdiction from Russia — a move that was a mere formality until the 1991 Soviet collapse meant Crimea landed in an independent Ukraine.

In the capital, Kiev, the new prime minister said Ukraine’s future lies in the European Union, but with friendly relations with Russia.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk [was named prime minister on February 27,…now faces the difficult task of restoring stability in a country that is not only deeply divided politically but on the verge of financial collapse. The 39-year-old served as economy minister, foreign minister and parliamentary speaker before Yanukovych took office in 2010, and is widely viewed as a technocratic reformer who enjoys the support of the U.S.

Shortly before the lawmakers chose him, Yatsenyuk insisted the country wouldn’t accept the secession of Crimea. The Black Sea territory, he declared, “has been and will be a part of Ukraine.”

In Simferopol, tensions soared on February 27 when gunmen toting rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles raised the Russian flag over the local parliament building. They wore black and orange ribbons, a Russian symbol of victory in World War II.

Oleksandr Turchynov, who stepped in as acting president after Yanukovych’s flight, condemned the assault as a “crime against the government of Ukraine.” He warned that any move by Russian troops off of their base in Crimea “will be considered a military aggression.”

“I have given orders to the military to use all methods necessary to protect the citizens, punish the criminals, and to free the buildings,” he said.

Experts described a delicate situation in which one sudden move could lead to wider conflict.

“The main concern at this point is that Kiev might decide to intervene by sending law enforcement people to restore constitutional order,” said Dmitry Trenin, head of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “That is something that would lead to confrontation and drag the Russians in.”

In a bid to shore up Ukraine’s fledgling administration, the International Monetary Fund said it was “ready to respond” to Ukraine’s bid for financial assistance. The European Union is also considering emergency loans for a country that is the chief conduit of Russian natural gas to western Europe.

IMF chief Christine Lagarde said in the organization’s first official statement on Ukraine’s crisis that it was in talks with its partners on “how best to help Ukraine at this critical moment in its history.” Ukraine’s finance ministry has said it needs $35 billion over the next two years to avoid default. Ukraine’s currency, the hryvnia, dropped to a new record low of 11.25 to the U.S. dollar, a sign of the country’s financial distress.

Western leaders lined up to support the new Ukrainian leadership, with the German and British leaders warning Russia not to interfere.

“Every country should respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Ukraine,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in London.

NATO defense ministers met in Brussels, and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel emerged appealing for calm.

“These are difficult times,” he said, “but these are times for cool, wise leadership on Russia’s side and everyone’s side.”

Trenin of the Carnegie Center said a Ukraine-NATO courtship “would really raise the alarm levels in Moscow.”

Advertisements

LEFTISTS BECOME INCANDESCENT WHEN REMINDED OF THE SOCIALIST ROOTS OF NAZISM

February 27, 2014

Daily Telegraph of London on February 25, 2014, published an article by Daniel Hannan on the socialist roots of Nazism. You can’t accuse the NSDAP of downplaying the “Socialist” bit, he wrote. Excerpts below:

On 16 June 1941, as Hitler readied his forces for Operation Barbarossa, Josef Goebbels looked forward to the new order that the Nazis would impose on a conquered Russia. There would be no come-back, he wrote, for capitalists nor priests nor Tsars. Rather, in the place of debased, Jewish Bolshevism, the Wehrmacht would deliver “der echte Sozialismus”: real socialism.

Goebbels never doubted that he was a socialist. He understood Nazism to be a better and more plausible form of socialism than that propagated by Lenin. Instead of spreading itself across different nations, it would operate within the unit of the Volk.

So total is the cultural victory of the modern Left that the merely to recount this fact is jarring. But few at the time would have found it especially contentious. As George Watson put it in “The Lost Literature of Socialism”:

It is now clear beyond all reasonable doubt that Hitler and his associates believed they were socialists, and that others, including democratic socialists, thought so too.

The clue is in the name. Subsequent generations of Leftists have tried to explain away the awkward nomenclature of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party as either a cynical PR stunt or an embarrassing coincidence. In fact, the name meant what it said.

Hitler told Hermann Rauschning, a Prussian who briefly worked for the Nazis before rejecting them and fleeing the country, that he had admired much of the thinking of the revolutionaries he had known as a young man; but he felt that they had been talkers, not doers. “I have put into practice what these peddlers and pen pushers have timidly begun,” he boasted, adding that “the whole of National Socialism” was “based on Marx”.

Marx’s error, Hitler believed, had been to foster class war instead of national unity – to set workers against industrialists instead of conscripting both groups into a corporatist order. His aim, he told his economic adviser, Otto Wagener, was to “convert the German Volk to socialism without simply killing off the old individualists” – by which he meant the bankers and factory owners who could, he thought, serve socialism better by generating revenue for the state. “What Marxism, Leninism and Stalinism failed to accomplish,” he told Wagener, “we shall be in a position to achieve.”

Leftist readers may by now be seething. Whenever I touch on this subject, it elicits an almost berserk reaction from people who think of themselves as progressives and see anti-fascism as part of their ideology. Well, chaps, maybe now you know how we conservatives feel when you loosely associate Nazism with “the Right”.

The idea that Nazism is a more extreme form of conservatism has insinuated its way into popular culture. You hear it, not only when spotty students yell “fascist” at Tories, but when pundits talk of revolutionary anti-capitalist parties, such as the BNP and Golden Dawn of Greece, as “far Right”.

One of my constituents once complained to the BBC about a report on the repression of Mexico’s indigenous peoples, in which the government was labelled Right-wing. The governing party, he pointed out, was a member of the Socialist International and, again, the give-away was in its name: Institutional Revolutionary Party. The BBC’s response was priceless. Yes, it accepted that the party was socialist, “but what our correspondent was trying to get across was that it is authoritarian”.

In fact, authoritarianism was the common feature of socialists of both National and Leninist varieties, who rushed to stick each other in prison camps or before firing squads. Each faction loathed the other as heretical, but both scorned free-market individualists as beyond redemption. Their battle was all the fiercer, as Hayek pointed out in 1944, because it was a battle between brothers.

Jonah Goldberg has chronicled the phenomenon at length in his magnum opus, “Liberal Fascism”. Lots of people take offence at his title, evidently without reading the book since, in the first few pages, Jonah reveals that the phrase is not his own. He is quoting that impeccable progressive H.G. Wells who, in 1932, told the Young Liberals that they must become “liberal fascists” and “enlightened Nazis”.

In those days, most prominent Leftists intellectuals, including Wells, Jack London, Havelock Ellis and the Webbs, tended to favour eugenics, convinced that only religious hang-ups were holding back the development of a healthier species. The unapologetic way in which they spelt out the consequences have, like Hitler’s actual words, been largely edited from our discourse. Here, for example, is George Bernard Shaw in 1933:

Extermination must be put on a scientific basis if it is ever to be carried out humanely and apologetically as well as thoroughly… If we desire a certain type of civilisation and culture we must exterminate the sort of people who do not fit into it.

Eugenics, of course, topples easily into racism. Engels himself wrote of the “racial trash” – the groups who would necessarily be supplanted as scientific socialism came into its own.

My beef with many (not all) Leftists is a simpler one. By refusing to return the compliment, by assuming a moral superiority, they make political dialogue almost impossible. Using the soubriquet “Right-wing” to mean “something undesirable” is a small but important example.

Next time you hear Leftists use the word fascist as a general insult, gently point out the difference between what they like to imagine the NSDAP stood for and what it actually proclaimed.

PUTIN’S MISPLACED BET ON UKRAINE’S YANUKOVICH

February 26, 2014

The American Enterprise Institute on February 24, 2014, published an article on Ukraine by Leon Aron. History is likely to look back at the unfolding Ukrainian revolution as far more than a change of regime. Ukraine’s now certain exit from Russia’s “sphere of influence” presages nothing short of a Eurasian geopolitical realignment. Without Ukraine, Russia’s hegemony in the post-Soviet space, which is a key piece of the Putin Doctrine, is truncated beyond recognition. Absent Ukraine, Putin’s brainchild of the Eurasian Union as the framework and symbol of this hegemony loses much of its meaning. (And who knows, post-Maidan, if even Lukashenko of Belarus and Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan will risk joining.) Excerpts below:

Yet, it is way too early for the cymbals. What the Soviet Russian glasnost authors used to call “the road to the European home” is going to be long and winding and almost always uphill. Let us hope that in the next weeks and months, the key factors in the unfolding Ukrainian political drama – Ukraine’s domestic politics; Russia’s policy; and US-EU decision-making – do not become a geopolitical Bermuda triangle.

It is a relief to learn that former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, freed from jail, seems to have understood that her train has left the station. Perhaps instead, she may act as a senior statesperson, mediating between the opposition leaders, rather than running for president. The tension between the north-west (pro-European, Ukrainian speaking) and south-east (generally pro-Russian, Russian speaking) halves of Ukraine is another potential flashpoint. Yet, barring incitement from external forces, this danger seems exaggerated: the East has gone along with Ukrainian independence in the past, both in December 1991 and during the Orange Revolution in 2004, and is just as likely to follow Kiev’s lead now.

While the Ukrainian people have gotten rid of the thieving autocracy entirely on their own without an ounce of assistance from the US and EU, the latter two (as well as the IMF and World Bank) are likely to finally become proactive and search for ways to assist a new, pro-European Ukraine. A big loan conditioned on extensive domestic reform seems likely and would be a good start.

As for Russia…Putin’s bet on the now former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich (which precipitated today’s Ukrainian revolution) has proven to be a huge strategic error. Without a doubt, it has turned into Putin’s greatest political blunder of his effectively 14 years in power.

As a result, the paramount task of Russian domestic and foreign policy for months will be to mitigate, contain and, if possible, derail the Ukrainian revolution. The upswing in domestic retrenchment, repression, and anti-Western propaganda, widely expected once the Olympic spotlight is gone and now doubly probable, will be combined with efforts to mobilize Russian Ukrainians. The overwhelmingly ethnic Russian Crimea would be a good place to incite a secessionist campaign, possibly followed by the Russian-speaking industrial Donetsk.

Suddenly, the Kremlin, which beats and jails peaceful protesters, censors television, and turns every election into a farce, is touchingly anxious about the legitimacy of the Supreme Rada and the alleged human rights violations of “ethnic minorities” in Ukraine (aka Russians).

In the end, the geopolitical map of Eurasia, so drastically altered in the past few days, is not likely to revert back to the pre-February 21 configuration.

It was the Ukrainian people’s thirst for dignity in democratic citizenship, transparency, government accountability and true civil society.

A SPECTER IS HAUNTING RUSSIA

February 25, 2014

Radio Free Europe on February 24, 2014, published an article by Brian Whitmore on growing opposition in Russia. A crowd chants “Maidan! Maidan!” before police move in, arresting scores of demonstrators. Three people stand behind a makeshift barricade of burning tires waving Ukrainian flags and banging sticks against metal shields. Excerpts below:

A redux of violence in Kyiv? Not quite. Both of these scenes took place in Russia.

The first was in Moscow on February 24, where hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside a courthouse where defendants in the so-called “Bolotnaya case” were being sentenced for their roles in anti-Kremlin protests that turned violent in May 2012.

In addition to the Maidan chants, the crowd also shouted in Ukrainian “Bandu het” (Out with the gang!) and hurled insults at riot police, calling them by their Ukrainian name, “Berkut.”

Among those detained were opposition leader and anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny as well as Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina.

The second scene happened in St. Petersburg a day earlier, on February 23, and was the work of performance artist Pyotr Pavlensky, …

A specter is haunting Russia — the specter of Ukraine’s Euromaidan.

The stunning and dizzying fall of Viktor Yanukovych’s regime — which the hapless Ukrainian ruler tried to model on Vladimir Putin’s kleptocratic and authoritarian power vertical — is inspiring Russia’s opposition.

Pavel Durov, the iconoclastic founder of the popular social-networking site VKontakte, helped a pro-Maidan video called “Fear is not Real” to go viral by republishing it on his page (a big h/t to Kevin Rothrock at Global Voices for flagging this.)

In a February 22 post on his Facebook page titled “Lessons of the Maidan,” opposition figure Boris Nemtsov wrote that the conditions that led to Yanukovych’s fall are all present in Russia.

“The only difference is that Putin has more money and the Russian people are more patient. But their patience is not infinite,” Nemtsov wrote.

Whether or not the inevitable Russian Maidan is on the way, Nemtsov is right to place his bets on repression, intimidation, and petty harassment in the near term.

Police detained more than 300 people on February 24, some outside Moscow’s Zamoskvoretsky Court and some who were attempting to enter Manezh Square near the Kremlin for a rally in support of the Bolotnaya defendants (seven of whom received sentences ranging from 30 months to four years).

And wearing the wrong colors, even by accident, can get you in trouble in Moscow.

Yegor Maksimov, a journalist with Dozhd TV, tweeted that he saw a man detained by the police for wearing a hat with the blue-and-yellow colors of the Ukrainian flag.

Tweets and social-network posts supportive of Ukraine’s Euromaidan are also increasingly attracting the authorities’ attention.

Yulia Archipova, a student at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, found this out the hard way. Russian TV and radio journalist Vladimir Solovyov used an entire program to deride her and other students for pro-Maidan posts.

They used to say that when Moscow sneezes, Kyiv catches a cold. We’ll soon see if this logic works in reverse. The Russian opposition seems emboldened by the Maidan and a spooked Kremlin is tightening the screws to prevent the revolutionary virus from spreading north.

The difference is in Ukraine — where the security services are less embedded in politics, the system is more pluralistic, and civil society is more developed — people were willing to remain on the streets in large numbers even in the face of brutal police tactics and live ammunition. The more the authorities cracked down, the more emboldened and persistent the demonstrators became. The Ukrainian street simply wore the regime down.

The Russian street has not shown this kind of stamina and resolve. At least not yet.

UKRAINE’S NEW LEADERS ORDER ARREST OF PRESIDENT YANUKOVYCH – CHARGE: MASSACRING PEACEFUL DEMONSTRATORS

February 24, 2014

FoxNews on February 24, 2014, reported that Ukraine’s acting interior minister announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for that country’s president, Viktor Yanukovych. Excerpts below:

In a statement on his official Facebook page, Arsen Avakhov wrote that Yanukovych and several other officials were wanted on charges of massacring peaceful demonstrators in violence that engulfed Ukraine’s capital city, Kiev, earlier this week.

Avakhov says Yanukovych arrived in the pro-Russian Black Sea peninsular region of Crimea on February 23 and relinquished his official security detail before driving off to an unknown location.

Ukrainian law enforcement agencies said earlier that they have no information about the whereabouts of Yanukovych, who reportedly was seen in the port city of Sevastopol, home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

After signing an agreement with the opposition to end a conflict that turned deadly, Yanukovych fled the capital for eastern Ukraine.

Opposition lawmaker Volodym Kurennoy said on his Facebook page that he had unconfirmed information that the president had been arrested in Crimea.

Ukrainain news portal Liga.net reports that Sevastopol residents saw Yanukovych in the company of Russian marines. The claim could not be independently verified.

The speaker of parliament assumed the president’s powers February 23…

Tensions have been mounting in Crimea, where pro-Russian politicians are organizing rallies and forming protest units and have been demanding autonomy from Kiev. Russia maintains a big naval base in Crimea that has tangled relations between the countries for two decades.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES TO OUST PRESIDENT, SETS EARLY ELECTIONS

February 23, 2014

FoxNews on February 22, 2014, reported that the Ukrainian parliament voted to set early elections for May 25 after declaring President Viktor Yanukovych unable to carry out constitutional duties. Excerpts below:

Parliament also arranged the release of Yanukovych’s arch-rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, by voting to decriminalize the count under which she was imprisoned. Tymoshenko was convicted of abuse of office, charges that domestic and Western critics have denounced as a political vendetta.

A party spokeswoman said Tymoshenko was released after 2 1/2 years in a Kharkiv prison, and headed to the capital to join protesters there.

“You are heroes, you are the best thing in Ukraine!” she said of those killed in the violence, while speaking for a wheelchair.

Asked by crowds gathered at the hospital where she was released about her further plans, Tymoshenko said, “I will run for president,” news agencies reported.

She said she will “make it so that no drop of blood that was spilled will be forgotten.”

The agreement reached on February 21 between Yanukovych and leaders of the opposition protests that have brought Ukraine into crisis called for early elections that were to be held no later than December, and constitutional reforms to reduce the president’s powers.

But the possibility that he could remain in office for the rest of the year angered protesters who want his immediate departure, and said the deal did not address what triggered the protests in November — Yankuvych’s abandonment of closer ties with the European Union in favor of a bailout deal with longtime ruler Russia.

The protesters, who are angry over corruption and want Ukraine to move toward Europe rather than Russia, claimed full control of Kiev and took up positions around the president’s office and a grandiose residential compound believed to be his, though he never acknowledged it.

At the sprawling suburban Kiev compound, protesters stood guard and blocked more radical elements among them from entering the building, fearing unrest. Moderate protesters have sought to prevent their comrades from looting or taking up the weapons that have filled Kiev in recent weeks.

The compound became an emblem of the secrecy and arrogance that defines Yanukovych’s presidency, painting him as a leader who basks in splendor while his country’s economy suffers and his opponents are jailed.

Protesters attached a Ukrainian flag to a lamppost at the compound, shouting: “Glory to Ukraine!”

In a special parliament session, lawmakers warned that the country risks being split in two. The country’s western regions want to be closer to the EU and have rejected Yanukovych’s authority in many cities, while eastern Ukraine — which accounts for the bulk of the nation’s economic output — favors closer ties with Russia.

“The people have risen up and achieved their goals. The authorities are crumbling. Victory is in sight,” 31-year-old construction worker Sviatoslav Gordichenko said outside a residential compound believed to belong to Yanukovych.

Ukraine’s parliament,…,seemed to be taking control of the country’s leadership.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

UKRAINE’S TYMOSHENKO RALLIES KYIV PROTESTERS

February 23, 2014

FoxNews on February 22, 2014, reported that hours after being released from prison after 2 1/2 years in captivity, former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko appeared before crowds gathered at the protester encampment in Ukraine’s capital, urging the protesters to keep occupying the square. Excerpts below:

Her speech to the crowd of about 50,000, made from a wheelchair because of the severe back problems she suffered in prison, was the latest stunning development in the fast-moving Ukrainian political crisis.

Only a day earlier, her arch-rival, President Viktor Yanukovych, signed an agreement with protest leaders that cut his powers and called for early elections. Parliament, once controlled by Yanukovych supporters, quickly thereafter voted to decriminalize the abuse-of-office charge for which Tymoshenko was convicted.

Yanukovych decamped from Kiev to Kharkiv, a city in his support base in eastern Ukraine, while protesters took control of the presidential administration building and thousands of curious and contemptuous Ukrainians roamed the suddenly open grounds of the lavish compound outside Kiev where he was believed to live.

Earlier in the day Tymoshenko had promised to run for president, news agencies reported, saying she will make it so that no drop of blood that was spilled will be forgotten.

Her release on February 22 was made possible by a European-brokered peace deal between her arch-rival, President Viktor Yanukovych, and the opposition.

The reversal of fortune for both Tymoshenko and Yanukovych was an eerie echo of the Orange Revolution of a decade ago — the mass protests that forced a rerun of a presidential election nominally won by Yanukovych. Tymoshenko attracted world attention as the most vivid of the protest leaders, her elaborate blond peasant braid making her instantly recognizable.

“You are heroes, you are the best thing in Ukraine!” she said of those killed in the violence. The Health Ministry on Saturday said the death toll in clashes between protesters and police that included sniper attacks had reached 82.

And she urged the demonstrators not to yield from their encampment in the square, known in Ukrainian as the Maidan.
“In no case do you have the right to leave the Maidan until you have concluded everything that you planned to do,” she said.

The country’s western regions, angered by corruption in Yanukovych’s government, want to be closer to the European Union and have rejected Yanukovych’s authority in many cities. Eastern Ukraine, which accounts for the bulk of the nation’s economic output, favors closer ties with Russia and has largely supported the president.

“The people have won, because we fought for our future,” said opposition leader Vitali Klitschko to a euphoric crowd of thousands gathered on Kiev’s Independence Square. Beneath a cold, heavy rain, protesters who have stood for weeks and months to pressure the president to leave congratulated each other and shouted “Glory to Ukraine!”

“It is only the beginning of the battle,” Klitschko said, urging calm and telling protesters not to take justice into their own hands.

The president’s support base crumbled further as a leading governor and a mayor from the eastern city of Kharkiv fled to Russia.

Oleh Slobodyan, a spokesman for the border guard service, told The Associated Press that Kharkiv regional governor Mikhaylo Dobkin and Kharkiv Mayor Hennady Kernes left Ukraine across the nearby Russian border.

Saturday’s developments were the result of a European-brokered peace deal between the president and opposition.

[Among] the motions [were]:

-saying that the president removed himself from power;
-setting new elections for May 25 instead of next year;
-trimming the president’s powers;
-naming a new interior minister after firing the old one;
-releasing Tymoshenko.

The decisions were passed with large majorities, including yes votes from some members of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, which dominated Ukraine’s political scene until this week but is now swiftly losing support.

Ukraine’s defense and military officials also called for Ukrainians to stay peaceful. In statements on February 22, both the Defense Ministry and the chief of the armed forces said they will not be drawn into any conflict and will side with the people.

Anti-government protesters around the country took out their anger on statues of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, using ropes and crowbars to knock them off pedestals in several cities and towns. Statues of Lenin still stand across the former USSR, and they are seen as a symbol of Moscow’s rule.

The past week has seen the worst violence in Ukraine since the breakup of the Soviet Union a quarter-century ago. At Independence Square protesters heaped flowers on the coffins of the dead.

“These are heroes of Ukraine who gave their lives so that we could live in a different country without Yanukovych,” said protester Viktor Fedoruk, 32. “Their names will be written in golden letters in the history of Ukraine.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

UKRAINE CRISIS: PROTESTERS APPARENTLY IN FULL CONTROL OF GOVERNMENT DISTRICT IN KYIV

February 22, 2014

BBC News on February 22, 2014, reported that the Kiev offices of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych are unguarded, with opposition protesters apparently in full control of the government district. Excerpts below:

The capital is quiet, a day a deal was signed to end a political crisis in which dozens have died.

Despite the deal, thousands of people have remained in a central square, demanding the president’s resignation.

The pact says a unity government will be formed and elections held.

It was signed on February 21 by President Viktor Yanukovych and the opposition, but many protesters say they do not believe Mr Yanukovych can be trusted.

…the roads leading up to the presidential building are now controlled by protesters. The gates are locked, with only a few security guards inside, he adds.

Some new barricades have been put in place, manned by protesters.

There are unconfirmed reports that President Yanukovych has left Kiev.

One group of…protesters had threatened to take action if he did not resign by morning of February 22.

The political deal, reached after mediation by EU foreign ministers, came after the bloodiest day since the unrest began in November.

The deal has been met with scepticism by some of the thousands of protesters who remain in the square.

Opposition leaders who signed it were booed and called traitors.

Earlier, coffins of anti-government protesters were carried across the square as funeral ceremonies for those killed in the clashes got under way.

The agreement, published by the German foreign ministry, includes the following:

• The 2004 constitution will be restored within 48 hours and a national unity government will be formed within 10 days
• Constitutional reform balancing the powers of president, government and parliament will be started immediately and completed by September
• A presidential election will be held after the new constitution is adopted but no later than December 2014, and new electoral laws will be passed
• An investigation into recent acts of violence will be conducted under joint monitoring from the authorities, the opposition and the Council of Europe
• The authorities will not impose a state of emergency and both the authorities and the opposition will refrain from the use of violence
• Both parties will undertake serious efforts for the normalisation of life in the cities and villages by withdrawing from administrative and public buildings and unblocking streets, city parks and squares
• Illegal weapons will be handed over to interior ministry bodies

It was signed by Mr Yanukovych and opposition leaders Vitali Klitschko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Oleh Tyahnibok.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski tweeted that the deal was a “good compromise for Ukraine” that would open the way “to reform and to Europe”.

Any political deal between President Yanukovych and the opposition movement will have to pass the test …in Lviv. It is a city that has been at the forefront of the protests, sending busloads of demonstrators 500 km east to Kiev on a nightly basis.

Lviv has always looked west rather than east: a city for centuries under Austrian and then Polish rule, it only fell to the Soviets during World War Two and has remained fiercely proud of its Ukrainian identity ever since.

The writ of the Kiev government does not extend here. Every regional administration building is now under the control of the protest movement. I visited the police headquarters, taken on February 18 by the opposition and ransacked. At the security service office, burnt out cars lie in the courtyard. The mood here is one of defiance: that President Yanukovych must step down now.

Shortly after the deal was signed, Ukraine’s parliament approved the restoration of the 2004 constitution, with all but one of the 387 MPs present voting in favour.

Parliament also approved an amnesty for protesters accused of involvement in violence.

MPs voted for a change in the law which could lead to the release of Yulia Tymoshenko, an arch-rival of Mr Yanukovych.

–.

Dozens of MPs from Mr Yanukovych’s own Party of Regions voted for the motions, in what correspondents say will be a humiliation for the president.

DEADLY GOVERNMENT SNIPERS TARGET PROTESTERS IN KYIV

February 21, 2014

Daily Telegraph of London on February 20, 2014, reported on government killing of protesters in Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv. For a moment, the report said, the white blanket serving as a shroud fell back, revealing the dead man’s frozen face and a crimson bullet wound on the left side of his head. Excerpts below:

A single round penetrating above the ear had killed this Ukrainian protester, who looked to be in his 20s. His corpse lay beside those of six of his comrades under the awning of a café in the heart of Kiev on February 20:

“It was a sniper,” said Dr Vasyl Lukach as he stood beside the bodies, placed carefully in two rows. “They all have one or two bullets each in the head or in the neck. It was a professional.” Like many other medical personnel, Dr Lukach has volunteered to care for the protesters massed in Independence Square. As he spoke, an eighth corpse arrived on a green stretcher, followed closely by a ninth.

Both were shrouded in blankets, but as the last body was laid down, the cover slipped to reveal another pale face with mouth agape — and the matted blood of a telltale head wound.

The huddle of doctors and protesters at this makeshift morgue on the pavement of a European capital needed no further proof. “Sniper” was the word they whispered. As if to emphasise their point, a volley of shots rang across Independence Square. Minutes later, a 10th body arrived to the echo of sporadic gunfire. This time, the dead man was fully shrouded and his face invisible, but the white cloth over his head was bloodstained.

A handful of shots, fired with precision, had ended these young lives. As for when the men died, Dr Lukach said that all had been killed within the previous two hours. No smell of decomposition rose from the corpses and their limbs flopped and rolled without any sign of rigor mortis.

The bodies were all brought from Institutska Street, leading off the eastern end of Independence Square, which all Ukrainians know as the Maidan.

For a few hours, this narrow artery was the front line of the struggle between the protesters and the security forces of President Viktor Yanukovych.

On the morning of February 20, the demonstrators took advantage of a police withdrawal to surge forward and recapture all the ground they had lost during the bloody assault on Wednesday. As the security forces retreated before this determined counter-attack, the evidence suggests that snipers positioned in the buildings overlooking Institutska Street began to pick off their enemies.

All of the dead men were young, fit and dressed in the black jackets or camouflage fatigues typically worn by those protesters who place themselves in the thick of battle.

Some of the victims were taken to the nearby Hotel Ukraine, the lobby of which has become a morgue and dressing station.

Hotel Ukraine has acquired a red cross above its entrance and a sign in the window displaying 11 names “of those who are no longer with us”.

All day, the people of the Maidan learnt about those who had suffered death or critical injury. Ihor Kostenko, a 22-year old student from the western city of Lviv, was among those shot dead. So was Oleksandr Shcherbatuk, a member of the opposition party loyal to Yulia Tymoshenko, the imprisoned former prime minister.

On the western edge of the Maidan, a volunteer nurse wearing a cape with a large red cross was shot in the neck. Olesya Zhukovska, 21, had spent several months treating wounded protesters.

A few days ago, she yielded to the worries of her mother and returned to her home town of Kremenets, 150 miles west of Kiev, but could not bear to stay away for long. She returned to help the injured earlier this week, only to be grievously hurt herself. On Thursday night she was believed to be in a critical condition in hospital.

The protesters did their utmost to lend dignity to their dead. No corpses were left uncovered and every effort was made to identify the casualties. The body of Andreiy Sayenko was brought to the makeshift morgue beside the café in a shroud made from sleeping bags. Someone had carefully written Sayenko’s name and year of birth, 1962, in green felt tip on the left leg of his corpse. After a few moments on the pavement, his body was placed in the back of a station-wagon and driven to a morgue, with an escort of two protesters.

As for the final death toll, I counted 12 corpses. Another Telegraph reporter saw a further six. The 11 dead in Hotel Ukraine bring the total confirmed by this newspaper to 29. Just that number makes Thursday the bloodiest day of political violence in the history of Ukraine as an independent state. The real toll was almost certainly higher.

Yet, after the security forces had gone to such lengths to terrorise and break their enemies, the end result was that the protesters were still the masters of the Maidan.

As each nightfall sets another record for bloodshed, in the Maidan they are preparing for the worst. The entrance to Khreshchatyc underground station has become a Molotov cocktail factory where young women in high heels pour petrol into old wine bottles. Nearby, a row of cafés has undergone a grim conversion. Each one is now a first aid station.

TRUCE COULD BRING PEACE IN UKRAINE

February 20, 2014

NewsMax on February 19, 2014, reported that the office of Ukraine’s embattled president says he and leaders of the country’s raging protests have called for a truce. Excerpts below:

The brief statement came after President Viktor Yanukovych met with top leaders of the protests that flared into violence and that has left at least 26 people dead.

The statement did not give details of what a truce would entail or how it would be implemented.

Earlier, Yanukovych had moved to quell the growing insurgency by granting sweeping powers to the army and police after a region declared independence from his government, risking wider conflict.

Reeling from the bloodiest clashes in a three-month standoff, the Russian-backed leader’s security service said it was undertaking a nationwide anti-terrorism operation to restore public order and protect state borders. That move would give the military the right to search, detain, and even fire on Ukrainians in the course of the operation, the Defense Ministry said.

Yanukovych then fired army chief Volodymyr Zaman and replaced him with the head of the navy without explanation.

During an anti-terrorism operation, soldiers can also legally search civilian vehicles and stop car and pedestrian traffic, according to the Defense Ministry. The security service said in the statement that protesters have seized more than 1,500 guns and 100,000 rounds of ammunition from military bases, depots, and government buildings, without elaborating.

President Barack Obama warned Ukraine “there will be consequences” for violence if people step over the line and hurt civilians. He says that includes making sure that the military doesn’t step into a situation that civilians should resolve.

Obama said the United States condemns the violence in the strongest terms and holds Ukraine’s government primarily responsible to ensure it is dealing with peaceful protesters appropriately.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned Ukrainian Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedev in December against involving the military in efforts to break up demonstrations, according to the Department of Defense.

“If the authorities want to draw the military into the political conflict, I’m convinced soldiers will be on the side of the people,” opposition lawmaker Serhiy Kaplin said Jan. 31.

Lawmakers in Lviv on the Polish border on February 19 ousted their Yanukovych-appointed governor, established a new government autonomous from his administration, and declared their allegiance to the opposition in Kiev. Protesters seized government and security headquarters in at least four other regions, while Poland’s premier warned of civil war, and European leaders threatened sanctions.

Ukrainian bonds and stocks slumped. The yield on the government’s $1 billion of notes maturing in June jumped a record to an all-time high of 34.97 percent, compared with 22.9 percent Tuesday. The Ukrainian Equities Index fell for a second day, losing 4.2 percent. The cost of insuring Ukraine’s debt for five years against nonpayment using credit default swaps rose to the highest since July 2009.

Thousands remained on Independence Square, including reinforcements from Lviv, with squadrons of police ringing their burning barricades. The violence drew a sharp reaction from global leaders.

The European Union moved toward freezing the assets of Ukraine’s most powerful officials. The bloc’s foreign ministers will meet on February 20to weigh “all possible options,” including “restrictive measures against those responsible for repression,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in an emailed statement from Brussels.

Vice President Joe Biden called Yanukovych to express “grave concern” over the violence and urge the government to exercise restraint. The United States is consulting with the EU, and the timeline for any response is “fluid,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters traveling with the president to Mexico.

The violence has spread throughout western Ukraine. Protesters stormed police buildings in Ternopil and Ivano-Frankivsk, burned the offices of the ruling parties in Lutsk, and seized the government’s headquarters in Zakarpattia.

In Kiev, at least 15 protesters, nine security officers, and a journalist were among the fatalities, according to officials. Opposition groups say at least 20 protesters died, and many are still missing.

“There’s no way we leave, because we have nothing to lose anymore,” said Mykola, who declined to give his last name for fear of reprisal. “Everyone who spent the night here can already count on a dozen years in prison.”

The government closed the subway system, set up checkpoints to limit access to the city of 3 million people, and took the opposition’s Channel 5 off the air. Schools and kindergartens in central Kiev will remain closed on February 19, as will the subway, the city administration said.

Lights went out over Independence Square after midnight.

The opposition is seeking to overturn constitutional changes that strengthened Yanukovych’s powers and to put Ukraine on a path toward EU membership.

Russia, which stopped buying bonds from Ukraine’s cash-strapped government after Yanukovych’s Russian-born prime minister, Mykola Azarov, resigned last month, said Feb. 17 it would resume purchases, including $2 billion this week. Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov made the announcement just as opposition leaders Vitali Klitschko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk were meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin to seek financial and political backing to form a new government.

“Russia is playing hardball,” Alexander Valchyshen, head of research at Investment Capital in Kiev, said by phone. “Russia gave a clear signal that it knows who’ll be the next prime minister, that it’s ready to financially support him, and that no other players are acceptable here.”