The Ukraine protests appear to have backed the government of President Viktor Yanukovych into a corner, forcing him to give in to reforms pushed by the opposition and sign a deal with protest leaders putting an end to the violence in Kiev streets — at least for now.
His only two options appeared last night to be ordering an all-out attack on protesters, which would cause untold carnage after a day in which as many as 100 were killed — or striking a deal. Under pressure from Europe and with many of his top political allies running for cover, Yakunovych chose a deal. Now the question for the Ukraine protests is, will the terms be enough to end the anti-government uprising?
While granting amnesty to protesters involved in the uprising, the pact leaves Yakunovych in power at least through 2014. He agreed to move presidential elections up from March 2015 to December of this year.
That appears unlikely to satisfy large numbers of protesters who saw dozens of their friends, family and fellow citizens cut down by government snipers, mauled in police attacks or beaten and murdered by government-sponsored civilian death squads known as titushki.
A large element of the thousands-strong Ukraine protests, who remain barricaded inside Maidan, or Independence Square, in central Kiev even though police have largely pulled back from their positions, want to see Yakunovych resign immediately.
For some, even his instant departure would not be enough.
“He will end up like Ceaușescu and Qaddafi,” warned Yuriy Korshenko, a former judge who supported the Ukraine protest movement, referring to the Romanian and Libyan strongmen who did not make it out alive through mass uprisings in their own countries. “If Yanukovych were a man of honor he would have already shot himself.”
The deal was inked Friday morning by Yakunovych and Vitali Klitschko — the former champion boxer who leads the opposition Ukraine Democratic Alliance For Reform party — as well as two other opposition leaders: Arseniy Yatsenyuk of the so-called “Fatherland” party and Oleh Tiahnybok of the anti-Russian Svoboda party.
The Ukraine protests deal allowed parliament to restore the country’s 2004 constitution, which gives more limited powers to the president, compared to Yakunovych’s 2010 constitution which his government drafted to give him sweeping authority.
Under the 2004 constitution, the president may no longer choose his own cabinet or the prime minister. That responsibility returns to parliament.
While a deal that leaves Yakunovych in place, even with scaled-back powers, may not be good enough for the weary, but still angry protesters, it faces an even bigger obstacle. Though other European ministers signed on to the pact to end the Ukraine protests, Russia refused.
“I am upset that the Russians are not signatories,” Yatsenyuk said. “I am really upset.”
The “Fatherland” party leader also said that mere piece of paper will not mollify the crowds in Independence Square — and throughout the country.
“We need to explain, and we need to not only explain, we need to act,” he said. “People will never trust any kind of signature. People will trust real action.”
There is at least one group who gave a big thumbs-up to the deal to end Ukraine protests — Wall Street. Ukraine’s bonds saw their biggest gains in two months, since Russia promised to bail out the country’s staggering economy.
It was a Russian bailout offer leading Yakunovych to renege on a trade agreement with Europe that set off the Ukraine protests in the first place late last year.