A remarkable turn of events in the Ukraine as a coup, or some kind of transition, seems to be underway. After signing the agreement with the opposition to hold new elections, curtail his power, and allow for a “government of national unity,” President Viktor Yanukovich fled the capital for the more friendly eastern city of Kharkiv.
At that point, the pro-Yanukovich speaker of Parliament resigned and was replaced by a supporter of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Parliment then declared the president constitutionally unable to carry out his duties and set an early election for May 25. Protestors took over the president’s office, and rumors are swirling that Yanukovich has already resigned.
Several Yanukovich deputies resigned, including the interior minister, whose successor, a pro-opposition deputy, said that the police had now switched sides and were supporting the protestors.
Is any of this “legal”? Many eastern cities are refusing to accept the new government and Yanukovich himself has referred to the actions of the opposition as a “coup.”
The apparent toppling of the pro-Russian leader looks likely to dramatically alter the future of the former Soviet republic of 46 million people, pulling it closer to Europe and away from Moscow’s orbit.
It is also a stark reversal for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dream of recreating as much as possible of the Soviet Union in a new Eurasian Union, in which Moscow had counted on Yanukovich to deliver Ukraine as a central member.
The Ukrainian parliament, which decisively abandoned Yanukovich after loyalists defected, declared the president constitutionally unable to carry out his duties and set an early election for May 25.
Deputies in the assembly stood, applauded and sang the national anthem.
In a television interview shortly beforehand, which the station said was conducted in the eastern city of Kharkiv, Yanukovich said he would not resign or leave the country, and called decisions by parliament “illegal”.
“The events witnessed by our country and the whole world are an example of a coup d’état,” he said, comparing it to the rise of the Nazis to power in Germany in the 1930s. He said he had come under fire. “My car was shot at. I am not afraid. I feel sorrow for my country,” he told UBR television.
Despite his defiance, the dismantling of his authority seemed all but complete with his cabinet promising a transition to a new government, the police declaring themselves behind the protesters and his jailed arch adversary expected to go free.
Parliamentary supporters of Yanukovich did not attend the session that voted out the president. They were in Kharkiv at a regional political conference. Needless to say, they are not accepting the new situation in Kiev:
Leaders of Ukraine’s Russian-speaking eastern provinces, however, voted to challenge anti-Yanukovych steps measures taken by parliament in Kiev. Eastern regional politicians meeting in Kharkiv adopted a resolution saying the measures “in such circumstances cause doubts about their … legitimacy and legality.
“The central state organs are paralysed. Until constitutional order and lawfulness are restored … we have decided to take responsibility for safeguarding constitutional order, legality, citizens’ rights and their security on our territories.”
The governor of Kharkiv, Mikhaylo Dobkin, told the meeting: “We’re not preparing to break up the country. We want to preserve it.”
The military seems to be sitting it out, so it’s hard to see how the pro-Russian deputies can do much about the situation.
Russian President Putin appears to be a big loser, as Ukraine will now try to integrate its economy into the EU. This will be a difficult business since Ukraine is near sovereign default. It’s not like the EU needs another weak sister to prop up — not with Greece looking for a third bailout. But Ukraine has the potential to be an important market for EU members, and IMF loans may be forthcoming if the country agrees to some market reforms.
Whatever you want to call it — a coup or peaceful transition — the last few hours have been among the most dramatic in Ukraine’s history.