Events are unfolding at a furious pace in Ukraine. I decided not to blog about them last night, because I knew that whatever I wrote would be superseded within minutes, and that was definitely the case. The same is probably true now, but enough has transpired to justify some comment.
Yesterday saw the negotiation of a deal between the opposition leadership and Yanukovych in which the president made major concessions, including a return to the 2004 constitution (with much more limited presidential powers), the resignation of the interior minister, and the creation of an independent investigation overseen by the EU. But his concessions were insufficient for the crowds assembled at the Maidan. The opposition leaders were nothing of the sort: they led only themselves, having lost whatever influence they had over the Maidan the moment they commenced to negotiate. When they went to the Maidan platform to announce the deal, their ostensible followers reacted with rage. They were-and are-willing to accept nothing less than Yanukovych’s resignation.
Then the really wild rumors began. First, it was reported that Yanukovych had fled Kiev. But where? Initially, the claim was Harkiv. Then, a plane allegedly carrying Yanik was tracked flying south. Sochi? No: the plane flew on and on, eventually landing in the UAE. But was Yanukovych on it?
Apparently not. He was apparently in Harkiv after all, where an assemblage of regime loyalists was meeting. Then came the second rumor: that Yanukovych had resigned.
That rumor lasted a good 90 minutes, and then Yanukovych appeared on television, saying he had not resigned and would not resign. He accused the opposition of being Nazis who were mounting a fascist coup like Hitler’s in 1933.
In the meantime, the police left the streets of Kiev. Berkut units brought to the capital returned to Sevastopol and other cities. The parliament passed a series of new laws, naming a new acting PM and new ministers, and demanding Yanukovych sign all the laws it had passed and the constitutional change or resign. A law releasing Tymoshenko and invalidating the law under which she had been jailed also passed.
And as I write, the Rada has voted to remove Yanukovych from office, and Tymoshenko has left the hospital where she had been imprisioned.
The deal struck yesterday was midwifed by the EU, but although it deserves some credit, the laboring mother was the Ukrainian people, not just on Maidan, but throughout the country. Why did Yanuokovych make so many concessions? I surmise that he was stunned that the campaign of sniping that killed dozens only seemed to increase the determination of the opposition crowds rather than send the scurrying home. The seizure of government buildings throughout the country and the switching of sides by police and interior units in various cities made it plain that he had insufficient strength to control the country. And the firing of the commander of the army suggests that he wanted the military to intervene, but it refused: as I noted from the very beginning, the actions of the army and security forces would be decisive. Thus stymied, Yanukovych tried to buy time and made concessions, but clung to power hoping that he could reverse matters in time.
Now it appears that he has retreated to his eastern redoubt, and is planning to wage a civil war from it. Separatist rallies are occurring in the east.
Given his rhetoric-which dovetails perfectly with that coming out of Russia-it is only a matter of time before he calls on the fraternal support of big brother Russia.
How will Putin respond? I don’t know, but the rhetoric emerging from Russia-including threats to attack the Crimea if “Ukraine breaks apart,” which is exactly what is happening-makes it plain that there is a substantial likelihood of Russian intervention, at least in the east. Moments ago Russia announced that the opposition had violated the deal which the EU had guaranteed, thereby creating the predicate for an intervention. (Though, interestingly, the Russian representative did not sign it, leaving in a huff.) Russia’s UN ambassador Churkin has blamed the “western powers” for destabilizing Ukraine. This further suggests an intervention is in prospect.
Which makes Obama’s reaction all the more shocking. Obama had a phone call with Putin yesterday. Afterwards, the White House announced that the conversation had been “constructive and workmanlike.” The administration made it sound like Putin was in agreement with Obama, and that he has a genuine interest in a peaceful outcome in Ukraine.
He might, but only on his bloody-minded terms. His actions have been and continue to be anything but constructive. Indeed, they have been nothing but destructive and threaten to become even more so.
It is astounding that Obama is publicly acting as if Putin is not ultimately and primarily responsible for this entire catastrophe in Ukraine, because that is exactly the reality. By validating Putin as a constructive force in Ukraine Obama is enabling the Russian president’s impending intervention and will make himself and the United States look utterly foolish when that happens. Just like in Syria.
From the early days of this, I anticipated that civil war was a very possible outcome in Ukraine. It looks for all the world that this possibility is about to become a reality, although I have been repeatedly surprised at the path to that outcome.
This is a tragedy.
Слава Україні. Godspeed to the Ukrainian people. May we do what we can to give them a chance at independence and freedom. But I fear that there is a mismatch of will and capability-especially will-and that the ultimate outcome will be a partition of the country, with Yanukovych ruling over a rump state in the east (until Putin tires of him), and with Putin scheming to find the way to achieve his ultimate objective of gaining control, de facto or de jure, over the entire nation.
This is the end of the beginning, at most. As bad as things have been, they are almost certain to get worse. There is a real possibility that Ukraine will emerge free, but I fear that Ukrainians will have to fight for that freedom.