Friday, August 01, 2014


Ukraine

Explainer: Can Deal Reached In Ukraine End The Crisis?

Antigovernment protesters gather on Independence square  in central Kyiv on February 21. Will the new agreement convince them to clear the square?
Antigovernment protesters gather on Independence square in central Kyiv on February 21. Will the new agreement convince them to clear the square?

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By Robert Coalson
Ukrainian politicians, with the aid of international mediators, have reportedly signed an agreement aimed at resolving the country's political crisis and ending weeks of demonstrations and sometimes deadly clashes.

What are the main terms of the agreement?

President Viktor Yanukovych's website has confirmed a deal comprising three points.

First, the country would return immediately to the 2004 version of the constitution. Under that constitution, which was itself ruled unconstitutional in 2010, the powers of the president were sharply reduced. The president selected only the foreign and defense ministers, while the rest of the government was chosen by the Verkhovna Rada, or parliament.

Second, Yanukovych said he was beginning the process of creating "a government of national trust," that is, a cabinet that would include representatives of all major political forces. According to some reports, the new cabinet will explicitly have the authority to reverse the government's decision in November not to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union.

Third, Yanukovych agreed to organize an early presidential election by the end of 2014.

The agreement also stipulates a process of constitutional revision that would be concluded by the end of September..

LIVE BLOG: Crisis In Ukraine

Other possible points to an agreement that were not mentioned by Yanukovych but have come up in other reports include a process of constitutional revision that would be concluded by the end of September and an impartial investigation into the violence and bloodshed during the Kyiv demonstrations would be opened.

Why has the opposition insisted on a return to the 2004 version of the Ukrainian Constitution?

This was the version of the constitution under which President Viktor Yanukovych was elected in 2010. The opposition views a return to the 2004 constitution as essential for dismantling the system of "regional cronyism" that Yanukovych has instituted as president. The opposition is concerned that key state positions around the country have been filled with people from Yanukovych's home Donbas region and that Yanukovych and his two sons have created a criminogenic, oligarchic power structure that has undermined the economy and the rule of law in Ukraine.

Andrew Wilson, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, says that for the opposition, the constitutional question goes to the heart of Yanukovych's legitimacy.

"Everybody keeps saying that Yanukovych won a free and fair election in February-March 2010, but not as a president with the massive range of powers that he illegitimately seized in October 2010," Wilson notes. "He browbeat the Constitutional Court into abrogating its duties and waving that through. So many people say he's basically been an illegitimate president with an illegitimate excess of power since then."

Opposition activists also argue that only a return to that constitutional framework will enable the government of national unity that is also to be created under the accord to make a real difference.

What would a government of national unity look like and would it be able to satisfy the protesters?

The agreement to end the crisis includes the formation of a coalition government including opposition figures in key posts, but the exact structure of the new cabinet is difficult to predict.

Andreas Umland, associate professor of political science at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, says it is not absolutely necessary that the new government be headed by a member of the opposition. "There are also people in the Party of Regions that are not yet implicated that much," he says. "There is, for instance, a man called Serhiy Tihipko, who was once a presidential candidate and who is not yet implicated in any of the [violence]. So, there could be still a relatively independent prime minister from the Party of Regions who could be acceptable to the protesters."

More important for the success of any deal is the role of Yanukovych personally. "It would also depend on how much power is actually, in reality, then transferred to this new government," Umland says. "If Yanukovych keeps a large part of his powers and remains an influential figure in the Ukrainian political system, I think the demonstrators will not be happy. For them it will be difficult anyway to agree to Yanukovych remaining for the time being officially president of Ukraine."

Can opposition leaders convince protesters to leave the barricades?

As the Euromaidan protest has dragged on since November, it has attracted many groups and become increasingly decentralized. As a result, it remains seriously in doubt whether the opposition leaders talking with Yanukovych have the clout necessary to bring an end to the protest, even with an agreement.

Wilson of the European Council says the situation has changed dramatically in the last two days and the protesters may well feel they are in a position of overwhelming strength. "[Yanukovych] is really weak. The situation has changed drastically. Some people in the opposition are thinking he might fall or flee," he explains.

"What happened yesterday morning is so shameful -- there are credible reports in the Ukrainian press that the snipers may not have been shooting from but had been based in the cabinet of ministers' building. The government has lost its majority in parliament. There are reports of people fleeing from Zhulyany Airport," Wilson continues. "The president is very, very weak."

Umland agrees, but believes there is a chance, if the deal means that Yanukovych and other key government officials who demonstrators blame for the bloodshed in Kyiv will have no real power, the barricades could come down . "Then I think the opposition leaders should be able to persuade the protesters to go home," he says.

Robert Coalson

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