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Concessions fail to stem the crisis in Ukraine

This article is over 7 years, 11 months old
Oligarchs are exerting their power but protests continue, writes Simon Basketter
Issue 2388
Barricade with the protesters at Hrushevskogo street, Kiev on Sunday of last week
Barricade with the protesters at Hrushevskogo street, Kiev on Sunday of last week (Pic: Sasha Maksymenko)

Ukraine’s president Viktor Yanukovych was locked in talks with the three main opposition political leaders as Socialist Worker went to press.

The talks represent the wings of Ukraine’s establishment trying to resolve a crisis that has gripped the country since last November.

Ukraine’s prime minister Mykola Azarov resigned at the start of a parliamentary debate on Tuesday of this week. The government also repealed new anti-protest laws.

The long-running crisis was sparked when the government rejected a deal with the European Union.

Splits between the pro-Western and pro-Russian sections of the ruling class, and widespread anger at the government sparked mass protests and occupations of government buildings.

The opposition may secure constitutional changes this week that significantly weaken Yanukovych.

Yanukovych said an amnesty for dozens of protesters arrested during demonstrations would only be implemented if protesters leave the streets and occupied buildings.

The key to understanding his position may lie in a secret meeting of Ukraine’s powerful oligarchs. This took place last Saturday—and the president was not invited.

Those present included Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man. Dmitry Firtash, Vadim Novinsky and representatives of Igor Kolomoisky and Gennadiy Bogolyubov were also present.

All five are billionaires—and control at least 100 of Ukraine’s 447 MPs.

Most but not all of those MPs are aligned behind the governing Party of Regions. It defeated an attempted no confidence vote last December by a margin of 40 votes.

The bosses put out a statement condemning the use of force by those involved in both “street riots and attempts to curb them”.

That evening Yanukovych made his first concessions.

Violent clashes in the capital Kiev last week left at least four people dead.

Planned protests in Kiev for last weekend were cancelled for talks and for the funeral of a protester. But demonstrations spread across the country.

Yanukovych offered to make Arseniy Yatsenyuk—acting leader of the Fatherland party—prime minister. He proposed that Vitali Klitschko, the former world heavyweight boxing champion, be deputy prime minister.

So far both have rejected the offer.

Activists from one group stormed a justice ministry building in Kiev last Sunday, despite opposition leaders telling them not to. This exposed the limits of the protest leaders’ authority.

Activists continue to occupy Kiev’s central square and government buildings in a number of Ukrainian cities. 

The protests are on a huge scale. But so far the movement remains trapped as a bargaining chip for the interests of the West, Russia and Ukrainian bosses.

Who’s who in Ukraine

The groups manoeuvring to shape Ukraine’s future include:

  • Party of the Regions: Pro-Russian ruling party led by president Viktor Yanukovych.
  • All-Ukrainian Union ‘Fatherland’: Holds about 20 percent of parliamentary seats. Led by Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Essentially a pro-Western, neoliberal party.
  • Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform: Led by boxing champion Vitali Klitschko. Another pro-Western, neoliberal party.
  • Svoboda ‘Freedom’: Fascist group led by Oleh Tyahnybok.
  • Right sector: Far right networks are at the core of street fighting in Kiev. They oppose integration with Russia and the EU. But they don’t account for the tens of thousands on the protests.
  • Trade unions: Tied to either the ruling party or the opposition. There are moves towards calls for strikes from those backing the opposition.

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