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Opinion: Yanukovych is on the defensive

While attempting to divide the protest movement, Ukraine's president, Viktor Yanukovych, has come under increased pressure himself. Only early elections can solve the national crisis, believes DW's Bernd Johann.

Bernd Johann

Bernd Johann is the head of DW's Ukrainian department

Poison apples should not be accepted, and the Ukrainian opposition leaders did well to avoid the latest trap set up by the country's president. They acted wisely when they rejected the power-share offer, not wanting to assume any leadership positions under a corrupt head of state who clings to power in the hope of dividing the opposition and the protest movement.

President Yanukovych is still not prepared to respond to calls for new elections. He has also not budged on other matters: undemocratic laws that threaten freedom of speech and demonstration rights, as well as the progress of civil initiatives. There has been no mention of any intention to relax these laws, which are transforming Ukraine into a dictatorship. He only intends to release arrested demonstrators after the protesters have pulled out of central Kyiv.

There are no compromise offers worthy of serious consideration by the opposition and protest movement, especially since the state security forces are ready to violently suppress the demonstrations at any moment. Even while Yanukovych was outlining his pseudo-concessions to the opposition, Interior Minister Vitali Zakharchenko spoke harsh words against the protesters, calling them "extremists" and saying that they should not be surprised if force is used against them.

At the same time, Ukraine's leaders are themselves coming under increasing pressure. The protests in Kyiv are spreading to the whole country, and in Ukraine's large cities in central and western regions some top political posts are occupied by critics of the government. Even in the east, where support for the president has been strongest, protests are beginning to intensify. Things are getting difficult for Yanukovych.

Pressure from the business sector

At the same time, the president is being put under pressure from another side: the most politically influential industry leaders - called oligarchs in Ukraine - are starting to feel uneasy. They are worried about the consequences the political crisis could have on the Ukrainian economy. After all, the power struggle is weakening the whole country, which was already economically embattled to begin with. Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's most powerful entrepreneur and reportedly Yanukovych's close supporter, has warned of further escalation. In an open letter disseminated by Ukrainian media he wrote that the economy cannot remain stable when people are being killed.

The man is right. The violence in Kyiv needs to end and Ukraine must not be allowed to descend into chaos, or even civil war. And the only way to prevent further escalation is through new elections - the opposition needs to make this clear to Yanukovych. His hypocritical offers of governmental restructuring will not solve the crisis. Early parliamentary and presidential elections need to take place.

At the same time, the special police units need to be withdrawn. The president carries the responsibility for the violence of recent days. He must not allow the situation to escalate. And no one should be allowed to shoot at demonstrators, because that is a crime against humanity.

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