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Stalemate in Ukraine

Eugen Theise / gsw
February 5, 2014

The heated power struggle in Ukraine continues with no end in sight. The opposition has hoped in vain that President Yanukovych would lose control of parliament. Now, his adversaries are hoping for support from the EU.

A session in Ukraine's parliament (C) AFP PHOTO/ SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images
Image: Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

Viktor Yanukovych is clinging to power, strictly rejecting the opposition's demand for early elections. Legal proceedings against protesters are continuing, which means that hundreds of opposition members fear long jail sentences. An amnesty law passed last week in parliament will only come into effect if the demonstrators vacate government buildings they have occupied. They have yet to do so.

The leading opposition groups wanted to push through an unconditional and immediate amnesty law on Tuesday (04.02.2013) with the support of a handful of the governing party's parliamentarians as well as some independent members of parliament. Last week, many in Yanukovych's party were prepared to vote for the opposition's proposal. In addition, a number of parliamentarians formerly loyal to the ruling party announced they were severing their ties in protest of continuing repression against opposition activists. Voting on the amnesty law was a litmus test for the president's support in parliament.

Parliament in stand-by mode

There's been disappointment for those who hoped the threat of sanctions from German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Monday could rattle Viktor Yanukovych's grip on power. None of the laws that the opposition wanted to see implemented have even made it onto the parliamentary agenda.

Viktor Yanukovych (c) Mosienko/RIA Novosti
Yanukovych continues to enjoy the support of parliament's biggest factionImage: RIA Nowosti

Informal talks showed that the proposals would not have the support of a majority. The opposition's bold plan of trying to disempower Yanukovych by returning to a version of the constitution from 2004 also failed. Ultimately, the move didn't find enough support among converts from Yanukovych's party. The president's threat of dissolving parliament in the event of its largest party not standing behind him unanimously seemed to have had its intended effect.

After an hours-long session, a recess was called, and now it's an open question whether or not parliament will be capable of working again soon. Neither side seems capable of forming a stable majority at the moment that could form a new government.

"The cabinet of Mykola Azarov, who resigned last week, will likely remain in office in a caretaker function even until presidential polls in early 2015," said the independent parliamentarian Serhiy Mishtshenko to journalists. He explained that there are too many risks for any potential successor to Azarov, given that the country is near bankruptcy and the political situation remains highly unstable.

EU money welcome

Moscow had promised Ukraine financial aid in December, but has since postponed that plan until a fully functioning government returns to office. Simultaneously, the European Union has signaled a willingness to lend financial support to Ukraine if a new government emerges in Kyiv. In exchange, Brussels would expect reforms. The EU also issued a second condition: The new government would be a transitional cabinet consisting of Yanukovych's party as well as opposition members.

Ukraine could certainly use money from the EU, said parliamentarian Vladislav Lukyanov of the governing Party of Regions. "We have to reduce our dependency on financing from Russia, but we need a concrete offer from the EU," he said in an interview with DW.

Vitali Klitschko in Ukraine's parliament (C) AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov
Klitschko believes the European Union has a key role to play in easing the crisisImage: picture alliance/AP Photo

Lukyanov and the members of his party are open for talks with the opposition, and Lukyanov says a compromise toward forming a new government is conceivable.

Brussels as mediator?

It's questionable that the EU would be able to convince both sides to agree to a joint transitional government. But the opposition has shown particular support for the EU taking on a role as mediator.

"Only by way of mediation from the European Union can there be a guarantee that a potential compromise between the government and opposition would actually hold," the head of the oppositional UDAR party, Vitali Klitschko, told DW.

Fellow opposition member Volodymyr Polotshaninov of the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party even believes that Ukraine cannot make it out of its crisis without the EU's help.

"If we don't find a way out with the help of our European partners within a few weeks, the situation will deteriorate dramatically - politically and economically," he warned.

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