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Ukraine's new beginning?

Bernd Johann / slkFebruary 23, 2014

In Ukraine, an authoritarian regime has been deprived of its power. But some parts of the country aren't on board with the change. Only an inclusive transition can ward off national division, says DW's Bernd Johann.

Bernd Johann
Image: DW/P. Henriksen

Political change has swept Ukraine like a landslide. In rapid succession, parliament voted to remove President Viktor Yanukovych from power, called early elections for May, and freed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko from prison. No sooner had Tymoshenko been released than she announced her intent to run for president. The Ukrainian people have deprived an authoritarian and corrupt regime of its power, setting into motion a historic democratic revolution in Eastern Europe.

Just days ago, the country seemed to be descending into civil war after the bloodbath on Independence Square. But a political solution to the conflict now seems possible. Parliament and a transitional government will soon face the difficult task of reforming Ukraine's politics. And Yanukovych's former followers must be included in the transition. Otherwise, the conflict will likely escalate again and could split the country into two states.

Resistance in the East

The capital, Kyiv, and the center and West of the country are in the hands of the opposition. Ukraine's interior ministry and security forces have also come out in support of the protesters, while the military has said it will not intervene in the country's domestic politics. But in Ukraine's heavily populated eastern and southern regions, resistance is widespread. The leaders of the local governments there doubt the legitimacy of the resolutions passed by parliament, with some of them describing the events in Kyiv as a coup. Such sentiment is politically explosive and could lead to a new radicalization of the conflict.

That's the case above all in the east, where Russia's influence is strong. Moscow has warned that extremists pose a threat to the constitutional order, making it clear that Putin's government does not support the revolutionary change in Ukraine. Now as before, Russia is pursuing its own geopolitical interests in its neighbor's politics. Moscow supports the regime of Yanukovych, and it would be naïve to believe that the Kremlin will stay out of Ukraine's domestic affairs in the future.

Although Yanukovych's days are numbered, he will not accept his ouster, despite the fact that he has been politically discredited. As president, he carries responsibility for the crimes committed against his own people. Many representatives from his own Party of Regions recognize this and have voted for his ouster and agreed to new elections in May. That's a good sign.

Tymoshenko returns to the political stage

But it remains to be seen how Yanukovych's party as a whole will react to the events in Kyiv. The danger remains that radical politicians among the Party of Regions' ranks could incite people against the democratic movement in Kyiv. Yulia Tymoshenko could also create controversy. She has already announced that she wants to run for president. Among the opposition, she is presumably the most popular politician. But she remains a polarizing figure. Some political constituencies vehemently oppose her just as much as others passionately support her.

Above all, Ukraine needs a dialogue that facilitates a political new beginning. The opposition, which has effectively taken power in Ukraine, now has to prove the changes it has introduced can lead to a national reconciliation. Only then can a democratic transformation take place. One can only hope that politicians in Ukraine's East, who have supported Yanukovych, are also ready for a new start.