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Leonid Kravchuk in parliament (photo: REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)
Image: Reuters

Standstill in Ukraine

Roman Goncharenko /sst
January 29, 2014

Ukraine's parliament is taking its time to find a solution to the country's political crisis. EU politicians have increased efforts, but in the meantime no one knows whether the situation could escalate further.


Leonid Kravchuk (pictured above), Ukraine's first post-independence president from 1991 to 1994, chose clear words when he addressed parliament on Wednesday (29.01.2014). "All the world acknowledges and Ukraine acknowledges that the state is on the verge of civil war," 80-year old Kravchuk said.

"It is a revolution; it is a dramatic situation in which we must act with the greatest responsibility," he said to applause and standing ovations. "We need to ease the confrontation between the sides and agree to a plan to solve the conflict."

Kravchuk said he and his successor Leonid Kuchma were ready to help explain the plan to Ukrainians on the street, adding that he would also make sure it would be observed.

Amnesty law stirs up trouble

But such a plan may take a while, considering how Ukraine's parliament treaded water for hours on Wednesday. The parliamentarians failed to quickly approve an amnesty law for opposition demonstrators. Their special meeting in Kyiv's closed-off government quarter was repeatedly interrupted for consultations. As a result, dozens of activists continue to remain in prison.

Ukraine Maidan protests (photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
The opposition is calling for an unconditional amnesty, but the government is agreeing only to a temporary amnestyImage: Getty Images

Representatives of opposition parties demand an unconditional amnesty for everyone participating in the protests against the government and President Viktor Yanukovych. The governing majority, however, aims to implement only a temporary amnesty that would be valid only for those who withdraw from protests on the streets.

Meeting halfway

Prime Minister Mykola Asarov's resignationand the fast annulment of controversial laws on Tuesday (28.01.2014) were Yanukovich's first steps toward meeting the opposition halfway. In turn, the opposition cleared the agricultural ministry on Wednesday, which had been blocked by protesters. The president, however, is demanding that all administrative buildings be cleared. The demand could prove difficult given the lack of control opposition politicians have over some protesters.

That's why a quick solution to the political crisisis a distant prospect. The most important demand of the protesters – namely, a call for new elections - hasn't even been discussed yet. An amendment to the constitution in favor of a presidential-parliamentary democracy will also take days, if not weeks.

Stalling will help Yanukovych and his government since both will have more time to gain control of the protests - and perhaps dissolve them with the help of violence after all. More and more police officers and tanks are present in Kiev's government quarter. According to reports from Ukraine's eastern and southern regions, regional authorities are using cement blocks to fight off waves of protesters. And activists are reportedly still being arrested.

EU politicians help negotiate?

In light of these developments, the European Union has increased its presence in Kyiv. A visit by EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle was followed by a visit by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who stopped by two days earlier than initially planned. Other EU members of parliament such as Elmar Brok (CDU) also came to Kyiv and met with both government and opposition forces.

Yanukovich (left) and Ashton (photo: EPA/MYKHAILO MARKIV / POOL )
Ashton met Yanukovich in December 2013Image: picture-alliance/dpa

It appears as if the EU attempted to negotiate a peaceful solution without making a big fuss about it, although there is no confirmation of that intention.

Russia, on the other hand, has been holding back - at least officially. Since the outburst of the crisis, no high-ranking Russian politician has visited Kyiv.

Demonstrators in Kyiv's city center are still determined to stay put despite the bitter cold. They distrust opposition politicians and aim to remain until the president steps down or announces new elections.

Yanukovich has yet to respond to their demands.

At the roadblocks of Hruschevski street, where police and radical demonstrators are at a stand-off, a small fire has been burning since the beginning of the week. There are no gunshots or explosions, nor Molotov cocktails at the moment. But that could all start again at any time.

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