COMMENT: Yanukovych's way out

By bne IntelliNews December 3, 2013

Brian Bonner of Kyiv Post -

President Viktor Yanukovych still may have a way out.

If I were him, and I am glad that I am not, I would hightail it to Brussels, plead for forgiveness and put the association agreement agenda he spurned in Vilnius before parliament right away.

I think that's his only way at the moment. He has, belatedly, seemed to recognize as much when he talked on Dec. 2 about going to back to the European Union and trying to restart negotiations for an association agreement.

It may not be enough.

He can continue to tough it out and hope the protesters will go away. They may or may not, but their anger with him will stay - right through the January 2015 presidential elections that are now right around the corner. Yanukovych knows he must win those elections or face the prospect of going to prison, like his defeated 2010 rival, ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

In this high-stakes game, the momentum seems to be with the people on the streets at the moment.

Yanukovych can crack down on the protesters, as police did on November 30, but that will only bring him more isolation and more protesters on the street - as people demonstrated on December 1. Opposition leader Arseniy Yatseniuk says every police crackdown will inspire more protesters, and he seems right. For the moment, it looks like Yanukovych doesn't have the appetite for violence.

Force will only bring him international isolation and condemnation. Ukraine is not only not Russia, it is not Uzbekistan, Belarus, Kazakhstan or Azerbaijan or any of the other former Soviet republics where dictators rule by fear and violence.

When hundreds of thousands of your citizens are willing to risk their physical safety to get rid of you, your political career is imperiled.

When they're willing to do it day after day, your political career is on life support.

When they're calling for you to serve a third term in prison, look out.

Yanukovych's three most recent big blunders:

· Telling Ukrainians from the start of his presidency that the nation is moving towards integration with the West and all that entails - democracy, rule of law, human rights - and then presiding over a government that goes the opposite way.

· Coming home from the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on November 29, a day before police clean the streets with the blood of demonstrators. Thankfully, no fatalities so far. Someone down the chain of command may take the fall, but it strains credibility to think that the president didn't know about or sanction the crackdown, given the political nature of the EuroMaidan protests. Either that or the nation's interior minister is dumb and venal.

· Tolerating what looks to be paid provocateurs who created disruptions that seem tailor-made to shift the blame to the peaceful protesters. It's not working.

However, the problems with Yanukovych's administration run deep and have ever since he took power in 2010. He is part of a troubled past that Ukraine cannot escape yet, but needs to in order to move forward as a nation.

Unfortunately, the West allowed him to monopolize power in his first year of power without challenging him.

Nothing better could have been expected from an administration led by Yanukovych, who served two terms in prison and whose allies tried to rig the presidential election in 2004, triggering the successful Orange Revolution.

And nothing better could have been expected from Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, who was implicated in numerous allegations of wrongdoing more than 13 years ago on the "Melnychenko tapes" - acts of alleged corruption while he was in the service of ex-president Leonid Kuchma. Unfortunately, like so many allegations of crime in which high-level politicians in Ukraine are implicated, the cases are never investigated or punished.

Whether they are found guilty or vindicated in court, we'll never know as long as they are in power. But we do now that people who commit crimes with impunity are emboldened to keep doing it.

So Ukraine as a nation tries to move forward, but keeps getting snapped back by its inability to root out corruption and create institutions run by people who put the public interest first, who seek justice, transparency and rule of law.

Street power that we are witnessing now is inspiring, but it is also dangerous for the nation and no way to govern. Already, Ukraine's economy is likely to suffer because of the turmoil.

So far, protesters have blocked the Cabinet of Ministers, taken over Kyiv city hall and retaken the main square, Maidan Nezalezhnosti, in defiance of a court ban on public demonstrations.

Parliament is today considering legislation to force Azarov's government out. If it fails, the anger will mount.

Yanukovych must know this and find another prime minister, a compromise choice outside of the pro-presidential Party of Regions. Then he must sign the association agreement with no reservations or new conditions and hope that the EU is willing to do the same.

This will not guarantee his survival, but it will let him - and possibly the nation - step back from the brink.

This comment piece by the Kyiv Post's chief editor Brian Bonner first appeared in that newspaper and has been reproduced with their kind permission.

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