The European Union has grown increasingly concerned about the influence of nationalist groups in Ukraine. Josh Black argues that this makes a parliamentary settlement even more urgent.
This morning marks a critical stage in the development of Ukraine’s protest movement. Last week’s pitched battles in the streets of Kyiv have fortunately given way, only for President Yanukovych to make a deeply unsatisfactory offer to appoint two opposition leaders to the offices of Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. That offer had to be rejected, because for Arseniy Yatsenyiuk and Vitali Klitschko, respectively leaders of the Batkivshchyna and UDAR parties to have accepted would have exposed their lack of influence over those camped out in Independence Square.
What Yanukovych intended with Saturday’s offer, besides providing the opposition with the veneer but not the reality of power, was to force Yatsenyiuk and Klitschko to forsake the third most significant leader of the protesters. Oleh Tyahnybok, the 45-year old leader of the nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party, has reinvigorated his party’s fortunes by putting himself at the centre of the protests. Yet even he is beginning to look cowed by the weight of responsibility of leadership.
The result is that even nastier elements in Ukraine’s nationalist opposition are beginning to make capital out of the protests. Much of the mischief was made by a group called Right Sector, a curious mixture of groups with no apparent leadership. This now has Europe worried, to the extent that the local EU mission in Kyiv has urged the opposition to “maintain the peaceful character of demonstrations and to dissociate itself clearly from all those who make use of violence in pursuing their aims.”
Cathy Ashton, on her way to Kyiv, echoed those comments, adding that the only way to resolve the crisis was through a political solution. She expressed her hope “that the Ukrainian parliament will set a clear path during tomorrow’s session towards a political solution.” Apart from revoking the package of laws that banned protests involving helmets, convoys of vehicles and gas marks, there is little indication what form that solution might take. As a result, Ukraine is likely to adopt constitutional reforms made up on the spot, or formed by horse-trading at best.
Ukraine’s problems could be more serious than many have suggested. Yanukovych appears willing to throw his Prime Minister, Mykola Azarov, under the bus in order to preserve his own office, despite the Russian-born politician leading Yanukovych’s own party, the largest in the state parliament. If the opposition similarly sacrifice their more-extreme leaders, a deal could be struck that excludes and therefore radicalises great chunks of the country. The stakes are high, but with fuses getting shorter, a solution needs to be found soon.
Post-script: The European People’s Party has issued a statement charging Russia with responsibility for the protests and calling for sanctions.