Ukraine's Attempt to Move Forward Without Yanukovich

4 MINS READFeb 22, 2014 | 15:12 GMT
(Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Ukrainian anti-government demonstrators in Kiev's Independence Square on Feb. 22.

After a series of reports that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich's resignation was imminent, the president dismissed the possibility in a television address Feb. 22, during which he accused his political opponents of staging a coup and compared the events to Nazi Germany. Yanukovich was speaking from the eastern city of Kharkiv, where he has traditionally held strong support. Yanukovich's refusal to resign has emboldened Ukraine's rapidly moving parliament to build a case for impeachment, introducing even greater uncertainty into Kiev's volatile political transition.  

Ukraine's parliament has been highly active Feb. 22. After reinstating the 2004 constitution a day earlier, the parliament has used its enhanced powers to appoint a new interior minister — Arsen Avakov — and speaker of the parliament — Oleksandr Turchynov — both of whom are from the Fatherland Party, led by still-jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko.

Ukraine's parliament has reconvened to move forward with impeachment measures against Yanukovich. Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said that holding elections by May is the only way to bring stability back to the country. Fatherland's parliamentary (and opposition) leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk said that Yanukovich's failure to sign a series of bills into law, as required by parliament to move forward with the most recent Western-backed agreement, justified his dismissal.



Parliament voted 328-0 to impeach Yanukovich, easily obtaining the three-fourths majority vote needed for passage. But the impeachment vote still requires approval by the Constitutional Court. This vote will be contingent on how strong of a case is built for Yanukovich's impeachment. The court has played a pivotal role in similar political junctures in the past.

In 2007, for example, former President Viktor Yushchenko dissolved parliament and called for early elections to try to break a political deadlock. The Constitutional Court effectively blocked this effort until both the parliament and the president could agree on early elections. In 2010, the court moved in line with the president. Yanukovich had introduced amendments to the 2004 constitution in order to shift Ukraine from a parliamentary to a presidential system — the very amendments that were overturned in parliament Feb. 22 in a return to the 2004 charter. The Council of Europe at the time alleged that judges were pressured by Yanukovich to rule in favor of these amendments. At Ukraine's current political juncture, the Constitutional Court would technically have the last say on whether the parliament's moves against the president are legal.

Meanwhile, Fatherlands' influence is already resurging following Timoshenko's pending release from prison, with her loyalists already taking key government positions. If Yanukovich is impeached, using powers granted by the newly reinstated 2004 constitution, presidential authority would go to the speaker of the parliament, a position filled by a Timoshenko ally. Timoshenko appeals to many within the power bases of both Yanukovich and the opposition.

The most important player to watch moving forward is Russia, who will quietly but carefully attempt to maintain leverage in Ukraine's rapidly evolving political climate. Most notably, Russia's representative to the Feb. 21 European-led mediation talks, Vladimir Lukin, did not sign the document spelling out Ukraine's transition, making clear that Moscow did not endorse Europe's designs for Ukraine.  

At the same time, Russia made clear Feb. 20 — in a statement by Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev — that Moscow would not be beholden to a delegitimized leader like Yanukovich. Russia has instead been looking at alternatives, and the release of Timoshenko from prison could come at a fortuitous time for Moscow. The former prime minister can play an iconic role for the West as a politician liberated from her predecessor's repression, but she also has a history of maintaining a close working relationship with the Kremlin. 

While subtly trying to shape the political evolution in Kiev, Russia is supporting the more restive movements taking place in Ukraine's eastern districts. The regional leaders of Donetsk, Kharkiv, Luhansk, Dnipropetrovsk, Crimea and Sevastopol are meeting in Kharkiv to discuss the option of taking control of their own regions, though they are ruling out outright secession. Notably, the Russian Duma's foreign affairs committee chief, Alexei Pushkov, is in Kharkiv at the assembly of the eastern provinces. Pushkov said that the eastern provinces "want to live in a united Ukraine, but not in Ukraine where the conditions and policies they will dictate the extremist forces that do not recognize anything other than the language of violence and political dictatorship."

Russia will also hold out on economic aid to Ukraine until it can be confident that a post-Yanukovich government will recognize the need to work with Russia to hold the country together. Meanwhile, Germany, Poland and France, which initiated the political transition, are staying silent for now while trying to monitor and assess the legality of the Ukrainian parliament's moves.


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