21 Feb 2014

Uneasy peace in Ukraine – but will the new deal hold?

An agreement between Ukraine’s President Yanukovych and the opposition parties promises constitutional reform, coalition government and new elections. But what are the prospects for success?

  • Yulia Tymoshenko to be released
  • President Yanukovych agrees to early elections and constitutional reform
  • Deal signed between Yanukovych and three opposition leaders
  • At least 77 people killed in violent clashes
  • Ukrainian protesters opened fire on Friday on police between Kiev’s Independence Square
  • Follow Channel 4 Europe Editor @mattfrei live in Kiev

(Place your cursor over the image to scroll through the picture gallery – images from Getty and Channel 4 News producer Federico Escher)

In front of witnesses from three EU states and a special envoy from Russia, President Viktor Yanukovich today signed a deal aimed at settling the crisis that is threatening to pull Ukraine apart.

The agreement promised that –

  • a special law would be passed within 48 hours, restoring the country’s constitution
  • the signatories will form a coalition – and then a national unity government – within 10 days
  • constitutional reform, balancing the powers of the president, government and parliament, will be completed by September
  • new presidential elections will be held no later than December

Ukraine’s parliament voted on Friday in favour of a number of reforms that have been agreed between the government, political leaders from the opposition and overseen by EU ministers.

One of the changes voted for was a change to the criminal code which will allow the release of Ms Tymoshenko, who was jailed in 2001 under “abuse of office” charges, by a margin if 310 votes to 54.

Ms Tymoshenko, whose imprisonment has been previously condemned by the European Union, is a popular figure with protesters.

It has been reported that her health has been deteriorating whilst in jail, and it is unclear when she will be released.

ITV News footage showed Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, who was involved in the deal’s negotiations, telling opposition leaders that if they did not agree to the compromise then there would be “martial law” and “you’ll all be dead”.

However, Channel 4 News Europe Editor Matt Frei, reporting from the Maidan protest in Independence Square, said the deal had been met with a reaction of “thanks, but no thanks” by demonstrators.

The response on Twitter from Independence Square also suggested that protesters were not impressed with the deal, and the call for President Yanukovych to resign was still being made. Protesters have been calling for new presidential by the end of April at the latest.

A list has also been released online including 73 names of people said to have been killed in the protest violence. The list was said to have been compiled up until 18 February – though since then Ukraine has seen its bloodiest days of clashes.

European Union ministers flew into Ukraine to engage in talks with President Yanokvych and opposition leaders, leading to the compromise agreement.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has said after the deal was signed, at the presidential administrative headquarters on Friday, that elections should take place in the “proper time”, not in a “matter of weeks.”

Who leads the protest?

However, the issue will be whether or not the agreement between opposition political leaders and President Yanukovych will be accepted by the protesters in Independence Square. Concerns have been raised that the opposition leaders, such as leader of the Fatherland party Arseniy Yatsenuk and leader of the Udar party and former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Kltischko, do not speak for the Maidan protesters.

A Facebook poll tweeted from the @EuroMaidanPR account, the “official international public relations secretariat for the headquarters of the national resistance of the EuroMaidan”, suggest that Mr Yatsenyuk and Mr Klitschko do not have widespread support in the crowds of Independence Square.

The figure who recieved the most votes (more than 11,000) by people naming the EuroMaidan leader was Dmitro Yarosh, the far-right leader of the RPravy Sektor (Right Sector). It has been reported that he has spoken in violent terms about resisting the regime, and about how his men have amassed an arsenal of weapons.

Last month Channel 4 News reported how far-right elements were at the core of Ukraine’s protests, and were gaining support.

Other popular Maidan leaders were EuroMaidan commandant and Fatherland politician Andriy Parubiy (7,100 votes), another Fatherland politician, Lesya Orobets, who has spoken out against Vladimir Putin’s influence on Ukrainian affairs (4,600 votes), Arseniy Hrytsenko, a politician who fell out with Mr Yatsenyuk and resigned from Fatherland last month (4,200 votes) and Petro Poroshenko – a prominent Ukrainian businessman and politician (2,700 votes).

Vitali Klitschko is 12th on the list with just over 1,000 votes and Mr Yatsenyuk is at 59th on the list with just 114 votes.

Inside the square

On friday it was reported that members of police from western Ukraine, the more typically pro-EU area of the country, had arrived in Kiev to support Maidan protesters.

The arrival follows protesters taking over councils in a number of western cities, and also the city of Lviv declaring independence from the Yanukovuch regime.

Ukrainian protesters opened fire on Friday on police between Kiev’s Independence Square and the parliament building, according to a government statement.

“Participants in the mass disorder opened fire on police officers and tried to burst through in the direction of the parliament building,” the statement said.

It did not say whether police returned fire or tried to restrain the protesters. Mr Yatsenyuk, speaking in the parliament building, said armed police had entered the premises but the deputy speaker said they had been forced back out of the building.

On Thursday, riot police were captured on video shooting from a rooftop at demonstrators in the central plaza, also known as the Maidan.

Protesters hurled petrol bombs and paving stones to drive the security forces off a corner of the square the police had captured in battles that began two days earlier.

The health ministry said 75 people had been killed since Tuesday afternoon, which means at least 47 died in Thursday’s clashes.

That is by far the worst violence since Ukraine emerged from the crumbling Soviet Union 22 years ago.

Mr Yanukovych’s position was looking increasingly difficult, especially after the resignation of Lieutenant-General Yuri Dumansky, deputy head of the armed forces general staff.

“The armed forces of Ukraine are being drawn into a civil conflict. This could be the cause of a large number of deaths of civilians and servicemen,” Mr Dumansky told Channel 5 television.

“I have decided to tender my resignation to avoid an escalation and bloodshed.”