Viktor Sokolov is Vice-President of the Gorshenin Institute, a tink-tank.
The situation in Ukraine is developing very rapidly. Over several months, Ukraine has gone through a way from a peaceful opposing that ended on 30 November – when the Berkut special detachment dispersed the demonstrators, mainly young students of universities – to 25 people killed in 24 hours of confrontation.
Dangerous precedents have been set.
Yesterday, the peaceful settlement would have been realistic. The text of the constitutional agreement was approved by the power and the opposition. It was supposed to re-establish the system of balances and counterbalances by returning to Constitution 2004. The Verkhovna Rada chairman Volodymyr Rybak asserted that the relevant bill would be set for vote, but at the very last moment, he refused to do so. The peaceful protest was prevented from access to the Verkhovna Rada.
As result, confrontations between the protesters and the police detachments started that transformed into massive clashes afterwards. The attempt to clean up the administrative quarter by force resulted in numerous victims. According to preliminary count, 25 people already died yesterday and overnight, from gunshot wounds included.
Today, a de facto emergency state has been introduced in the country. Obvious are the following elements:
- Special order of entering and leaving towns, restriction of freedom of movement in the emergency territory. Metro is not operating in Kyiv. “Snowstorm” plan has been introduced in the city that limits movements of citizens. Roads leading to Kyiv are blocked. The midtown in the capital is blocked with police checkpoints that search cars. Operation of institutions and companies located in the downtown has been virtually suspended.
- Use of army to maintain order. The acting minister of defense Pavlo Lebedev confirmed in his comment to LB.ua publication that paratroopers from Dnipropetrovsk had been sent to Kyiv. The media also report dislocation of tank forces. It is to note however that the army has not been engaged in the confrontations with the protesters so far.
- Restriction of media activities. There is a grave pressure on journalists. Berkut special detachments are point shooting on journalists, despite the special marking that identifies them: orange vests with “PRESS” inscription. 27 journalists were injured yesterday and today, and one killed. Broadcast of the pro-opposition 5 Channel TV station was blocked yesterday.
- Ban on mass events. The use of groups called titushkis for extrajudicial executions against the protesters is a dangerous precedent. “Titushka” is a common name used for these people who are engaged by the Ukrainian power for political purposes as mercenaries for illegal use of force and to organize provocations and clashes. Such groups remind of death squadrons in the Central and Latin America, Tonton Macoutes of the Haitian president Francois Duvalier or the pro-governmental units in Venezuela. For example, the journalist of “Vesti” publication was killed with a gun right in front of the Kyiv police headquarters by one of such groups. Another group smashed almost 30 ambulances that were transporting people injured in the street clashes to hospitals this night.
At the same time, it is to note that the power and the arms get under the control of the protesters in the Western regions of Ukraine. Among other, the Ministry of Interior, the Ukraine’s Security Service, prosecutor offices, military bases and arsenals with arms are under their control now. Negotiations are held with the army about joining the side of the protesters.
Until yesterday, the factor that would have been a serious factor capable of stopping the countering and finding peaceful solutions, was Ukraine’s Parliament. The Parliament has not gathered for the today’s session already. President Viktor Yanukovych has virtually renounced from negotiations with the opposition by suggesting them only one option: stop the protests and make the protesters go home. Yanukovych has stressed that if the situation develops otherwise, other measures might be applied to the opposition leaders.
The parliamentary and the political tools inside the country have been virtually exhausted. One of the ways to channel the situation development back to the peaceful way would be engaging third parties for conflict mediation between the power and the opposition. These may be either international organizations, specific countries or groups of states united ad hoc to settle a specific conflict. The major difficulty with such an option is the need for acknowledgement of such a third party as a mediator by both the power and the opposition.
Today, Ukraine is one step from the civil war. The further development of the situation may result in Ukraine becoming a flashpoint on the European map. And the settlement of the situation will cease being only a domestic issue for the citizens of Ukraine.