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30/07/2016

EU to step in as mediator in Ukraine

Europe's East

EU to step in as mediator in Ukraine

Vitaliy Klitschko.jpg

The EU is ready to delegate high-level representatives to act as mediators in talks between the opposition and the authorities in Ukraine, Vitali Klitschko, leader of the opposition UDAR party was quoted as saying today (5 February) after talks in Kyiv with the EU’s foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton.

“Somebody has to oversee how the process of negotiations proceeds and register all agreements and commitments. High Representative Ms Ashton assured us that the EU is ready to delegate high-level mediators for the talks between the opposition and the power”, Klitschko said, as quoted by the website Zerkalo nedeli.

Ashton is holding talks today (5 February) with Yanukovich and with opposition leaders.

Klitschko, the boxer-turned-politician who is one of the main opposition leaders, came out of a meeting yesterday with the president Viktor Yanukovich, accusing him of courting more unrest by stalling.

"The head of state is taking an irresponsible position because, by his actions, he is provoking people to take radical action and the democratic world to take sanctions," he said.

The opposition, buoyed by Western expressions of support, pressed in parliament for a return to a previous constitution, which would mean Yanukovich losing some of the key powers he has accumulated since being elected in 2010.

These include appointing the prime minister and entire government as well as regional governors.

The opposition also wants an unconditional amnesty for protesters detained in the unrest to be broadened into an unconditional pardon for all those being held by police.

"One of the ways out is the redistribution of powers held by the authorities. After that we can be more certain of changes in the country," said Klitschko.

But he added: "The President does not want this [constitutional change] and, what's more, this is aggravating the situation."

Factions for the parliamentary parties tried to work out a common document but failed to reach agreement and the parliamentary session was suspended until Wednesday.

Analysts say any return to the 2004 constitution – something which the pro-Yanukovich majority in parliament seems unlikely to allow – would automatically mean an early presidential election, another key demand of the opposition.

Warning

Ukraine quickly reacted after German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier raised the issue of sanctions.

Steinmeier had said on Monday that Germany remained ready to take decisive action against Ukraine's leadership to persuade the country to work with the opposition to resolve the political standoff.

Asked about opposition calls for sanctions on the Ukrainian leadership, Steinmeier said that "sanctions should be now be displayed as a threat."

Steinmeier added that, though there had been a "small moves that were reason for a little hope" in recent days, Ukraine "remains a powder keg, and I hope that neither side sets it off."

Ukraine’s foreign ministry called in Berlin's ambassador to Kyiv and said later in a statement: "It was emphasised that there was a need for an objective assessment of the development of the internal political processes of the situation in our state and that provocative statements should be avoided."

Going to Sochi Olympics

Yanukovich’s office said he was preparing to go to Sochi in Russia to attend the opening of the Winter Olympics later this week, a visit which could provide a chance for further talks with Putin.

Russia has released $3 billion of the promised $15 billion (€11 billion) lifeline, but Putin has since hinted there may be no more coming until Moscow sees the colour of the next Ukrainian government.

The sub-text seems to be that Moscow will keep the credits from coming on stream if Yanukovich brings in a government that will tilt policy back towards the West.

Yanukovich has yet to appoint a successor to Russian-born hardliner Mykola Azarov, who stepped down as premier on 28 January.

But several news websites picked up a comment by an opposition figure that he believed Yanukovich would pick Klyuev, now his chief of staff with wide powers in the administration, for the hot spot.

But Klyuev, a former first deputy prime minister and former head of the National Defence and Security Council, is seen by most protesters as being behind a police crackdown at the end of November and his appointment could prove risky.

Background

The Ukrainian government announced on 21 November that it had decided to stop its preparations to sign an Association Agreement (AA) with the EU. 

Following the news that Yanukovich failed to sign the AA at the Vilnius summit on 28-29 November, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets demanding his resignation [read more]. The protests, called EuroMaidan, have lasted ever since.

On 16 January supporters of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich hastily pushed through in Parliament new laws, in an attempt to curb anti-government protests. The Commission called these laws “shocking” and “disrespectful to democracy” [read more].

The new legislation, which ran to more than 100 pages and a summary of which in English was obtained by EurActiv, appeared directed mainly at preparing the ground for action to end the street protests. On 28 January the parliament revoked this legislation and the Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigned. He was replaced by Serhiy Arbuzov, a close ally to Yanukovich.

Six people have been killed and hundreds have been injured in street battles between anti-government demonstrators and police which escalated sharply after the authorities toughened their response. The police officer who died on the street on Wednesday night took the death toll to seven.

Timeline

  • 5 Feb.: Ashton to hold talks with Ukraine leadership, opposition;
  • 7 Feb.: Yanukovich to meet with Putin in Sochi.
  • 10 Feb.: Meeting of the EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Ukraine on the agenda.