Compromise with the Ukrainian authorities is tricky

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Several examples in recent weeks such as the adoption of an amnesty law which in fact could send to prison protestors for up to 8 years show that the Ukrainian government tries to buy time and keep its grip over the country, writes Iev Strygul. 

Iev Strygul is a political analyst.

The authorities of Ukraine have repeatedly stated that only a compromise between the opposition and the government could be a peaceful way out from the internal political and social crisis. However, the adoption of the Amnesty Law on 29 January in the version of Yurii Miroshnychenko (a deputy of the ruling Party of Regions, law #4021-3) reiterated the fact that the Ukrainian president is more focused on holding the absolute power over the state rather than on finding a real compromise.

The stipulated law was supposed to be a concession of the Ukrainian authorities in order to stabilize the situation in Ukraine. It is well known (as of 10 January) that 48 protesters remain arrested since December 2013 in Ukraine.

However, the new “compromise” proposed by the authorities provoked a new wave of outrage among the protesters and opposition. One of the most respected participants of the protest movement, Maidan’s commandant Andrii Parubii stated that Maidan is not going to obey the Amnesty Law and will continue the protest actions. Statements alike followed from other authoritative leaders of Maidan. The Law became known in Ukrainian social networks as “the Law of Hostages”.

The law got its negative name because it asserts the legitimacy of the Ukrainian authorities’ actions towards the detained protesters at the legislative level. “The Law of Hostages”, also known as Miroshnychenko’s Law provides for amnesty application to all the protesters who participated in mass protests, all those under investigation now as well as those to whom sanctions were imposed. However, under the law, the amnesty can be applied to the detainees only after the protesters leave the administrative buildings (meaning local governmental and legislative institutions) they have occupied and unblock highways. Moreover, the law expires in 14 days in case the protesters do not leave the occupied buildings. It is a precedent in the history of independent Ukraine when application of amnesty is dependent on the Prosecutor General of Ukraine. In addition, the Article #147 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine states such actions as “hostage taking”, which is punishable by imprisonment from 5 to 8 years.

To stabilize the situation in the country, the Ukrainian opposition firmly insisted on the unconditional release of peaceful protesters. This requirement was not only appropriate from the point of view of democratic values. As the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament Elmar Brok said: "We do not understand the purpose of any amnesty negotiations, people just must be released".

From the point of view of the protesters, "the law of hostages", proposed by the Ukrainian MP Miroshnichenko, not only puts them in a humiliating position as “hostages”, but also brings back the situation in the relationship between the state and civil society to the status ‘quo’, which preceded the attempts to violently suppress the Maidan and the usage of weapons and tortures against protesters. Perhaps with one minor difference – the resignation of marionette government of Mykola Azarov, who was replaced by the President’s close friend and partner Sergei Arbuzov.

So why does the Ukrainian government merely imitate the compromise, instead of searching for a reasonable solution?

The unconditional release of captured protesters would be a crucial step towards solving the crisis, and could even improve the image of Party of Regions and people’s opinion of it. The representatives of the opposition parties stated that they have managed to achieve an informal consensus with the members of PR fraction in the Parliament to secure the necessary 226 votes for the unconditional release of prisoners. Unconditional release of protesters would have had very little cost for the President or his reputation, however he could not allow for Parliament members of his parties to cooperate with the opposition without his explicit command. In the regime which is built power, control and often intimidation, this would be viewed as a weakness.

The session of the Parliament when the four alternative law projects on the amnesty issue were to be reviewed and voted for, was interrupted by the arrival of the President to the Parliament. He had a clear goal of showing his strength and influence over the members of his party and ensured that they voted specifically for the law draft of Miroshnichenko. While the law draft was officially prepared and suggested by Miroshnichenko, de-facto it was prepared by the President’s Administration.

According to Vladimir Oleinik, a member of the Party of Region’s fraction in the Parliament, Yanukovich has threatened to dissolve the Parliament in case the law will not be pushed through. However, in the light of recent events in summer 2013 when a criminal case was opened against Parliament member Igor Markov after he openly criticized the President’s lack of commitment to the European integration, one could speculate that the dissolution of the Parliament is not the only threat in the arsenal of the President.

It was also important for the President to show his control over the faction, so that in case of force majeure he could rely on his external supporter – Russian President Vladimir Putin. For Putin, Yanukovich may be of interest only when he has real power to make all decisions in the country. This became obvious by the Russian president's statements during the EU-Russia summit. Russia is ready to give Ukraine the next tranche of the $15-billion loan, but only after a new government is formed.

To secure the adoption of the required version of the law, the Miroshnichenko’s law was put to a vote with the deliberate violations of the regulations. In particular, it was put to vote before the law of opposition MP Leonid Emets, which offers a full and unconditional amnesty. The old trick to vote with other people's cards was also used. For example, deputy of the Party of the regions Ivan Popescu voted for the Miroshnichenko’s law at the time when he was physically in Strasbourg at the PACE session. The case with the amnesty law is an example of how Ukrainian government imitates a compromise instead of actually trying to find one. A similar simulation of a compromise was the resignation of Mykola Azarov and his government, who was replaced with another "family guy" – Sergei Arbuzov. Another trick of the government was to offer the positions of prime minister and deputy prime minister to the opposition leaders Arseny Yatsenyuk and Vitaly Klitschko. However, in the current version of the Constitution these two positions tightly remain under the President’s control and are almost of symbolic importance.

The peaceful solution to the crisis remains only one – compromise. However, are Viktor Yanukovich and his regime capable of a real compromise and not its imitation?

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