Russia without Ukraine is a country;
Ukraine - Protests - January 2014
January might be the quiet month when contemporary Ukraine sleeps off its holiday hangover, but historically it’s been an important one for the country. On 25 January 1918, the Ukrainian People’s Republic announced its so-called Fourth Universal, which proclaimed independent Ukrainian statehood. (The document was actually dated 22 January, which sometimes causes confusion.) The Republic is beloved to the memory of Ukrainian patriots for being this historically subjugated country’s first real stab at ruling itself. In April 1918, former tsarist officer Petro Skoropadsky took control of Ukraine in a coup d’etat and gave himself the old Cossack title of Hetman of Ukraine.
In December 1918 the Hetman was overthrown by a government called the Directory, which on 22 January 1919 officially united with the so-called Western Ukrainian Republic. The latter was the short-lived government that set up shop in Lviv, attempting to express the national aspirations of Galicians and other Ukrainians who had never been a part of the Russian Empire. The Ukrainian nation was, at long last, politically unified. Like so many nationalist gestures in Ukraine’s difficult history, however, what happened on 22 January, 1919 didn’t have a chance to have much practical effect. By the end of the year the Bolsheviks had more or less taken over Ukraine. On 22 January 1992, the familiar old blue and yellow Ukrainian flag was officially – legally – restored to its place as the country’s national standard.
President Viktor Yanukovych's decision in November 2013 to back off of an EU trade deal in favor of closer ties with Russia touched off weeks of political rallies. The demonstrations grew violent in mid-January 2014 as protesters clashed with police. Several people died in the clashes. Russia offered Ukraine a $15-billion financial aid package to help Ukraine survive its economic troubles, but had yet to come through with the money.
At their peak in late 2013, protests in Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, were drawing hundreds of thousands of people. Rallies grew in size again in mid-January 2014 when pro-Yanukovych lawmakers in parliament hastily passed restrictive anti-protest laws, which were condemned by a number of Western governments as undemocratic. Anti-protest laws signed on 16 January 2014 sparked violent confrontations between protesters and riot police on Grushevskogo Street. The laws, banning unsanctioned gatherings and imposing multiple restrictions on mass demonstrations, have been harshly criticized by the opposition. Among things that were illegal according to the repealed bills were protesters’ wearing of masks or helmets, and erecting tents or stages without permission from the authorities.
Violent elements within the opposition broke away from a mass protest movement that was holding peaceful anti-government rallies for weeks. Protesters threw flares, rocks and Molotov cocktails, while police responded with tear gas and stun grenades. Thousands of well-equiped police battled with thousands of equally well-equiped protestors, with neither side gaining the upper hand. Ukraine's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov -- a key backer of President Viktor Yanukovych -- said the use of force was "unacceptable".
Angry mobs stormed and seized provincial governors’ offices in western Ukraine 24 January 2014 as unrest spread across the country, prompting calls for a state of emergency to be declared. Protesters seized the governor’s offices in the cities of Chernivtsi, Ivano-Frankivsk, Lvov, Rivne and Ternopil. Crowds also besieged administrative buildings in Khmelnytskyi, Lutsk, Sumy, Uzhhorod and Zhytomyr. The regional parliament in the traditionally pro-Russian Crimean Peninsula appealed to President Viktor Yanukovych, the National Security and Defense Council and members of parliament to declare a state of emergency to stop the “anarchy and violence” in Ukraine.
US Secretary of State John Kerry on 24 January 2014 reiterated the United States’ support for Ukrainian protesters and said Washington is working with its allies and top officials in Kiev to halt the violence between security forces and government opponents. “We will stand with the people of Ukraine,” Kerry said in a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Kerry added that the United States is coordinating with its allies in efforts to resolve the situation peacefully.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych met with opposition leaders on 25 January 2014 in an effort to resolve an escalating political crisis that has seen violent riots in the capital. Yanukovych met with UDAR party head Vitali Klitschko, the head of the Batkivshchyna party’s parliamentary faction Arseny Yatenyuk and the leader of the nationalist Svoboda party Oleg Tyagnibok. Opposition leaders called for an early presidential election following the meeting.
Yanukovich proposed the post of prime minister to Batkivschina leader Arseny Yatsenyuk, who stated: "Our country is put by those at power to the brink of falling apart ...We demand that Yanukovich relieves the position of Ukraine's president and we need a new constitution... Our task - is a new Ukrainian government...Viktor Yanukovich...proposed for the opposition to head up the government. Are we afraid to carry responsibility? We are not afraid to take on responsibility for the country’s future. We accept that responsibility and we are ready to bring Ukraine into the EU, which calls for the release of Yulia Tymoshenko ... We are not rejecting the offer, nor are we accepting it. We are in the midst of serious consultations between all three opposition parties. This is our mutual decision. We are ready to take on the responsibility for the country’s future, but only under the conditions that will be set by us”.
Once considered by many disenchanted voters as the new western-leaning reform-minded candidate to support, in late 2009 Yatsenyuk's selection of Russian campaign consultants with ties to Party of Regions head Viktor Yanukovych's 2004 presidential campaign was noted by all as a fatal mistake. His fall allowed Tymoshenko to focus on the daunting task of closing the gap with front-runner Yanukovych. In early 2010 Yatsenyuk had embarked on behind the scenes scheming under which his Our Ukraine - People's Self Defense (OU-PSD) parliamentary faction would form a new coalition with Party of Regions (Regions) MPs. The defection would take down the Tymoshenko government, and Yatsenyuk - who was Rada Speaker in 2006 - would become Prime Minister. Yanukovych was thought to need a PM who represents the electorate in Western and Central Ukraine in order to unify the country. But nothing came of this plan at that time.
Klitschko told the German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, "This was a poisoned offer by Yanukovich to divide our protest movement. We will keep on negotiating and continue to demand early elections. The protest by Ukrainians against the corrupt president must not have been in vain." Klitschko said Yanukovych has agreed to opposition demands, including the release of arrested protesters and the rescinding of recent changes to the constitution. Klitschko said, however, the protests will not stop.
The opposition leaders speaking on the stage at Independence Square were on numerous occasions booed by the protesters. Opposition leaders said they will continue demonstrations until their calls for an early election, release of detained protesters and a repeal of anti-protest laws are met. The protest movement appeared to have been infiltrated in recent weeks by members of a violent far-right militant group known as Right Sector, a loose alliance of nationalist organizations. The presence of the group added a volatile element to the standoff that both the government and the mainstream opposition were struggling to contend with.
On 28 January 2014 Ukraine's parliament repealed a controversial set of laws restricting public protests. Nine out of 12 anti-protest laws passed on January 16 have been canceled during the special session of the Ukrainian Parliament. It was one of the main demands of the opposition. The cancellation of the laws has been approved by 361 MPs, while 226 were needed to get it passed. Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov offered his resignation in what the government said was an effort to encourage political compromise. Azarov said he wanted to encourage "social-political compromise," after two months of protests that have recently culminated with violent clashes between demonstrators and police. US Vice President Joe Biden telephoned Yanukovych to urge parliament to repeal the anti-protest laws and keep working with the opposition to avoid violence and reduce tensions.
The Ukrainian parliament voted 29 January 2014 to adopt a bill providing amnesty for participants of opposition protests in Kiev, on the condition that protesters vacate occupied government and administrative buildings. The bill was supported by 232 of the 450 total members of Ukraine's unicameral parliament. Opposition lawmakers refused to support the draft, saying that detained protesters must be released without any preconditions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said 29 January 2014 he wanted to wait for a new government in Ukraine before proceeding with a promised $15 billion loan to Ukraine along with substantial natural gas discounts. Officials in Moscow accused the United States and its allies in Europe of meddling in Ukraine’s affairs, while Western governments have criticized what they describe as economic bullying by Russia to pressure Ukraine into tighter integration with its former Soviet neighbor. Putin said that Russia will provide the loan to whatever government is in Kiev, be it formed by President Yanukovich’s ruling party, or by the opposition.
On 30 January 2014 the Ukrainian president's web page said President Viktor Yanukovych was on sick leave due to acute respiratory disease accompanied by fever. It did not say how long he would be on leave or whether he will be trying to work at all during that time. The opposition party UDAR said the president’s illness was “an attempt to stay aloof from resolving the current political crisis. ... By being on sick leave, he can prevent the dictatorship laws from being canceled, shun representatives of the opposition and global community and avoid urgent measures to resolve the political crisis”.
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