Monday

16th May 2022

EU diplomats fear imminent crackdown in Ukraine

  • Bankova Street: 'Nobody believes you could drive a bulldozer there without the government's permission' (Photo: mac_ivan)

The EU has agreed to hold new trade talks with Ukraine, but some diplomats fear the Ukrainian leader is preparing to use violence to end protests.

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso agreed to the talks in a 30-minute phone call with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Monday (2 December).

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He urged him to "show restraint" and to investigate who ordered a mini-crackdown on a group of pro-EU students on Saturday.

The talks on reviving an EU-Ukraine trade treaty will be led by Ukraine's deputy PM Serhiy Arbuzov, who says the EU should give Yanukovych €10 billion if it wants a deal.

Some EU diplomats believe the mass pro-EU protests will make him sign the treaty at an EU-Ukraine summit in March.

But others believe things are about to get worse.

"I would say there will be a 'pacification' of the Maidan [pro-EU protests] in the next few days," one EU diplomat told this website.

"He [Yanukovych] might hold off because of the OSCE ministerial on Thursday. But he might do it before the meeting, to show he is still in charge despite international pressure," the contact added, referring to a meeting of ministers from countries in the Vienna-based pro-democracy club, the OSCE, in Kiev this week.

For their part, Ukrainian leaders on Monday began to justify use of force.

Yanukovych said on TV that protesters are "bound by the laws of our state."

His PM, Mykola Azarov, said the protest "has all the signs of a coup … We are being patient, but we would like our partners not to feel a total absence of authority."

They spoke after demonstrators occupied government buildings in Kiev and built barricades in the city centre.

Saturday's mini-crackdown aside, men in plain clothes have been beating up protesters trying to get from regional towns to Kiev in recent days.

Oleksandr Sushko, a Ukrainian sociologist, told this website some anarchist groups are using the pro-EU rallies as an excuse to go wild.

But he added that agent provocateurs are also going wild to provoke police action.

Recalling one incident on Sunday, when demonstrators drove a bulldozer into riot police, he said: "This happened in Bankova Street, in the government district. It is one of the most heavily guarded areas in Kiev. Nobody believes you could drive a bulldozer there without the government's permission."

Political test

Yanukovych will face a political test when Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, meets on Tuesday morning.

Five MPs from his Party of the Regions, including Inna Bohoslovska, his one-time top cheerleader, have quit the party and joined the Maidan.

The opposition needs about 25 more defectors to call a vote of no confidence.

But EU diplomats believe the "rebellion" is being stage-managed.

"The confidence vote is a fairy tale. Yanukovych will never let it happen," one EU contact said.

"Just because you leave the Party of the Regions doesn't mean you stop working for the Party of the Regions. If his forces brutally end the protests, the EU and the US will react harshly. So he will need the 'rebels' to act as his channels of communication with the West," the source added.

If Yanukovych opts for violence, he can, in any case, count on Kremlin support.

Speaking in Yerevan also on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the Ukraine protests "don’t look like a revolution, but rather like 'pogrom'."

He added they have been "well prepared" by "well-organised and trained militant groups."

'CIA agent'

One of Putin's TV shows, Vesti, the same day in a "documentary" said Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt is a CIA agent who engineered the Ukraine events in revenge for Russia's defeat of Sweden at the Battle of Poltava in 1709.

"Russia TV gets most things wrong … not a stellar moment," Bildt tweeted in reply.

"The beauty is that it [the Maidan] is entirely self-organised, built on the seeds of various civic initiatives …. without any exogenous encouragement/$$," a contact from one US-funded NGO in Kiev told EUobserver by email.

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