Hotting Up Again!

Just as things were starting to look as if they may have been heading towards a solution, the latest news from Ukraine suggests the temperature is rising once more. Following the voting- down in parliament of a motion of no-confidence in the government of Viktor Yanukovich, AFP is reporting that a top aide to Yushchenko has announced the breaking off negotiations on the crisis, the resumption of a blockade of government premises in Kyiv and issued a demand that the parliament reconvene in emergency session overnight.

That session must have two questions on the agenda: the dismissal of the Yanukovich government along with Prosecutor General Hennadi Vassiliev, and the creation of a temporary “people’s government,” opposition spokesman Taras Spetskiv announced to protesters on a central Kiev square.
Source: AFP

Javier Solana is on his was to Kyiv, as reportedly is Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski. Negotiations, in principle, were to have resumed tomorrow. Whether this latest development is simply a turn of the screw prior to tomorrow’s meeting, or whether it represents the opening of a new phase remains to be seen.

Certainly, as a lot commentators have been pointing out, many of the moves by Kuchma, Yanukovich and Co. could be interpreted as procrastination in the expectation that the opposition supporters get cold and tired, in which case Yushchenko is left with little alternative to becoming once more proactive, which is just what he seems to be doing.

Update: (Nick 2103 CET) One thing that may cool the temperature down slightly is this report on the Ukrainian Hotline site that states that Sunday’s proposed referendum on autonomy for Donetsk has been called off. The session of Parliament that was called for tonight has also been called off, though it will meet again tomorrow.

Another Record High For The Euro

The euro today again broke through to a new high at $1.3329. This was on the back of an unexpected decline in US consumer confidence. What seems to be happening is that any piece of good news in the US temporarily stems the rise, whilst bad news sets it off again. And this despite the fact that the the European Commission itself released some pretty depressing business confidence numbers for the eurozone.

Meanwhile ECB president Jean Claude Trichet meticulously failed to mention the possibility of central bank intervention in closely watched comments to the European Parliament’s economic and monetary committee, restricting himself to repeating that currency movements like the ones we are seeing now are ‘not welcome’. So we seem set to continue on towards the $1.35 level. What happens then we’ll see if and when we get there. As they say somewhere: “this ain’t done till it’s done”.

Forecasting in Orange.

It’s a sidenote, but a noteworthy one, given the climate in Ukraine. Matthias Braun, who is blogging the events in Ukraine in German for the weekly Die Zeit mentions that Elena Gajduk, who is reporting from Kyiv for New Iswestija found out that the meteorologists of the central Ukrainian weather service are taking a stance now: I don’t know how they do it, but apparently, weather forecasts are from now on only available to the Yushenko camp…

Waiting, waiting

After such a busy week in Ukraine, it seems to have become almost quiet over the last day or so, but that’s mainly because the focus of the action has moved away from the streets (though the protestors – from both sides – remain, and show no sign of leaving) to the Supreme Court and, today, the Parliament as well, which will be debating (and if Saturday’s vote is anything to go on, approving) a vote of no confidence in Yanukovich as Prime Minister.

There are various explanations for Kuchma’s offer of new elections last night. For instance, one could think that it means he feels the Court is about to rule in such a way as to make Yuschenko President and he sees it at as the least worst option, another is that it’s for him to be seen being magnanimous and can then claim that the opposition refused his ‘generous offer’ when clamping down on the protests or there’s also the idea that he’s done it to make sure he’s got another six months in office. There is already speculation that a new election might feature a different government candidate than Yanukovich – Neeka has a translation of an article talking about Tyhipko in this regard.

Another Parliament is set to discuss Ukraine – alongside the biometric passports issue Tobias discusses below, the European Parliament will be discussing the issue at its session tomorrow. Maidan has details of a rally to take place outside during the session.

Elsewhere in the media, Salon has an interview (subscription or ad viewing required) with the editor of Ukrayinskya Pravda and David Aaronovitch continues the Guardian civil war with an expose of John Laughland and the British Helsinki Human Rights Group. Update: See Doug’s comment below for an interesting analysis of the BHHRG’s position.

And on the blogs, there are lots of new posts on Foreign Notes, Le Sabot has a picture of a result sheet from the election which seemingly shows vote-rigging, as well as other updates there are more photos from Neeka – and send some good thoughts her way as her camera now seems to be broken – and Crroked Timber’s Henry Farrell has a post on the OSCE’s role in spreading democracy.

New Trouble Ahead?

While the German Chancellor is – contrary to earlier reports – apparently planning to visit the US President even before his second inauguration in January, a US human rights group, the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, is about to disturb the two governments’ reconciliation efforts.

According to a report by the German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau (quoted by The Raw Story, Reuters), the American activists will file war crimes charges in Germany against senior U.S. administration officials – including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and former Central Intelligence Agency director George Tenet – for their alleged responsibility for crimes committed in the Abu Ghraib prison.

Despite claims by the group that “German law in this area is leading the world” – because it allows war criminals to be prosecuted in Germany regardless of where the crime was committed or the defendant’s nationality – whether the German Federal Prosecutor will actually investigate will depend upon the evidence provided. Their German lawyer, Wolfgang Kaleck, seems not overly confident in this respect, stating that he hopes that “the Federal Prosecutor?s Office takes [the] affair seriously.”

However, the case will certainly not be dismissed for political reasons – and thus the Chancellor may actually have to hold another embarrassing meeting with the American President in January. The media, however, is certain to take the issue seriously when details of the case will be presented at news conferences today.
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The Genie Outside The Bottle.

While we are waiting, Veronica Khokhlova offers her impressions from inside the Ukrainian Supreme Court hearing and finds the proceedings almost surreal given the atmosphere on the independence sqare – much better tv, for sure -

The judges look tired, interrupt every once in while, but let the Yushchenko’s team guy finish. Channel 5 interrupts the broadcast from the Supreme Court midway through the questions from Yanukovych’s team guy, switching live to Yushchenko’s address at Independence Square.

Yet there are equally important events going on in the Eastern provinces. With rising concern about a possible irredentist wave growing even within the Yanukovich camp – as indicated by President Kuchma’s statements today as well as by
the resignation of Yanukovich’s campaign manager Serhiy Tihipko
The Kyiv post notes that some oligarchs – notably Kuchma?s son-in-law Viktor Pinchuk, valued at $3bn, may be ready to switch sides, while others, notably Rinat Akhmetov, reportedly Ukraine’s richest man and in “complete control of the Donetsk oblast”, do not yet appear to be ready to deal.

Although his relation to Mr Yanukovich has not been friction-free, Mr Akhmetov has significantly supported Mr Yanukovich’s presidential campaign. Allegedly, he met him on a Kyiv airfield last Wednesday, complaining about his lost “venture capital”, and punching Mr Yanukovich in the face before leaving.

Such episodes may not help Mr Akhmetov “to present a civilized face by patronizing the arts, learning to play the piano and being keen on football.” Yet the politically far more relevant question right now is – as noted by Yulia Mostovaya in her detailed analysis of the “Yanukovich nebula” – “has Akhmetov legalized his business enough so as to pursue an independent course or is he still vulnerable to state power, whatever name this power will have?”

It is still unclear (certainly to me) to which extent the “secessionist movement” is based on true popular support in the East, and to which extent it is (merely) an element of a game plan by oligarchs who may or may not be able to correctly judge their ability to put the genie back into the bottle after the the power struggle is over.

At the very least, it seems to me, the centuries-old ethnic/religious and linguistic cleavage will become an even more pressing problem in the future. Below, I have superimposed a couple of maps relating to the question.

The base map is from Wikipedia and reports the regional results of the Presidential elections. The violet area on top of the blue, Eastern, districts denotes some sort of “Russian-Ukrainian ethno-linguistic zone”, according to a map from ethnologue.com referred to by Mark Liberman on the language log, while the red ares indicate settlements by ethnic Russians according to a CIA map from 1994 (which, as well as many other maps of the area, you can find here, courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin)

The difference of the two areas may explain why the CIA map refers only to 22% of Ukrainians as ethnic Russians, while “opinion polls conducted in 1994-1998 by the Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences in Kyiv show that the proportion of respondents who said that Russian was their native language ranged from 34.7 percent to 36.5 percent,” according a report by “The Ukrainian Weekly”, published in 2000.

While Russian seems to have lost some ground – particularly in the educational system – since Ukrainian independence, once again referring to the article quoted above, “between 1994 and 1999 the proportion of Ukrainians who chose Russian as their language of “convenience” increased from 43.5 percent to 50.9 percent.” It seems to me that the most pressing linguistic problem may be a status issue: the recognition of Russian as an official language.

So there may be a chance to put the genie back into the bottle.

In Other Important News.

To those of you, gentle readers, who have only recently discovered afoe, it may be interesting to find out that we’re not usually an – almost – single issue blog. Quite to the contrary. However, one unfortunate consequence of having only limited resources is the obligation to choose how to use them. When we chose to make Ukraine a priority, it was unavoidable to write less about other important issues.

Yet there is one thing in particular that I would like to mention: Europe may have stood up for citizen rights in Ukraine, yet at home, things do not always look as brightly. According to a report by statewatch.org, the Council of the European Union has asked the European Parliament to “use its urgency procedure to rush through the measure on mandatory fingerprinting and biometric passports [(draft as pdf)] for all EU citizens at its plenary session [this] week (1-2 December).”
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It happened.

As the Constitutional Court seems to be playing wait and see, progress on the legal front has become unlikely in the immediate future. Yet following the increasing tension between the camps, what may be the first major outbreak of violence in the ongoing Ukrainian stand-off may have occurred in the Eastern city of Luhansk. Maidan reports -

… a huge crowd with banners and signs reading “For Yanukovych” came out onto the square. Around 60 thugs with bats and brass-knuckles ran out from their ranks and without further ado began to pummel the attendees. Result of the slaughter: broken arms, fractured skulls, smashed noses.

The police posted nearby DID NOT REACT IN ANY WAY to what was happening. This, however, hardly comes as a suprise. According to our information, police officers have an order NOT TO NOTICE attacks of thugs on people in orange. In addition, there were eyewitnesses to personal participation of employees of the city police department in the assault.

Right now, today, to wear orange in Luhansk means facing a mortal danger. That is not an exaggeration. Currently, workers in the Yushchenko headquarters are preparing to repel a possible attack. It is apparently in the making. The workers will have to repel it on their own. There is no more police and no more law in Luhansk.

Let’s hope there won’t be an escalation that would taint the orange ribbon red.

Meanwhile, in Romania (2)

Preliminary election results are in for Romania. But the outcome isn’t yet clear. Either the ruling PSD party is going to just squeak back in with a narrow majority — or it’s going to be a hung Parliament, which could lead to new elections fairly soon.

Nobody’s on the streets here. There are accusations of fraud, yes, but they appear to be retail rather than wholesale. (See my earlier post for the reasons why.) The OSCE will come out with a report in the next day or two, but meanwhile nobody’s getting too agitated.

For those of you who want the nitty gritty details — which party got how many votes, and such — you can find some of them over here. I’ll try to post regular updates until some conclusion is reached.