Behind the Scenes

This is just to let everyone know that we are doing various things behind the Euro curtain right now: fiddling with our MovableType installation, evaluating a new design, and so forth. Most of it takes place in the dead of night, Central European Time. If you’re reading us in the late afternoon or early evening from the US west coast, you might notice, but we hope there are no interruptions.

Also, if you’re getting errors when you view any of our pages, or comments, please let us know in the comments to this entry. Thanks.

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About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

One thought on “Behind the Scenes

  1. I had no problems reading your blog, even when others were reporting load problems. But now I am getting http error 500 when I am trying to load entries from my Bloglines reader. Though they do appear in bloglines, error happens when I click on it to open the whole article in afoe.

Behind the scenes

The Financial Times has an interesting article about how the Ukrainian government did consider the use of force against the protestors, but eventually backed down, mainly because President Kuchma blocked it.

Those lobbying for the use of force included senior officials, among them Viktor Medvedchuk, the head of the Ukrainian presidential administration and Viktor Yanukovich, the prime minister.

According to people inside and outside Mr Kuchma’s administration, the president resisted the pressure and the danger passed.

“The key moment came on Sunday, November 28 (a week after crowds took to Kiev streets), when soldiers were given bullets. Then they were going around not with empty machine guns, but already fully armed. I think that was the peak of the whole conflict,” Mr Yushchenko said.

Vasyl Baziv, the deputy head of the presidential administration, told the FT: “I know that many representatives of the [state] apparatus lobbied the president to impose a state of emergency. They said it is time to use state power. The president, from the first moment, was consistently against the use of force.”

I suspect that there’ll be quite a few stories like this over the coming weeks – and if Yushchenko does win on December 26, as everyone assumes, the trickle will become a flood as everyone starts trying to blame everyone else for all that went wrong. One can read this report as being Kuchma trying to get his story into the arena first – as part of his ongoing attempt to get amnesty after he leaves office – by portraying himself as the man who didn’t want to “leave office with blood on his hands.”

However, it is interesting to note how the reports match up with some of the rumours that were going about at the time of the crisis, particularly the idea that the clampdown would begin after the CEC announced Yanukovich as the victor of the election:

Tensions rose sharply on Wednesday, November 24, when the Central Election Commission officially confirmed Mr Yanukovich’s victory. Mr Yushchenko responded by urging protesters to blockade public buildings, including the cabinet office and the presidential administration.

With Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, and other mediators due in Kiev for conciliation talks on Friday November 26, the authorities considered using force to clear the blockade surrounding the presidential buildings. About 2,000 anti-riot police were deployed in the area. But, with the mediators urging restraint, the Ukrainian authorities backed off.

The talks on November 26 failed to break the deadlock. The following day, the pro-Yushchenko crowds in Kiev swelled to an estimated 500,000, with smaller demonstrations in some other cities.

The critical moments came on Sunday November 28. Mr Yanukovich’s supporters in eastern Ukraine raised thestakes by making separatist threats.

Mr Kuchma chaired a meeting of the key National Security Council which discussed plans for armed action. Western diplomats say intelligence reports showed interior ministry troop movements around Kiev. One senior western diplomat says: “There were credible reports that troops were moving on Kiev.”

4 thoughts on “Behind the scenes

  1. Just a quick comment. Keep in mind that this is second-hand. For what it is worth, the UK embassy here in Kyiv held a briefing last week and reported that Kuchma was prepared to use troops three times. However, the first time he ordered the troops in, their commander said they needed to prepare and promptly moved his command further from Kyiv. Therefore, when the second order came he was, conveniently, too far away. Finally, according to the report from the embassy, Bush actually called Kuchma the night before the Supreme Court delivered its decision and said that the ‘US was the guarantor of the Ukrainian people’s right to protest’. If true, that is quite a threat.

    Finally, and this may be old news, the SBU secretely tapped all telephone conversations between Kuchma, Yanokovich and Medvechuk between the first round of elections and the November 21 runoff. These were delivered to the Supreme Court during the hearings. One can only imagine what they contained. Watching the Supreme Court hearings, I was particularly struck by the almost angry manner the judges treated Yanokovich’s attorney (who was particularly incompetent, anyway).

    If troops had moved in, there would have been a civil war. Enough senior officers here were supporters of Yushchenko to create a disaster for Yanokovich.

  2. I don’t have an FT subscription; but doesn’t the excerpt imply that it is Yushchenko who suggests Kuchma was a moderating force?

    (If yes, it would make sense – Yushchenko trying to get his followers accept the compromise more easily.)

  3. The Guardian reports that some members of the Ukrainian parliament are seeking an investigation into whether the US government gave money to opposition groups.

    Meanwhile, a trenchant letter by Bronislaw Geremek rebuts Mark Almond’s accusations about US-funded dissidents in eastern Europe selling out their countries to the forces of free-market capitalism.

    And, from last Friday, James Meek travels around Ukraine meeting ordinary supporters on both sides (including a Jewish Yanukovych fan who can’t understand why other Jews favour Yushchenko and a nationalist historian who says that “many Jews were in the NKVD, which shot many Ukrainians”).

  4. Hm, about that Mark Almond piece… it gave me mixed feelings.

    On one hand he is wrong to line up the recent examples of People Power with the 1989 velvet revolutions. The latter were marked in most places, maybe with the partial exception of Poland, by their unorganised-ness: the intellectuals who got Western support weren’t organising masses like OTPOR et al in Serbia, the mass turnouts took both them and the West by surprise. (Comparisons with Venezuela now or Chile 1970-1973 or Iran 1953 are less easily dismissed.)

    On the other hand, yes, there was much disillusionment in the population after 1989, when ‘necessary’ market reforms made a bad situation worse (for most, but not the elites). And yes, I certainly did observe that many if not most of these onetime dissidents became part of or apologist for the new elite, an elite blinded by its own material success, and are both naive about and slavishly adherent to both neoliberal dogmas and Western elites (whom they still view as role model rather than equals not above criticism). The few true Atlanticists can only be found among them, and what is striking to me is how uninformed and naive their views are (much more so than say that of British apologists for Bliar). Michnik and his paper is case in point. Or on the wider issues, the traffic policies and increasing common-people-alienatedness of the major of Budapest (since 1990, but not after 2006 if current trends and scandals continue).

    Yet on the third hand if I had one, naive atlanticism, elitism and adherence to neoliberal dogmas is far from being the sole property of ex-dissidents in post-peaceful-revolution countries. It permeates Western elites (political, economical, media) throughout – as well as ex-reformed-communist and formerly-not-active-as-dissident nationalist elites over here. Both of the latter are stronger and more influential than the politically active remains of the dissidents. (And then there are the populists, but they have other faults to replace the above.) For the former, it all was just a change of ideology and Big Brother to follow, the culture is the same.