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.”