Into the weekend

As the Ukrainian crisis heads into its sixth day, time for another roundup.

First, I’ve found another Ukrainian news portal in English – Ukraine Now – which is covering other news out of the country as well as the crisis. On the blogs, Le Sabot has more photos and continues his fascinating background series on the election. There are several new posts on Foreign Notes, including an interesting analysis of Putin’s motives. Lobowalk has lots of stuff as well, including a story that reminded me of the opening pages of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy as police take a break because the protestors promise not to do anything while they’re away. Crooked Timber’s John Quiggin has an interesting article and more background by academic Tarik Ari. Meanwhile, Neeka’s up and has a photo of an amiable discussion between two men from different sides.

Neeka does mention trouble in Kharkiv, and it does seem that things aren’t quite as peaceful in other parts of the country – though there don’t seem to be any serious problems yet. The Financial Times reports that tear gas was used – once – in Chernihiv, while Maidan has reports of rising tempers in Kharkiv.

Scanning headlines in Google News, there appears to be no consensus amongst reporters as to the effect of yesterday’s talks. Some stress the importance of both candidates urging their supporters to reject violence, while others worry that the lack of agreement heralds the beginnings of a descent into chaos. I’m – as I have been for most of the week – in the optimist camp on this one, as I think what’s most important is that they’ve agreed to continue talking as a task force, even if nothing much else was agreed. Both sides are still waiting for the Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday before committing to anything, I think, though of course the Parliament could have an impact before then.

More thoughts from me below the fold.
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More from Ukraine

I’m starting a new post for the latest information as the old one was starting to get a bit long. The session in Parliament has broken up as there were 191 deputies there, but 226 (50%+1) were required for a quorum, so no action could be taken. However, the Kyiv Post reports that Yushchenko has taken a ‘symbolic’ oath of office as President:

After the session ended, Yushchenko swore an oath on a 300-year-old Bible. The Ukrainian constitution, however, stipulates that the president swears allegiance on a copy of the constitution. Lawmakers chanted “Bravo, Mr. President!”

There’s other interesting information in the story as well, such as how a no confidence vote would also be symbolic rather than binding:

“All political forces should negotiate and solve the situation without blood,” said parliament speaker Volodymyr Litvyn.

“The activities of politicians and the government … have divided society and brought people into to the streets,” Litvyn said. “Today there is a danger of activities moving beyond control.”

A no-confidence vote in parliament would have carried political significance, but it would not have been binding. According to the Ukrainian constitution, a no-confidence vote must be initiated by the president – and outgoing President Leonid Kuchma has staunchly backed Yanukovych.

Opposition leader and Yushchenko ally Yulia Tymoshenko, wearing an orange ribbon around her neck, called on lawmakers “not to go to into any negotiations” with the government. Instead, Tymoshenko said, they should “announce a new government, a new president, a new Ukraine.”

However, there are welcome signs that direct confrontations are being avoided:

Mykola Tomenko, a lawmaker and Yushchenko ally, said some police had joined the opposition, although the claim was impossible to independently verify. One police officer, wearing an orange ribbon in his uniform, ordered a group of police outside a government building to retreat inside, defusing tension between them and Yushchenko supporters.

Kyiv’s city council and the administrations of four other sizable cities – Lviv, Ternopil, Vinnytsia and Ivano-Frankivsk – have refused to recognize the official results and they back Yushchenko.

Elsewhere, idiotprogrammer discusses (the lack of) American coverage of what’s going on (though we have now been mentioned on Instapundit).

Update: BBC News 24 reports (from the AFP wire) that Yushchenko has called on the police and army to come out and support him while miners are threatening to march on Kiev in support of Yanukovich. AFP also reports that Dutch Prime Minister Balkenende – the Netherlands currently holds the EU presidency – has informed Ukrainian President Kuchma that the EU has doubts about the result of the election.

Update 2: The Periscope has lots of information, including translations of what’s being broadcast on Ukrainian radio right now. They also report that Javier Solana will be addressing the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs tomorrow focusing on events in Ukraine.
Latest breaking news from the Kyiv Post reports Putin saying that “criticism of the Ukrainian election by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is “inadmissible” because there are no official results.”
More blogging from Kiev at Le Sabot Post-Moderne.
Interesting BBC News article on some of the background to the protests. It mentions a Ukrainian student group – Pora – who have connections with Georgia’s Kmara and Serbia’s Otpor movements, both of whom were at the forefront of the protests in their countries that overthrew governments. As several people have noted, Georgian flags are being displayed quite prominently amidst the protests.
There’s a good Financial Times article on the processes going on behind the scenes:

Although Mr Kuchma has spent a decade building an authoritarian regime, he has not established complete control – unlike President Vladimir Putin in neighbouring Russia – and it is unclear whether he can assure victory for his prime minister, Viktor Yanukovich.

In particular, he does not control parliament or the Supreme Court, both of which could play a vital role in determining the victor.

The core of Mr Kuchma’s power is his dominance of the bureaucracy, law-enforcement and state security structures inherited from Communist times. Even before Mr Putin made similar moves in Russia, Mr Kuchma established presidential control over regional governments and placed close allies to oversee the news on the main state and private television channels. […]

Critically, the president has failed to establish a reliable majority among parliament’s 450 members. Recently, Volodymyr Lytvyn, the speaker, and more than 30 deputies deserted the pro-presidential bloc, creating a stalemate in which neither Mr Yushchenko nor Mr Kuchma have a majority.

Mr Kuchma cannot take the support of domestic institutions for granted, especially the Supreme Court, where judges enjoy independence thanks to lifetime appointments. Before the polls, the court acted in Mr Yushchenko’s favour by ordering the Central Election Commission to exclude 41 extra polling stations in Russia for the numerous Ukrainian citizens there amid concerns that they might be used for ballot fraud. After the first round, the court ordered the Central Election Commission to reverse a decision to exclude votes from a pro-Yushchenko district.

As the widespread allegations of second-round fraud have shown, the government has attempted another challenge to institutions Mr Kuchma does not fully control.

The authorities successfully ordered and bullied civil servants to co-operate in ballot-stuffing operations – ranging from university professors who applied unfair pressure on students to police officers who were paid to tour polling stations and vote more than once. But the machine did its job too well. The sheer scale of fraud required to swing the official results in Mr Yanukovich’s favour has provoked huge protests and international criticism.

Update 3: Victor Katolyk’s live reports from Ukraine are in this Periscope thread. BBC News 24 just had live pictures from outside the Presidential offices where police are present in full riot gear and standing about 10-15 deep, completely blocking access to what appeared to be a large crowd of protestors. However, despite all that, things still seemed peaceful – the crowd was quite orderly and there was a gap between them and the police, with no signs of imminent trouble. At times like this, though, it only takes one hothead to spark a flame.
There’s a brief post on Siberian Light that makes an interesting couple of points:

* Putin seems to have made a major error of judgement in backing Mr Yanukovych. If the election result is overturned, he will have made an enemy of Yushchenko.
* And if Yushchenko does win the Presidency he won’t have such a strong mandate from the people as Saakashvilli did in Georgia’s Rose Revolution (which, by the way, is celebrating its 1st anniversary today). Even if the election had been free and fair, I doubt Yushchenko would have won by more than a few points. There are deep East-West divisions in Ukraine which have bubbled to the surface this week. They won’t just go away.

BBC News reports that Yushchenko has asked former Polish President Walesa to mediate in the crisis. Walesa is reported as saying he will if Ukrainian President Kuchma asks him to.
Update 4: Right, one last set of updates then I need to get some sleep. Things seem to have quietened down now – it’s 2am in Ukraine right now (for reference, it’s GMT+2, CET+1, EST+7). Victor has continued to updates at The Periscope– the general trend seems to be reports of public and international support for Yuschenko, coupled with rumours of potential trouble from forces allied with Yanukovich tomorrow. There’s nothing we can do but sit and wait to see how those pan out.
Yuschenko’s website in English (click on ‘ENG’ at the top of the screen) has lots of news, including a story that Mikhail Gorbachev has backed Yushchenko.
Interesting posts from
Daniel Brett and Coming Anarchy.
There are many reports of international demonstrations and protests for Yushchenko tomorrow – I’ll add those to the thread above.
Two more sites gathering and reporting news from Ukraine in English – Maidan and Brama.