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Ukraine downfall: Lack of leadership to blame?

Published time: February 22, 2014 13:40
Edited time: February 22, 2014 14:10
Ukrainian President  Viktor Yanukovych (AFP Photo / Genya Savilov)

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (AFP Photo / Genya Savilov)

With dozens dead and the country profoundly divided, Ukraine is facing the worst crisis it has experienced in modern history. Lack of leadership from President Yanukovich is coming under the spotlight as the country teeters on the brink of civil war.

When Yanukovich’s government announced that it would not sign a key trade agreement with the EU three months ago, hardly anyone expected that it would lead to Kiev being turned into a battlefield.

As the Ukrainian protest slowly evolved from a peaceful pro-EU demonstration into a mass-rioting gang shooting at police with firearms, it seems that the Ukrainian president was preoccupied with two things: staying in power and avoiding responsibility.

“A lot depends on the resolve of President Yanukovich. Until now he hasn’t shown the necessary qualities to take control of the situation,” said Veronika Krasheninnikova, head of the Institute of Foreign Policy Research and Initiatives, a political think tank. “So most probably it will continue to deteriorate. Chaos will continue spreading in Ukraine.”

An alleged sniper and member of the pro-government forces is beaten by anti-government protestors in Kiev on February 22, 2014. (AFP Photo / Bulent Kilic)

On several occasions Yanukovich could have acted decisively in one of two ways. He could have stepped down and called an early election, de facto putting the future of Ukraine to a referendum.

This would most likely ruin Yanukovich’s personal aspiration for reelection. In a post-protest election, an apparently weak leader accused of corruption by his rivals and with an ailing economy on his hands would barely stand a chance. But at least Euro-skeptics and Euro-proponents would have their opportunity to convince all Ukrainians - not just a few thousand anti-government activists - to choose their course of action.

Yanukovich could also have dispersed the protesters and maintained public order in the country, whatever criticism it might have brought. This is how the then Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili, acted in 2007. He brutally suppressed a peaceful protest and called an early presidential election, which he won, instead of an early parliamentary election, which the opposition demanded and which his party could well have lost. Unlike the Georgian leader, Yanukovich hesitated even when the Ukrainian protest turned Kiev into a battlefield.

Protesters build a barricade early in the morning on February 21, 2014 at the Independent square in Kiev. (AFP Photo / Bulent Kilic)

The Ukrainian president chose neither option. He made a series of moves that the moderate opposition demanded of him, which can only be described as too little too late. He sent riot police to guard governmental buildings and made them stand unresponsive under a rain of firebombs and stones. Now he has reportedly fled Kiev just hours after agreeing to an early election and gone to the east of the country.

As Yanukovich went missing, delegates from local governments decided in Kharkov that they should resist a new opposition-enforced government and form local militias to defend themselves from a potential armed attack from western Ukraine.

“Yanukovich was desperate to hold on to power. He was willing to do whatever it took to maintain that power. Even to make concessions that he understood would tear his own country apart. This is pure politics on his part grasping to hold on to his power,” commented the geopolitical analyst Eric Draitser to RT.

The ramifications of this non-choice by Yanukovich are on his head, but they may have dire consequences for the whole of Ukraine. The moderate opposition may pretend that they have taken power, but in reality it was the radical fighters of the Right Front who made Yanukovich flee. The same fighters, who booed opposition leaders each time they returned from talks with the president to announce new concessions and demanded more.

Head of Udar (Punch) party Vitali Klitschko (L) and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych shake hands after signing an agreement in Kiev on February 21, 2014. (AFP Photo / Sergei Supinsky)

“What we’ve learned in Ukraine now is that if you really disagree with what the elected government is doing, you should go to the streets and just raise holy hell until those policies are reversed or until there is some change made in the procedure. That’s not going to lead to peace in Ukraine in the future,” warns Congressman Dana Rohrabacher from California.

Part of the blame for the bloody crisis, which cost about 80 lives and put the country on the brink of civil war, is on the moderate opposition. They failed to produce a figure strong and resolute enough to join all forces under his control and strike a lasting deal with the government.

Part of the blame lies with foreign governments, which were all too eager to cheer the Yanukovich-bashing crowds and turn a blind eye to the radical part of the protest and the violence.

But it was the duty of Yanukovich to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control. A duty he utterly failed.

Anti-government protesters attack a deputy of the Party of Regions Vitaly Grushevsky (C) outside the Ukrainian Parliament building in Kiev February 22, 2014. (Reuters / Vasily Fedosenko)

Comments (62)

 

Tay Sachs 24.02.2014 23:50

Are the Russians trying to imply that Y was too soft on the terrorists. Perhaps they are right. Yanukovich is such a patriot that he even cares about criminals in his fatherland.

 

CalDre 23.02.2014 21:17

Morsk 22.02.2014 20:46

I'm 50 years old. Living in Western Europe. Never paid one cent to anyone for anything thats supposed to be free. Have you?

  


Clearly corruption in W. Europe and USA is far more refined. In Eastern Europe and many places in world, largely due to massive tax evasion by elite (this was - and will continue to be - huge problem in Ukraine), government servants (police, teachers, doctors, etc.) are paid less than livable wage. So they "supplement&quo t; income with corruption that affects people in street. But the West even more corrupt, but only elite, who steal billions.

 

CalDre 23.02.2014 21:12

Musoki 23.02.2014 01:29

[quote name='Patrick Gilgenberg' time='23.02.2014 01:02'] One of the reasons that life in Ukraine is so hard because of blatant corr

  


Yes, and that woman Timoshenko is back again.... As far as I remember, she was corrupted in the same way as Yanukovich.[/quote]

No, she was corrupt in different way - she stole her money mainly in the 1990s when she was not in government. Also Yanukovich massively expanded corruption - going past the "normal" (for Ukraine) stealing from pensions and taxes and government contracts to stealing citizen businesses. He was hated widely.

View all comments (62)
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