After months of increasingly violent protests, demonstrators in Kiev and other areas of Ukraine have apparently succeeded in ousting President Victor Yanukovych from the presidential mansion. Yanukovych, from the Party of Regions, was elected in 2010. He and others are calling this a coup, and it is not clear that he will cede power.
The events that brought the Ukraine situation to this point include the armed overthrow of the oblast (provincial) and city governments in Lviv in the far west of Ukraine, and the seizure of armaments from the arsenal there by members of the far-right Svoboda Party. That area is a hotbed of extreme right-wing politics, having been the base of the Stepan Bandera fascist group that fought against the Soviet government during and after World War II. The ultra-right, anti-Semitic, Russophobic and anti-Polish Svoboda Party has been at the center of political violence since the demonstrations against the Yanukovych government began last November.
The level of bloodshed in Kiev, the capital, rose sharply with a confirmed total of 83 deaths. This occurred after former boxer and head of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform Party Vitali Klitschko and right-wing Fatherland Party leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. The two returned to Kiev and repudiated a truce that had been negotiated by President Yanukovych, sparking more violent clashes. The Russian press reports that more than 5,000 armed members of the Svoboda Party militia were trucked to Kiev from Lviv. The 83 confirmed deaths included not only protesters, but numerous members of the riot police attempting to clear Independence Square.
President Yanukovych abandoned Kiev on Feb. 22. A special session of parliament was called, mostly at the instigation of the ultra-right Svoboda Party. Many parliamentarians from Yanukovych's Party of Regions were prevented from voting. The legality of the vote to strip Yanukovych of his presidency and replace him on an interim basis with Oleksandr Turchynov of the Fatherland Party is being called into question as possibly unconstitutional. Turchynov is a close ally of former President Yulia Tymoshenko and a fundamentalist Baptist pastor.
An early action of this "interim" government was to release Tymoshenko, also of the Fatherland Party, from prison. Her jailing in 2011, on grounds of having been involved in corrupt dealings with Russian tycoons, has been used by some in Ukraine but especially the West as a club to pressure Yanukovych. After her release, when she spoke to the protesters in the Independence Square she was obviously in poor health.
Yanukovych appears to have headed eastward to his own base of mass support in the Kharkov region in eastern Ukraine, where the population feels much closer to Russia than to the European Union. The new regime in Kiev has called for his arrest, and has revoked Yanukovych's legislation that gave equal status to Russian residents of the Ukraine and ethnic Ukrainians. This revocation is sure to be resented in the east where people may consider themselves Ukrainians but the majority speaks Russian. Yanukovych was last reported in the Crimean region of eastern Ukraine.
The rise of the ultra-right has set off alarm bells in Ukraine's Jewish community. The Chabad chief rabbi of the Ukraine, Moshe Reuven Asman, called on all Jews to leave Kiev and if possible the Ukraine, after two rabbinical students were attacked by right-wing nationalist thugs during the Kiev uprising.
In the eastern Ukraine there are also two major flashpoints. The city of. Odessa, on the Black Sea, is a major strongpoint of the Communist Party of the Ukraine. The party, though also highly critical of Yanukovych, has denounced the events in Kiev and warned its members to expect violent repression.
The Crimean peninsula, also on the Black Sea, was not historically part of Ukraine but was transferred to Ukrainian administration by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1954. The population is majority Russian, with minorities of Ukrainians and Tatars who have trickled back there after being expelled eastwards during World War II. The Crimea is an autonomous republic within Ukraine, but Russia retains a very important naval base in Sevastopol on a long-term lease. The base is of vital geopolitical and military importance to Russia. There are reports in the Russian and Western press of the recruitment of militias in both Odessa and the Crimea to resist anti-Russian measures by the new Ukrainian government.
Interim President Turchynov called for Russia to respect Ukraine's choice to orient itself toward the West and integrate itself with European institutions. But many say the Ukrainians are going to find out that this will entail the same brutal austerity programs that are being imposed on poorer nations in the European Union such as Greece, Portugal and Ireland. They may regret missing out on more generous trade and aid terms Russian President Vladimir Putin was offering them.
The U.S. ambassador in Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt, and Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland, a former Bush administration official, have not only meddled in the Ukraine but are directly implicated in the overthrow of a legally elected government. An intercepted telephone conversation between the two, which has gained notoriety in the West because of Nuland's reported observation "Fuck the EU," revealed the existence of American and EU support for a coup against Yanukovych. This is important because there is a real danger of further armed clashes between the new U.S.- and German-supported regime in Kiev and not only what is left of the Yanukovych government in eastern Ukraine, but perhaps Russia as well.
A statement by the presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Ukraine (CPU) on Feb. 25 blamed both the "arrogant, self-confident, bankrupt" Yanukovych government and "foreign emissaries behaving as if the Ukraine were a mandated territory" for precipitating a crisis which has unleashed a terror campaign by the neo-Nazi ultra-right in Ukraine. The party expressed "deep concern over ... the stirring up of anti-Communist hysteria, ... bandit attacks on the offices of our party in Kiev and other cities, moral and physical terror against Communists."
The Communist Party of the Ukraine also called for restoration of "normal operation of all authorities and government, to stop any manifestation of lawlessness and tyranny, to prevent persecution of people for their political beliefs and ideological views, and to defend the Constitution of the Ukraine and the rights and freedoms of citizens."
The CPU characterized the current crisis as "a relentless struggle within the ruling class - the various factions of oligarchic capital." It called for reform of government at all levels and the return of privatized firms "to the ownership of the people," as necessary steps for resolving the economic crisis, and demanded a national referendum on ties to the European Union and the Eurasian Union.
Photo: A scene in Kiev, Ukraine, Jan. 22, 2014. tandalov.com CC 2.0