The Long Haul

By Volodymyr Kish



The Euro Maidan movement in Ukraine has now entered a new phase, one less geared to protesting the nefarious about turn by the Yanukovych government on its commitment towards the European Union, and more towards bringing down the corrupt regime of his oligarchic political mafia. 

The initial protests, fueled by a genuine sense of betrayal, demonstrated the deep anger of the vast majority of the Ukrainian population against their self-serving rulers.  The scope and determination of the protesters not only caught the Ukrainian government by surprise, but also once again captured the interest of the global media, forcing governments throughout the world to take a stand on what is happening in this “borderland” country. 

President Yanukovych’s predictable brutal response to the protests has once again brought him to the brink of self-destruction.  The baton-wielding antics of his Berkut special forces against peaceful demonstrators early in the protests resulted in strong condemnation, not only by his fellow Ukrainians but from political leaders and the media throughout the world.  It seems he learned nothing from that lesson.  Over this past weekend, those same Berkut forces severely mauled Yurij Lutsenko, a prominent leader of the opposition and a former Cabinet Minister, sending him into intensive care.  Whatever remaining credibility Yanukovich may have had about being committed to a peaceful resolution to the current crisis, disappeared with the blood dripping down from Lutsenko’s head.  The world can have no doubts now that Yanukovych is little more than the thug that the opposition have always claimed he was, and that there can be no political solution that does not include his removal from power.

The initial euphoria created by the mass demonstrations on the Maidan over a month ago, has now been transformed into a more pragmatic approach as it has become apparent that Yanukovych and his government will neither compromise, nor willingly step down from power.  The leaders of the opposition movement have begun to implement a longer term strategy whose core premise is to make it impossible for the government to function and to directly impair the financial well-being of the oligarchs that support it.

The demonstrations and protests are not only continuing but spreading, even into the eastern heartland that the Regions claim as their home base.  The day to day operations of the government in Kyiv are already severely hampered by a well-organized core of some tens of thousands of demonstrators that are targeting courts, government buildings and even the opulent Presidential “palace” just outside the city in Mezhyhirya.

Of more serious consequence however is the fact that in much of the western and some central parts of the country, the local bureaucrats and government officials have lost both their faith and their fear of the central authorities and are both either overtly, or through non-compliance, significantly eroding the government’s ability to impose their authority and compliance with their demands.  There have even been many instances of local police and interior ministry forces in western Ukraine refusing orders by the central government to prevent or suppress protesters.

Another effort that has already gotten underway and which targets the source of oligarchic wealth directly, is a program that publicizes all the commercial entities owned by the ruling oligarchs, with a call on the public to boycott the purchase of any products these firms produce.  As the revenue taps turn into a trickle, it is hoped that the oligarchs may start thinking that it their support of Yanukovych is not in their long term best interests.

Perhaps an even more effective initiative is the move to have western governments impose sanctions and restrictions on the key individuals in the Yanukovych regime.  This would include visa restrictions, travel bans, freezing of foreign assets and outright ostracism of those responsible for the current state of affairs in Ukraine.  Such sanctions are already being discussed and considered by Canada, the United States and many European countries.  Considering that virtually all of the Ukrainian oligarchs have substantial bank and real estate holdings outside Ukraine, this would be a severe blow to their wealth and the power that flows from it.

The squeeze on the government and those who support it is on, and it will be interesting to see how they will react.  If they continue in their futile efforts to suppress the protests violently, as was the case with the Lutsenko incident, then it will only accelerate their collapse, as each such occurrence only inflames and strengthens the opposition even more.  For now, determination and discipline by the opposition is key.  As for the diaspora, the most effective thing we can do is to ratchet up the pressure on the Ukrainian government by urging our governments as much as possible to impose sanctions on Yanukovych and his henchmen.