The End Game

By Volodymyr Kish

The situation in Ukraine has changed dramatically over the past week.

When I wrote my last article, the Maidan protest was in what can best be described as an escalating stalemate. The protesters on the Maidan in Kyiv had withstood a number of Berkut assaults as well as sniper attacks and kidnappings, and had significantly reinforced their barricades and defensive fortifications. It was obvious that they had become very well organized and disciplined, to the point where the government authorities, despite a lot of blustering, were reluctant to order any further offensives against the protesters.

Instead, they sought to discredit and sow dissent and doubt on their opponents by a series of so-called “negotiations” seeking a “peaceful compromise”. The response from the Maidan was an unequivocal rejection. The protesters would not budge until their key demands were met, foremost being the departure of Yanukovych and his government. Despite the protesters’ intransigence, Yanukovych still felt that he could control things, and he continued to offer meaningless compromises while at the same time threatening to quash the Maidan by force if they continued their occupation of the heart of Kyiv.

The game changer that has now put Yanukovych into a no win situation was the spread of the Maidan movement to virtually all the regions throughout the country. As I write this, opposition activists have now seized the Oblast Administration buildings in nine Oblasts, are blockading the ones in six more, and there are significant protests going on in yet in five more. Yanukovych has effectively lost control of the majority of the country. Whereas he may have had enough security forces loyal to him to manage the crisis in Kyiv, there is no way that he can deal with the wide scale uprising that has now swept most of Ukraine. His days, and I literally mean days, are numbered.

Panic is beginning to set in the Yanukovych camp. High level defections are starting to gain traction within the government, police, judicial and political arenas. Yanukovych, in desperation is beginning to offer compromises that would have been unthinkable a week ago, the most obvious being offering to sack the current Cabinet led by Premier Azarov and having Opposition leader Yatseniuk become the new Premier and Klitchko, Deputy Premier. Both have rejected the proposition until the Maidan’s primary demands are met. He is also apparently willing to amend the draconian laws that led to the recent escalation in the protests, and revert back to the 2004 Constitution that he eviscerated to give himself dictatorial powers. It is obvious that he is now scrambling to save both his skin and some portion of his fortune.

We are now in the final stages of the end game, with the momentum swinging significantly in favour of the anti-government forces. Although it appears that Yanukovych has little hope of rescuing the situation, what he does over the next few days or weeks could prove to be extremely dangerous to the protesters and the Ukrainian people. Should he choose to strike out with force as he becomes increasingly cornered, the violence and bloodshed could escalate dramatically. There is increasing evidence that Russian FSB special forces as well as other Russian mercenaries are already active in Kyiv disguised as Ukrainian Berkut or Ministry of the Interior troops. They would have no qualms about using deadly force against Ukrainian demonstrators, and there is some evidence that they already have.

The most extreme option would have Yanukovych asking Putin to send in Russian troops to help him restore order. However, with Putin having so much at stake in hosting the Sochi Olympics, I am sure he would be very reluctant to do that before or while the Olympics are in progress. Such a move would undoubtedly lead to large scale boycotts and an embarrassingly huge failure of the Sochi games. In any case, I am fairly sure that it will all be academic by the time the Sochi Olympics begin, as Yanukovych has no more than a few days to a week or two left in his sorry political career.

The most likely scenario would see a call for some form of international mediation to negotiate Yanukovich’s exit while providing some minimum guarantees on his keeping his life or saving him from jail or worse. Another would see a cornered Yanukovych fleeing the country with as much wealth as he can arrange for exile, likely in Russia. Another possible scenario would have his Oligarch allies try to cut their losses and save their own skins by engineering Yanukovych’s sudden permanent demise. They have proven expertise in arranging timely “accidents” and suicides.

Whatever happens, we are in for a stressful and exciting week or two.