european union

Ukrainian President Yanukovych on the Run

Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has been indicted for mass murder today because of his government’s response to demonstrations in Kiev last week. Yanukovych fled the country over the weekend by helicopter, which took him to the disputed region of Crimea. From there, he was apparently unable to leave the country. Since then, he has been added to the Ukraine’s “most wanted” list:

“An official case for the mass murder of peaceful citizens has been opened,” Arsen Avakov wrote on Facebook, referring to the shooting by police marksmen of many of the 82 people killed in two days of bloodshed in Kiev last week.

“Yanukovich and other people responsible for this have been declared wanted,” he added.

Avakov was named acting head of the interior ministry after its prior head was ousted for being at the helm of the over-the-top response to demonstrators last week.

Yanukovch’s chief rival Yulia Tymoshenko was recently released from a “prison hospital”, where she was serving time for public corruption. Of course, with the corruption that has now been exposed under Yanukovych, it is no stretch to imagine that charges against rival politicians may have been, shall we say, exaggerated.

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Ukraine Latest: EU Sanctions Declared, Interior Ministry Voted to Barracks by Parliament

– As I reported earlier, yesterday’s truce ended in massacre, with as many as 100 civilians shot and killed by police in the chaos that ended the fragile truce. Western parts of the country remain in “open rebellion”, while much of the east remains strongly pro-Russia and President Viktor Yanukovych.

– Unbelievably, demonstrators were seen, “leading policemen with hands held high around the sprawling protest camp in central Kiev — Ukraine’s Interior ministry says 67 police were captured in all. They are being held in Kiev’s occupied city hall.”

– The European Union has imposed sanctions on those, “responsible for violence and excessive force” that include,”travel bans and asset freezes imposed on those deemed responsible for the fatal escalation of violence in Ukraine.”

– Respective Foreign Ministers Laurent Fabius of France, Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany, and Radoslaw Sikorski of Poland are holding talks with both sides in Kiev to discuss a “roadmap” to peace.

– The White House has made Vice President Joe Biden the pointman with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. The two had been in contacts for weeks already, and Biden had come out in support of the Ukrainian dissidents in early December, so he’s been on this beat for a while.

– Interesting developments on the political front in Parliament, according to The Telegraph:

The Ukrainian parliament is seeking to reign in the executive branch. Ukrainian MPs have voted to an effective end to the “anti-terrorist operation” declared by the Interior Ministry and security services in Ukraine. In a late night parliamentary session to which few ruling party members attended, 236 members of the 442-seat chamber voted to return interior ministry troops to barracks, ban them from using firearms, and implement a ceasefire in Kiev. The chamber was almost half empty – only 238 MPs showed up – the majority is significant because the opposition has failed to secure majorities throughout the three-month political crisis.

– There are widespread reports that the police are using snipers, and foreign journalists have reported seeing multiple bodies lying in the street with single gun-shot wounds to the head.

– Ukrainian Skier Bogdana Matsotska has withdrawn from Russia’s Olympic games, telling reporters, “I don’t want to participate when in my country people die”. Matsotska, 24, will miss the slalom, her best event. She hoped to head home and join protesters in Kiev’s independence square, but flights are not available. Even though she is stuck in Sochi, “I am in Maidan but just with my soul” the skier said, but she didn’t pull any punches, believing that Yanukovych, “has to be jailed, and for a long time,” Matsotska said. “For all the lives that he took, for all the lives of innocent people that came peacefully to stand for their opinion”. Powerful, but dangerous, things to say, mired in the heart of Putin’s Russia.

Truce Declared, Forgotten in Chaotic Ukraine

Earlier today, protesters and the Ukrainian regime reached a fragile truce, so that negotiations could take place, but the truce seems to have gone up in flames. Protesters, wary that police would use the truce to move in on their positions and not allow them back, started tossing Molotov cocktails and more at the police, who responded with live fire.

Early estimates, admittedly from a medic working with the protesters, has up to 100 dead and many more wounded. According to the AP:

Video footage on Ukrainian television showed shocking scenes Thursday of protesters being cut down by gunfire, lying on the pavement as comrades rushed to their aid. Trying to protect themselves with shields, teams of protesters carried bodies away on sheets of plastic or planks of wood.

One of the wounded, volunteer medic Olesya Zhukovskaya, sent out a brief Twitter message — “I’m dying” — after being shot in the neck.

Protesters are believed to have somehow captured at least 67 police officers, who were seen being led by their captors to occupied city hall, where they are being held.

With today’s heavy tolls, at least 101 people have been killed so far this week in the country of 46 million. Today, the Western region of Lviv, situated closest to Europe, declared independence from Ukraine and its President Victor Yanukovich.

For those just noticing the escalating violence in the Eastern European country of Ukraine, protesters began in earnest several weeks ago, when Yanukovich spurned a $50 billion trade deal with the European Union, and instead renewed a trace pact with the country’s historic patron, Russia. Many in Ukraine, especially in Western regions, feel their country should integrate with the European Union and the West in General, while others remain loyal to Russia and President Yanukovich.

As always, this situation is developing extremely quickly, so stay tuned.

Ukraine Erupts With Violence, Protests

For at least three months, there has been a simmering showdown in the Ukraine (which is not weak!) between activists seeking to chart a new, more European, course for their country, and those loyal to the current regime and its leader, Viktor Yanukovych.

In the last two days, those simmering protests have erupted into wide scale violence across the country. Last night, as I watched the evening news here in America, I saw the country’s capital city, Kiev, alight with massive rows of fire, Molotov cocktails flying through the air in a hellish scene, all at around 4:30 in the morning Kiev time.

At last count, as a result of the violence of the last two days, at least 25 people have been killed and over 250 wounded. As of today, the countries embattled president named a new head of the Armed Forces to try and quell the “terrorist” uprising.

Of course, with protest movements as diverse and disparate as this one, listing grievances can be difficult, but in general, this situation boils down to the direction the country is headed. All of those protesters in the street would like to see Ukraine become more a part of the West and the European Union, and President Yanukovych, largely considered a puppet of Russian President Vladamir Putin, would seemingly like to remain, as they have been since the fall of the USSR, a satellite state of Russia.

The situation finally came to a head when Yanukovych turned down a $50 billion dollar trade pact with the European Union which Putin had been publicly critical of, and instead re-upped their $15 billion trade pact with Russia.

According to the European Commission, this is a partial list of things the Ukraine turned down in deciding to reject the European Union trade deal:

– “An eventual free trade agreement between Ukraine and the EU would save the country $670 million annually because of reduced EU import taxes. Ukraine would lose around $538 million in import duties coming from the EU.”

– “Ukraine’s agriculture sector would have benefited from cuts in duties: $45 million for agriculture products and $72 million for processed agriculture products. In addition, new market opportunities in the EU and higher production standards would help investment, stimulate the modernization of agriculture and improve labor conditions. Agriculture makes up 10 percent of Ukraine’s gross domestic product, a much higher share than in the major Western economies (in the U.S. it’s 2 percent).”

– “The industrial sector would have also benefited from the reduction of taxes on machinery and appliances by at least $103 million. Ukraine would also be able to cut duties on vehicles by $161 million.”

But what’s a billion dollars here or there when you get to have a good buddy like Putin?

Cigarette and Coffee Breakfast 2/7/14

– There seems to be a little bit of a diplomatic kerfuffle over a top State Department official being recorded in a phone conversation saying, among other things, “Fuck the European Union”. You see, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was discussing the current political crisis in the Ukraine, where four people have already died, with the United States Ambassador to the Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt. It would seem Nuland and Pyatt think the European Union has done a poor job keeping the situation under wraps to this point, certainly not a wild accusation with four people dead, and the recent history of the institution’s dysfunction. It would also seem that one State Department employee discussing diplomatic goings on with another State Department employee in terms of what benefits America is entirely appropriate.

– The DSCC has a new effort, dubbed the “Bannock Street Project” which aims to do just what i discussed yesterday, mobilize likely Democratic voters who are at present unlikely to vote. This is a departure from the usual tactics of trying to persuade independents and Republicans. According to the New York Times, the project, “includes a $60 million investment and requires more than 4,000 paid staff members. And the effort will need all of that — and perhaps more — to achieve its goal, which is nothing short of changing the character of the electorate in a midterm cycle.” With the plan, Democrats hope to reverse their fortunes in off-year elections, where the lack of a big-ticket presidential election serves to drive turnout down and help the other side tremendously.

– Republicans in the Senate rejected the Democrat’s third attempt to extend lapsed unemployment benefits. The final vote was 58-40 in favor of extending the benefits, but here in our majoritarian system, having 58% of the votes is not good enough. The Republicans placed a filibuster on the bill, of course, and Democrats will need to round up at least two more votes even to pass the bill through the Democratic controlled Senate, not to mention the Republican controlled house.

– Minority Leader of the Senate Nancy Pelosi finally said what a lot of people have probably been thinking, before the Olympic Torch has even been lit. The IOC made a “very bad choice” in Sochi as a site for the Olympics. From the security concerns, stray dogs, the lack of hotel rooms, to blatantly homophobic legislation, this Olympics has already lost a lot of its luster.

– Another poll out of Kentucky has Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell down to Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes 46-42. There’s still a long way to go in this fight, and Democrats will remember that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid found himself in an even worse situation several years ago, and managed to pull out a close victory. However, one has to imagine that Grimes will not spend the campaign discussing ways consumers could trade farm animals in lieu of cash for medical services under her health plan, as Reid’s opponent Sue Lowden did.