(Washington, D.C.) — In a rapidly moving story, the president of Ukraine has fled the capital overnight, and protestors have stormed the government buildings and now appear to have seized control the center of Kiev.
It’s a dramatic turn of events in a week plagued by terrible violence and hundreds of casualties. But many questions remain. Is this the end of the story? Is the Putin-backed government collapsing? Will the opposition forces succeed? Or is the regime regrouping and preparing to mount a more ferocious assault on the protestors?
Most ominously, will Russia intervene militarily, especially if Ukraine splits?
President Obama called Russian President Putin on Friday in hopes of persuading the Kremlin to support the E.U.-negotiated truce, but Moscow’s intentions remain unclear at the moment.
CNN is reporting that “Ukraine’s plans to tap Russia for $2 billion in emergency funding have fallen apart, leaving the country sliding towards economic disaster. Russia said earlier this week it was ready to buy Ukrainian government bonds — part of a $15 billion financial aid package agreed in December — but appears to have got cold feet as anti-government protests escalated. The Ukrainian finance ministry canceled the planned bond sale late Thursday…Ukraine desperately needs the cash because it has to repay as much as $13 billion in debt this year.”
While Putin has worked hard to turn the Ukrainian government away from the West — in part by offering the $15 billion aid package — analysts differ on the extent to which the Russian leader is pulling the strings in this crisis.
“The size of Ukraine’s population and, to a less extent, of its economy would make it a valuable asset in the Eurasian Union, which Putin is building in the post-Soviet landscape,” says Harvard University’s Simon Sardzhyan, noting that Putin and his advisers essentially see Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians as one people and “therefore, seek to draw Ukraine into Moscow’s orbit.”
Yanukovich, however, “has never been Russia’s man,” says Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “I think it’s a myth. He’s been a very difficult partner for Russia, a very unreliable partner, someone who let the Russians down on many occasions. Someone absolutely not to be trusted.”
Here’s the latest coverage:
“Protesters took control of Ukraine’s capital on Saturday, seizing the president’s office as parliament sought to oust him and form a new government,” reports CBS News. “An aide to President Viktor Yanukovych said he had left Kiev for his support base in the country’s Russian-speaking east, but that he has no intention of abandoning power.”
“CBS News correspondent Holly Williams reports from Kiev that the ministry that controls the police force said it now serves the Ukrainian people and shares their desire for speedy change. In a special parliament session, lawmakers warned that the country risks being split in two. The country’s western regions want to be closer to the EU and have rejected Yanukovych’s authority in many cities, while eastern Ukraine – which accounts for the bulk of the nation’s economic output – favors closer ties with Russia. ‘The people have risen up and achieved their goals. The authorities are crumbling. Victory is in sight,’ 31-year-old construction worker Sviatoslav Gordichenko said outside a residential compound believed to belong to Yanukovych.”
“An opposition unit took control of the presidential palace outside Kiev on Saturday, as leaders in Parliament said Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, had fled the capital a day after a deal was reached aimed at ending the country’s spiral of violence,” reports the New York Times.
“Members of an opposition group from Lviv called the 31st Hundred — carrying clubs and some of them wearing masks — were in control of the entryways to the palace Saturday morning,” the Times noted. “And Vitali Klitschko, one of three opposition leaders who signed the deal to end the violence, said that Mr. Yanukovych had ‘left the capital’ but his whereabouts were unknown, with members of the opposition speculating that he had gone to Kharkiv, in the northeast part of Ukraine. Protesters claimed to have established control over Kiev. By Saturday morning they had secured key intersections of the city and the government district of the capital, which police officers had fled, leaving behind burned military trucks, mattresses and heaps of garbage at the positions they had occupied for months.”
According to the Wall Street Journal: “Government authority appeared to melt away Saturday, leaving protesters to take control of the capital’s center. President Viktor Yanukovych left the capital for a city in the country’s Russian-speaking east but allies said he had no intention of giving up power. Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko called on parliament to vote to oust Mr. Yanukovych and announce presidential elections in May, as police withdrew from the center of the capital. Mr. Yanukovych didn’t appear publicly Saturday, a day after signing an agreement to share power with opponents and call new elections. News agencies quoted an aide as saying he was continuing to fulfill his constitutional duties and planned to appear on television later Saturday from Kharkov. He’s scheduled to meet voters there, as well as participate in a meeting of legislators from the country’s Russian-speaking south and east. It was also reported Ukraine opposition leader, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko is expected to be released from prison, according to a spokeswoman. Saturday, volunteer security brigades from among the protesters took over security at government buildings in the capital, and journalists reported around 300 people had entered Mr. Yanukovych’s opulent suburban residence without resistance.”