Immediate Change of Course Needed to Put the Ukrainian Humpty-Dumpty Back Together Again

March 26, 2014
James George Jatras
Deputy Director, AIU

Almost all current Western media commentary and analysis on Ukraine centers on the East-West spitting match over Moscow’s incorporation of Crimea, and whether Russian forces may move into other areas. Little attention is being paid to the circumstance that gave rise to the crisis – the effective collapse of Ukraine’s constitutional order and the dire political, economic, and fiscal consequences. Even less consideration is given to what interested countries, East and West, can and must do to put the Ukrainian humpty-dumpty back together again.

Any serious analysis of how we have arrived to where we are now must start with the fact that the current administration in Kiev has little claim of constitutional legitimacy. Even the new provisional “authorities” (for want of better term) effectively concede that the proper constitutional order was not followed with respect to the physical, if not legal, removal of the elected president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Articles 108 through 112 of the Ukrainian constitution allow the removal of a president only for medical incapacity, resignation, death (none of which occurred) or impeachment. Impeachment under Article 112 requires, first, that following a “special ad hoc investigating commission, composed of special prosecutor and special investigators to conduct an investigation” – which, needless to say, did not take place – “the Verkhovna Rada shall, by at least two-thirds of its constitutional membership, adopt a decision to bring charges against the President of Ukraine.” Then, the “decision on the removal of the President of Ukraine from the office in compliance with the procedure of impeachment shall be adopted by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine by at least three-quarters of its constitutional membership.” In the 450-seat body, that would require 338 votes (ten more than the actual number cast on February 22) followed by a review of the case by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, which requirement also was not met. No Rada deputies voted against Yanukovych’s removal, with dissenters either abstaining or absent from the chamber while armed men stood watch to assure the expected outcome.

Still, the unelected Kiev administration and the Western countries that uncritically accept it as “the new Ukrainian government” claim that Yanukovych was properly ejected because he had “fled” first from Kiev, then from Ukraine, immediately following the February 21 power-sharing agreement signed by him and by three Opposition figures: Arseniy Yatseniuk, now regarded as “prime minister” by Western governments; Vitaly Klitschko, left out of the new set-up; and Oleh Tyahnybok, whose extreme nationalist “Svoboda” party effectively holds Kiev hostage, with five ministers in the new “government” (including the Defense and Education Ministries and a Deputy Prime Minister) and “street cred” with armed groups like the even more extreme “Praviy Sektor,” which remain camped out in Maidan. Left unmentioned is that Yanukovych had little option to remain in place (unless he wished to consider his removal under Article 108(4), death in office), given that immediately after the agreement was signed and co-signed by the foreign ministers of three European Union countries (Poland, Germany, France), and witnessed by a Russian representative, “the Maidan” rejected it, with armed men occupying government buildings as soon as they were vacated by the police in compliance with the agreement.

Besides lacking legal or constitutional authority, the Kiev administration has no serious claim to representing Ukraine as a whole. Overwhelmingly stacked with membership from the country’s far west, one of the first acts of the new administration was to pass a law downgrading the status of the Russian language from the limited official use it had been accorded under Yanukovych. For cosmetic reasons, the law was quietly shelved – for the time being...

Quite aside from voters in the south and east of Ukraine whose votes in the 2010 presidential election and 2012 parliamentary vote effectively have been stolen from them, the Kiev administration cannot be said to be representative even of all forces in opposition to Yanukovych. The “interim” administration includes no members of Klitschko’s UDAR or anyone representing the “Solidarity” party of former minister Petro Poroshenko, shown by polls to be one of the country’s most popular politicians and a likely contender for the presidency. Indeed, how could Klitschko or Poroshenko be expected to join hands with a party dominated by ultranationalists and anti-Semites, a direct negation of the “European values” the Kiev administration claims to advocate? Or participate in an administration that takes its cues from radical groups whose “authority” (in Chairman Mao’s famous phrase) comes from the barrel of a gun?

These flaws are not just academic. They relate directly to the collapsing state of law and order in Ukraine and the physical safety of Ukrainian citizens, and a deadly threat to anyone who doesn’t toe the line of extreme pro-Bandera, UPA/OUN ideology. The growing anarchy has run the gamut from the forced “resignation” of the CEO of Ukraine’s National Television Company, Aleksandr Panteleymonov, beaten over the head by Svoboda deputies, to a robbery of train passengers bound for neighboring Moldova. Recently police gunned down Oleksandr Muzychko, a/k/a Sashko Bily, a thuggish leader of Praviy Sektor, with retaliation expected. Is the new, “pro-Europe,” “democratic” Ukraine about to descend into its own downward spiral of internecine brutality? Early presidential elections, now scheduled for May as a means to keep voters in the south and east marginalized and prevent their mobilizing any credible electoral force in the face of violent provocations, can only aggravate the current trend toward chaos.

The western governments who have granted the Kiev administration a moral carte blanche (in place of a monetary blank check that will not arrive), need to take a step back and consider what can be done to prevent Ukraine’s slide from bad to worse. Among the first items must be to neutralize the poisonous atmosphere between Ukraine’s regions and language zones. These should include:

Since achieving independence in 1991, the key vulnerabilities of Ukraine have been both its centrifugal regional tendencies (which might be more manageable in a federal structure) and the weakness of its state institutions in the face of oligarchic interests and rampant corruption (likely to be an intractable as ever, noting that both the interim prime minister and president of the Kiev administration are lieutenants of Yulia Tymoshenko). To an extent greater than western governments care to admit, the violent overthrow of Yanukovych – whatever his faults – in effect “broke” the Ukrainian state, and all of Washington’s horses, and all of Brussels’ men have been unable to put it back together again. As things stand, the disorders promise to get worse not better, making the future unity of the country doubtful unless a rapid change of course occurs soon.