CREDIT: AP Photo/ Marko Drobnjakovic
Government and opposition leaders in Ukraine announced on Friday that they had reached a deal to end the months-long political crisis that has paralyzed the country and led to the death of at least 80 Ukrainians in the process.
After an overnight negotiation session between the Ukrainian government, opposition leaders, and representatives of the European Union, Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych announced mid-morning local time that a deal had been reached that would end the crisis. Confusion reigned for several hours afterwards as the EU representatives — including the foreign ministers of Germany and Poland — hedged that the situation was still fluid, until just after noon when they confirmed that opposition leaders had agreed to the deal as well.
Now that both sides of the conflict have signed the deal, Yanukovych has agreed to three of the main demands of the opposition that has gathered in Kyiv’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) since November:
1. Restore the 2004 Ukrainian Constitution.
In 2010, soon after his election, Ukraine’s Constitutional Court ruled that 2004 amendments to the Ukrainian constitution were invalid, thanks to procedural irregularities in their passage. That decision cleared the way for an expansion of Yanukovych’s powers, including granting him the ability to “to appoint and dismiss the Prime Minister, other members of the government, other heads of national executive bodies, and heads of provincial and local administrations.” Under the terms of the deal, the 2004 reforms will be readopted within 48 hours and a new unity government will be formed.
2. Begin rebalancing of presidential and parliamentary powers.
On top of the restoration of the 2004 constitution, Yanukovych has pledged to begin a constitutional reform process to better balance the government’s powers between the presidency, the Prime Minister’s cabinet and the parliament. That process is to begin immediately and will be completed by September, according to the terms of the deal.
3. Hold an early election.
One of the key demands of the protesters, Yanukovych also agreed to hold early presidential elections. Currently, the first round is scheduled for February 2015, but under the deal, will be moved up to no later than December 2014. “New electoral laws will be passed and a new Central Election Commission will be formed on the basis of proportionality and in accordance with the OSCE & Venice commission rules,” the agreement reads. The exact timetable for this new poll has not been determined yet, and it is assumed that Yanukovych will stand for reelection.
The agreement also promises an investigation of the violence that has taken place over the past weeks with the government, opposition, and Council of Europe. “The authorities will not impose a state of emergency,” the document continues. “The authorities and the opposition will refrain from the use of violence. [...] Both parties will undertake serious efforts for the normalisation of life in the cities and villages by withdrawing from administrative and public buildings and unblocking streets, city parks and squares.”
“There are no steps that we must not do together to restore peace in Ukraine,” Yanukovych said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “As Ukrainian President and Guarantor of the Constitution, I fulfill my duty to the people, to Ukraine and to God for the sake of preservation of state, for the sake of saving the life of people, for the sake of peace in our land.”
Despite the leadership’s willingness to sign onto the agreement, it is unclear whether the protesters in the Maidan will follow their lead and clear the square they have held for months on end. According to the Kyiv Post, when opposition leader Oleh Tiahynbook addressed the crowd asking “Do we agree to this?”, referring to Yanukovych remaining in office, “the thousands of people assembled overwhelmingly shouted ‘no’ in response.” Kyiv Post’s CEO Jakub Parusinksi tweet out “If deal info true, #EU just exchanged minor diplomatic victory for the safety of #Ukrainian people.”
Demonstrators may continue to make demands, specifically Yanukovych’s immediate exit, feeling they come from a position of strength at the moment. On Friday a group of police officers from the city of Lviv, which has been a secondary hotbed of anti-Yanukovych sentiment, joined protesters in Kyiv, providing the opposition with a morale boost. And despite the continued presence of extreme right-wing groups in their midst — whom the vast majority of protesters reject — international media coverage has been for the most part united in its condemnation of the Ukrainian government.
Reaction from Russia will also be key, given their interest in how the protest movement is resolved in their western neighbor. Officials have decried demonstrations as an “attempted coup,” and Russia’s envoy to the negotiations that lead to today’s agreement refused to sign the document. Complicating matters between Kyiv and Moscow further, just prior to the deal’s announcement Ukraine announced it would no longer be issuing a set of Eurobonds worth $2 billion, which were meant to be backed by the next installment of Russia’s $15 billion loan.
Adherence to the deal in the rest of the country outside of Kyiv will also be extremely important, given the split between Ukraine’s pro-Europe west and pro-Russia east that has been deepened during this crisis. Whether the government of Crimea in the east in particular accepts the deal and ends its move for greater autonomy will have a huge impact on the application of the agreement and in turn for the rest of the region, given that the Financial Times on Friday quoted a Russian official indicated that Moscow is prepared to fight a war to protect the interests of the ethnic Russians residing there. “If Ukraine breaks apart, it will trigger a war,” the official said. “They will lose Crimea first [because] we will go in and protect [it], just as we did in Georgia.”