It has been a busy night in the Ukraine.
First, the newly-installed interior minister declared that the police were now behind the protesters they had fought for days, giving central Kiev the look of a war zone with 77 people killed, while central authority crumbled in western Ukraine. Then despite yesterday’s latest anti-crisis “agreement” which we said would last at best hours, the protesters continued their pressure against embattled president Yanukovich, demanding his outright and unconditional resignation, leading to his fleeing Kiev by airplane overnight to the far more pro-Russian city of Kharkiv located in the Eastern Ukraine, even as his arch rival, Yulia Tymoshenko, who is held in prison in the same city, was rumored to have been released on her way to the far more anti-Russian city of Kiev – it turns out those rumors have so far been incorrect.
Then there was a plethora of rumors that he has or is about to either escape the country and/or resign, sparking celebrations in Kiev, only for him to appear on TV subsequently and not only deny a resignation is coming, but that he accused the current leaders in Kiev of staging a coup d’etat and that all parliamentary decisions today have been illegitimate, saying “I did all I could to avoid bloodshed” while comparing recent events in the Ukraine to the “Fascist Revolution” in Germany. This was promptly rebutted by the Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski who tweeted there is no coup in Kiev and President Viktor Yanukovych has 24 hours to sign re-adopted 2004 constitution into law.
The just released interview is below:
Most importantly, all of this is happening as governors, and regional legislators in eastern Ukraine question authority of national parliament. Meanwhile over in the “western” Kiev, Parliament members of the opposition began laying the groundwork for a change in leadership, electing Oleksander Turchynov, an ally of the imprisoned opposition leader and former prime minister, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, as speaker. And Mr. Klitschko called for new elections to replace Mr. Yanukovych by May 25. “Millions of Ukrainians see only one choice — early presidential and parliamentary elections,” he tweeted.
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. 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.
All of this is pointing to a national schism between the pro-Russian east, and its new de facto capital, Kharkiv, and the western part of the nation, where the EU (and CIA) influences are strongest. Luckily, for now there won’t be a military involvement:
- UKRAINE DEFENSE MIN: ARMY WON’T BE INVOLVED IN GOVT CONFLICT
… for now.This will likely change: moments ago Russia’s Foreign Minister said Ukraine’s opposition is led by “armed extremists” and their actions pose direct threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty, which means a Russian involvement in some capacity is imminent.
Perhaps more important was the following statement:
- UKRAINE TO ENSURE SMOOTH NATGAS TRANSIT TO EU, DEP PREMIER SAYS
That would the Russian gas which traverses the country, which can be halted with the turn of a spigot.
Bottom line, the situation is fluid, and is increasingly bordering on an all too real threat of civil war between the country’s linguistically and affiliation-divided west and east.
The one thing that is clear is that the former presidential compound is now in the power of the people. From CBS:
The protesters, who are angry over corruption and want Ukraine to move toward Europe rather than Russia, claimed full control of Kiev and took up positions around the president’s office and a grandiose residential compound believed to be his, though he never acknowledged it.
At the sprawling suburban Kiev compound, protesters stood guard and blocked more radical elements among them from entering the building, fearing unrest. Moderate protesters have sought to prevent their comrades from looting or taking up the weapons that have filled Kiev in recent weeks.
The compound became an emblem of the secrecy and arrogance that defines Yanukovych’s presidency, painting him as a leader who basks in splendor while his country’s economy suffers and his opponents are jailed. An AP journalist visiting the grounds Saturday saw manicured lawns, a pond, several luxurious houses and the big mansion itself, an elaborate confection of five stories with marble columns.
Protesters attached a Ukrainian flag to a lamppost at the compound, shouting: “Glory to Ukraine!”
A group of protesters in helmets and shields stood guard at the president’s office Saturday. No police were in sight.
Which brings us to the most interesting finding of the day: what has so far been plundered from the palace:
see page Inside Yanukovych’s private residence
Pictures emerging from the president’s private residence in the outskirts of Kyiv after protesters stormed the building.