Is Yanukovich in Russia?

Several Russian news agencies are reporting that impeached Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich might be in Russia and will soon hold a news conference in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don.

Newly appointed Crimean Prime Minister Aksenov asserts that Yanukovich is still the leader of the country. Oddly, the banner proclaims "Crimea freedom."
Newly appointed Crimean Prime Minister Aksenov asserts that Yanukovich is still the leader of the country. Oddly, the banner proclaims “Crimea freedom.”

Reports from three news agencies say that Russia granted his request for security from “extremists.”  One report linked him to the Hotel Ukraina in Moscow. Hotel Ukraina director Dmitry Yelizarov, told Interfax news agency that Yanukovych had not stayed at the hotel recently however the AP is reporting unusually high security around and inside the hotel although some sources told Interfax that he had been relocated to a health sanitarium outside Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s office denies any information on whether Yanukovich is inside Russia.

Berkut firing

Yanukovich is wanted by Ukrainian investigators for allegedly giving orders for security forces to fire upon civilian protesters, an action forbidden by the Ukrainian constitution.

Two burned out Ukrainian army trucks sit where once was busy traffic. (foto: Ilya Varlamov)
Two burned out Ukrainian army trucks sit where once was busy traffic. (foto: Ilya Varlamov)

In the south of Ukraine the newly formed government of Crimea say that they’ve been promised financial support from Russia.

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Crackdowns after the Olympics?

There have been whispers that the screws will tighten on any opposition groups in Russia after the Olympics and some say that it may have quietly started.

Rain TV aTV Rain, the only independent television network remaining, was just filed with an investigative intent over its recent coverage of the anniversary of the liberation of Leningrad. “Rain” did a fine job on the coverage but the Kremlin is apparently angered about a poll they ran at the end. The poll simply asked if Leningrad leaders had made the right decision to refuse to surrender or at some point should they have surrendered in order to stop the starvation and suffering?

In reality the order to hold the city at all costs came from Stalin, not the local city leadership. While such a poll would seem fairly innocent in the West, people could express their opinion and as observers in hindsight most will have an opinion one way or the other, but that was too much for the censors to fathom. Two large cable systems loosely affiliated with the Kremlin have just dropped Rain programming and that cuts their audience size substantially.

A couple more cuts like those and Rain simply won’t have an audience base. You can view some programming online: http://tvrain.ru/

TV Rain is not the only media outlet running a poll on the Leningrad siege; the government controlled Russia Beyond the Headlines is continuing a similar poll on Leningrad.

Alexei Navalny was arrested yesterday morning outside Zamoskvoretsky Court in Moscow on charges for his role in leading past opposition protests, including the case regarding an opposition meeting on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, 2012. New Russian laws hold opposition leaders accountable if the meetings involve violence against other persons and/or police (Article 318).

(photo: urixblog)
Bolotnaya mass protest. (photo: urixblog)

Four of the initial twelve charged in regards to the Bolotnaya case were released under the amnesty law prior to the Olympics. The remaining eight defendants were sentenced to jail time as follows:

– Alexandra Naumova, suspended sentence of 3 years and 3 months.

– Andrei Barabanov, 3 years and 7 months.

– Sergei Krivov, 4 years.

– Yaroslav Belousov, 2 years and 6 months.

– Artem Savelov, 2 years and 7 months.

– Stepan Zimin, Denis Lutskevich and Alexander Polikhovich each will serve 3 years and 6 months.

A large crowd waited for the verdict and Moscow police say they detained approximately 200 citizens for holding a public meeting without a permit.

Later in the day investigators opened new criminal charges under Article 212 and Article 318 against Navalny.  Article 212 allows Russian authorities to press charges to anyone who promotes and advertises mass protest meetings.

Cheese-fare/pancake week (Maslenitsa) begins

The Russian term is Масленица and it is observed the week prior to the Orthodox Fast leading to Easter. Often it is called pancake week or butter week by some.

maslennitsa n

The observance of Maslenitsa is an tradition of Eastern Slavs that is both a religious and folk holiday celebrated during the last week before Great Lent, marking the seventh week before Orthodox Easter. The roots of Maslenitsa are in both pagan and Christian traditions and it is the celebration of the coming end of winter.

For Orthodox Christians, meat along with eggs and all dairy products are forbidden during the Fast. Maslenitsa is the last week during which milk, cheese and other dairy products, eggs, and cooking oil are permitted. Maslenitsa week meals will be meat-less but plenty of foods with dairy and eggs will be served.

Maslenitsa week

The week is symbolized by blini, Russian styled thin pancakes similar to crepes.

The last day of Maslenitsa Week is called “Forgiveness Sunday” and it is the traditional day for people to ask their family and friends for forgiveness, hoping to hear the words “God will forgive” in response.

Ukraine news from around the world

Here is the latest news digest from around the world on Ukraine:

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From the BBC:

‘Failure of perestroika’ in Ukraine – Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former president of the Soviet Union described the events in Ukraine as being caused by a “failure of perestroika”. AP reports that Gorbachev said on Sunday that the crisis in Ukraine stems from the government’s failure to act democratically.

Speaking in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, he said, “Ultimately this is the result of the failure of the government to act democratically.” He added that the root cause of the unrest in Ukraine was an “interruption of perestroika,” referring to his reform policies, and of the democratic process there.

Gorbachev, 82, was the last leader of the Soviet Union, and the reforms he put in place helped lead to the fall of Communism. After becoming the Soviet leader in March 1985, he pursued the policies of using “glasnost” or openness, and “perestroika” or restructuring. While his intent had been only reform, the policies brought about democratic changes that eventually led to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Gorbachev won the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the Cold War, but he has little influence in today’s Russia. Recently he has become increasingly critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In December 2011, Gorbachev urged then-Prime Minister Putin to step down as tens of thousands of protesters demanded free elections and an end to Putin’s rule.

From the Moscow Times:

Putin Faces Tough Choices Over UkrainePresident Vladimir Putin faces a decision over Ukraine that is likely to shape his political legacy as well as the future of Russia’s western neighbor, trapped in an East-West battle that has echoes of the Cold War.President Viktor Yanukovich’s loss of power deprives Putin of an ally vital to his hopes of keeping Ukraine, the cradle of Russian civilization, in what he sees as Russia’s orbit.

His hopes of building a huge trading bloc, grouping as many former Soviet republics as possible to challenge the economic might of China and the U.S., could be in tatters. But making a stand over Ukraine, or getting drawn into a new bidding war with the European Union to win sway over the cash-strapped country, would be risky.

Moscow can ill-afford to improve the $15 billion financial bailout package it offered in December. But more forceful measures, such as taking over mainly Russian-speaking areas of eastern Ukraine, would risk triggering a more serious conflict.

Putin is saying nothing for now in public, although he has spoken by phone to U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He was especially keen to stay silent before the end of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

But the protesters on Independence Square in central Kiev are waiting anxiously to see what he does. “We all know Putin likes to meddle,” said Alexei Tsitulski, a 25-year-old protester from the Crimea.

From the Guardian:

Moscow delivered a damning indictment of post-revolutionary Ukraine on Monday, denouncing alleged discrimination of the ethnic Russian minority, accusing the west of sponsoring a takeover of the country by “terrorists” and “extremists”, and clashing with Washington over plans for early elections in May.

“Russia is extremely concerned about the situation in Ukraine,” said a foreign ministry statement, which followed the highest-level reaction from Moscow so far to the collapse of Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency. Dmitry Medvedev, the prime minister and former president, accused the post-Yanukovych authorities and parliament of lacking legitimacy.

“If you consider Kalashnikov-toting people in black masks who are roaming Kiev to be the government, then it will be hard for us to work with that government,” Medvedev said. “Some of our foreign, western partners think otherwise, considering them to be legitimate authorities. I do not know which constitution, which laws they were reading, but it seems to me it is an aberration … Something that is essentially the result of a mutiny is called legitimate.”

The blistering language from Moscow, the first real response to the crisis from Ukraine’s neighbour and former overlord, collided with western attempts to keep the Russians onside for the looming challenge of establishing a stable, inclusive government and coming up with a multibillion-dollar rescue to try to stabilise an economy in freefall.

The new interim leaders of Ukraine said the country needed $35bn (£21bn) over the next two years and fast action on a bailout, as Moscow signalled its was freezing its $15bn in cheap loans – the package offered in November when Yanukovych triggered the uprising by turning to Russia and away from the European Union.

The Russian foreign ministry statement pressed all the buttons that will have the west and Kiev alarmed about ethnic and religious strife fracturing the country in two. It complained that ethnic Russian rights were already being violated after the parliament rescinded the status of Russian as a second language.

Is Ukraine about to split?

The past week has gone in a whirlwind. Ukrainian President Yanukovich signed an agreement for early elections and to restore the Constitution to 2004 standards which would place limits on presidential authority and restore parliamentary democracy in Ukraine. Then he fled the city for parts unknown before turning up in Kharkiv.

(photo: Reuters)
(photo: Reuters)

Following his flight the Rada (parliament) called for his resignation and nationalized his mansion outside Kyiv. Thousands of citizens have toured the opulent dwelling and shook their collective heads in disbelief.

If you want to know what we think, Russia will win this eventually. It would have been preferential for Ukraine to have chosen a path of independence from the EU but with trading relations while at the same time maintaining close but voluntary ties to Russia. Perhaps she will, but we’re not that hopeful.

There is no reason for Ukraine to eventually join the EU any more than a reason to join the Customs Union. One would mean permanent status as second-class citizens while the other would mean a return to slavery.

At the same time a proper relationship with Russia could do a lot for Ukraine but corruption in Russia would first have to be rooted out. As that state of reality exists at the highest levels, Ukraine would do better by delaying any big deals with Moscow for the time being.

Meanwhile Russian media is reporting that Mr. Yanukovich has apparently set up shop in Kharkiv. It makes sense as it is close to Russia, in the heart of Eastern Ukraine and is a former capital of Ukraine, the latter being a very long time ago to be sure, but it has significance to Ukrainians in that area. However one can only marvel at the irony as his arch rival Yulia Tymoshenko was just released from imprisonment at Central Clinical Hospital No. 5 in Kharkiv, it was the very city where Yanukovich fled for protection.

RT also reports that in Kharkiv thousands of people assembled and some 3,000 local councils deputies from areas in southeastern Ukraine declared their intent to form a government in order to continue the constitutional republic of Ukraine, saying that their first order of business is to seek restoration of “constitutional order” throughout the country.

In a joint statement released from Kharkiv, the deputies pledged that “[i]We, the local authorities of all levels, the Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Sevastopol region decided to take responsibility for ensuring the constitutional order and the rights of citizens on their territory[/i].” The majority of deputies represent the Party of Regions and the Communist Party.

The deputies declared that the government in Kyiv is no longer legitimate and charged local authorities to form new militia services to maintain order, saying that they would seize military arms depots in order to keep them out of the hands of the opposition.

It appears to have been a well-organized event with Regional Governor Mikhail Dobkin and Kharkov administration head Gennady Kernes among those leading the movement. The main assembly took place in the Kharkiv Sport arena and was attended by observers from Russia, including Aleksi Pushkov of the Russian parliamentary commission on foreign affairs, and Mikhail Markelov of the Russian Federation Council’s committee on foreign affairs. Several governors from Russia’s eastern regions were also present according to Russian media reports.

Update: RT is reporting that Yanukovich has been taken by supporters to a private residence in the Crimea area for protection.

Continuing civil war in Ukraine

Unfortunately there will be causalities in civil war. For two months former Ukrainian Army vets have trained volunteers by teaching them tactics and setting up very sophisticated defensive lines. There is a very clear chain of command and well organized with Ukrainian veterans in leadership positions against the government forces.

At some point this is going to force the Army to make a decision. Yesterday’s firing of the chief of the Army by President Yanukovich and his appointment of the naval chief to take over the Army came after Army chief Col Gen Volodymyr Zamana had refused a presidential order to use violent force against the protesters as part of an “anti-terrorist” campaign.

One of the trigger points of the violence was in December (24) when journalist Tatyana Chornovol was pulled from her car and beaten by riot police after taking photographs outside the residence of Prosecutor-General Viktor Pshonka. Tatyana has been one of the courageous journalists who has investigated and written extensively about corruption in the government.

The first journalist killed was yesterday, Vyacheslav Veremyi was a writer for Vesti, a pro-government newspaper. He was on the wrong side but may God grant him eternal memory.

A plea for freedom in Ukraine?

As the death toll has risen to 28, including one journalist, the estimates of the causalities from the past 24 hours has risen to over a thousand injured. We ask you to consider this message from a young lady standing on Independence Square in Kyiv: