Yesterday, after more than 77 protestors were killed in the central Maidan square of Kiev, embattled president Victor Yanukovych accepted a tentative deal from opposition leaders that forces him to have early elections and reduces his executive authority. The Ukranian Parliament also voted to allow to release former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a sign of Yanukovych’s shrinking political capital.
The dispute, which originated when Yanukovych rejected a deal to join the European Union in November in favor of a larger aid package from Russia of $15 billion, has split the country along geographic lines, with pro-Russian eastern Ukrainians still very much in favor of Yanukovych. This includes the Crimea, for whom some local organizations have seized on the opportunity to “bolster Crimea’s autonomy.”
In Kiev itself, protesters began on the 17th to vacate occupied government buildings after the government offered amnesty and after last Friday’s release of 234 protestors jailed for demonstration-related offenses. These gestures were immediately followed by the brutal storming of the Maidan protestor camp to clear out protestors, in which 100 protestors were killed. This move was opposed by Parliament, which first proposed to revert back to Ukraine’s 2004 constitution, which would limit Yanukovych’s authority enough to coerce his forces to stand down. When this move did not have the desired effect, they instead voted to order riot forces to return to their barracks, a measure that was backed by 236 out of the 450 legislative delegates.
There are still key issues that remain unclear: the main one is how the Ukrainian army will become involved in this civil unrest. Defense Minister Pavel Lebedev declared on January 26 that the army was a neutral force that would not intervene in political matters. But Yanukovych has begun to term the anti-riot operations as “antiterrorist” actions, hinting perhaps that he might seek the support of the army soon.
Live blog from RFERL: http://www.rferl.org/contentlive/clashes-in-ukraine-live-blog-kyiv/25267783.html
- The P5+1 Powers and Iran ended their negotiations in Vienna on Thursday with an agreement on future meetings on nuclear enrichment but little in the way of progress on the main issue of nuclear concessions in exchange for relief from sanctions. A joint statement delivered yesterday promised that the next meeting would take place on March 17. Skeptics and optimists have clashed over the meaning of the statement. Skeptics point out that no framework was agreed to and with little progress made during these negotiations it looks less likely that any deal concerning enrichment facilities like the heavy-water reactor at Arak will be scaled down by the deadline in July. Optimists point to revelations by the IAEA report that Iran has been meeting its commitments under the deal signed on November 24. Reserves of uranium refined to a 20% fissile concentration fell to 161 kg from their earlier levels at around 196 kg last November.
- According to a recent survey, cities in Central Asia are among the worst places for expatriates to reside. Released by Mercer, the measurements are based on quality of living standards for foreigners, not locals. It takes into account 39 factors including political stability, effectiveness of law enforcement, censorship, pollution, healthcare, electricity, quality of schools and public services. The most notable slip in ranking? Ashgabat, Turkmenistan – whose leader has spent billions on building a monument to himself.
- Pakistan has discontinued its ongoing peace negotiations with the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban) as continuing airstrikes and clashes with Pakistani military forces have increased in ferocity. The Pakistani Interior Minister said that “dialogue and violence cannot take place side by side,” and ended his statement with the promise that talks will only be held when “blood stops spilling.” Airstrikes carried out Wednesday killed over 30 militants, the last in a series of huge military operations to root out Taliban hideouts in the FATA border regions around Waziristan. Nawaz Sharif actually planned to stop negotiations even earlier, but held off, hoping that some deal would be reached. It seems with this latest move that peace is an even further prospect than it was last year.
- The Manas Transit Center, which has for more than a decade been the central hub for supply lines into and out of Afghanistan, has been discretely offered to cede control of the airbase to Russia when the US lease expires in July. As reported earlier, Russia has maintained an airbase at Kant for many years, and the Kyrgyz government has been accused of accepting money in exchange for forcing the US out of its major air traffic center in Central Asia. Additionally, the Kyrgyz government has been lobbying hard to enter Russia’s Customs Union to diversify a very weak economy based mostly on subsistence agriculture and gold mining. Kyrgyz Deputy Energy Minister Raimbek Mamyrov said yesterday that Russian oil giant Rosneft said it was willing to invest some $1 billion in the modernization of the facility in exchange for a 51% ownership stake.