Last week could have been the moment when Ukraine turned the corner, ending the protests.
Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych announced sweeping concessions – including the sacking of the entirety of the government and the repeal of nine emergency laws. These concessions did little to alleviate the protests, with activists still sticking strongly to their desire that Yanukovych must step down.
Seen in context, this demand of political accountability has little to do with Ukraine wanting to cozy up more with Russia, but instead is a demand linked to the very physical well-being of the protestors as they find themselves targets of extra-judicial revenge.
As David Blair, reporting from Kiev for The Telegraph, explains:
Daily incidents lift the veil on this silent offensive by a desperate president.
The first pillar of the effort is straightforward harassment. Thousands of demonstrators have found their names, addresses and birth dates suddenly appearing online. These long lists also disclose the colour, make and registration number of their cars…
Above them stands a more dangerous tier of state agents, centered around the SBU, Ukraine’s domestic intelligence service. To retain deniability, the evidence suggests that hardened criminals are paid by the SBU to do the bloodiest jobs.
This nexus between the secret police and organised crime controls the second pillar of Mr Yanukovych’s hidden offensive: the kidnapping of protesters.
Activists at this point are naturally terrified, and are now fighting for their own survival. Since December 1, over 36 activists have simply been disappeared. Many more have had their cars torched by paid thugs.
The most horrifying encounter recorded is that of Dmytro Bulatov, a major leader in the protests. For eight days Bulatov was reported as missing, before staggering into a small village and immediately being rushed to a hospital. He says during his time missing, he was tortured and crucified by men with Russian accents.
This is not surprising. Increasingly, President Yanukovych, after democratically being elected president in 2010, has turned Ukraine into a prime example of ‘State Capture.’ That is, Yanukovych is concentrating power and wealth in the hands of his own ruling clique – in this case, Russian Ukrainians.
As Vladimir Frolov, of The Moscow Times, explains:
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych opted for state capture soon after his democratic presidential victory in 2010. In a matter of months, he established full personal control over the Constitutional Court to reverse the constitutional changes of 2004 and reintroduce the super-powerful presidency.
He jailed his principal opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko, on charges that even the Kremlin found politically motivated. In 2012, he blatantly appointed proteges of his family to key agencies in charge of state finances and security. The business empire of his elder son doubled in size every year his father was in office.
With full control over the Constitutional Court and a super-powered presidency, many in Ukraine felt that they had no other option to challenge Yanukovych than by protesting. Unfortunately, this has taken its toll in blood and the disappearance of multiple Ukrainian youth.
Both sides seem increasingly unwilling to step down from their demands too. Whichever side blinks first, after all, is likely to suffer. Yanukovych could find himself in jail, and activists fear that, without strength in numbers, they could find themselves to be the next one left to die in the woods.
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