Increasing danger of repressions in Ukraine

7 Dec

Yanukovych made deal with Russia. Domestic crisis helped him
It is reported that yesterday evening, President of Ukraine Victor Yanukovych has signed the strategic agreement with Russia. According to Edward Lucas from The Economist Putin made immediately available to Yanukovych $5 billion, and cut the gas prices by half to $200 per 1000 cubic meters in exchange for Yanukovych agreement to join the Russian-led custom union.

6825-730785If the deal is confirmed Yanukovych won from Putin much more than the threats that he likely heard during the secret meeting with the Russian President on Nov. 9 that soon afterwards led Yanukovych to make an abrupt U-turn in the negotiations with the EU.  Paradoxically, ongoing demonstrations might have inadvertently helped Yanukovych to get a better deal from Putin than otherwise. In fact, Yanukovych might have been interested in rising the tensions in the country to win more concessions from Putin and, by default, become Putin’s indispensable man that will keep Ukraine in Russia’s orbit. The crackdown on the protesters ordered by Yanukovych regime in the early morning of Nov. 30 might have been actually designed to raise these tensions.  The demonstrators were in fact preparing to wind down their protest after the EU Vilnius summit and thus there was little rationale for the regime to use a brutal force. However, if what was needed was the crisis that would provide Yanukovych with more leverage over Putin (which he fears) then the last week crackdown was a rationally-driven, calculated sinister plot on the part of the regime and its president.

Greater likelihood of crackdown in Ukraine
It is now clear that after the Nov. 9 secret meeting with Putin Yanukovych re-oriented himself entirely towards Moscow. This U-turn was then sealed with yesterday’s strategic agreement with Russia.  Yanukovych no longer needs the crisis that helped him win concessions from Putin. This means that the Ukrainian regime might be ready to initiate crackdown with the goal to effectively put down the protests. We now know that Yanukovych and his allies will not hesitate to use violence against peaceful protesters. We also know that it was Yanukovych as the Prime Minister and the presidential hopeful during the 2004 Orange Revolution, who demanded the use of violent force against the demonstrators on the Maidan. The then outgoing President Kuchma rejected these demands. Yanukovych can now try to enforce the hardline policies whose very absence he blamed for his humiliating defeat in 2005.

Consequently, the danger of the widespread crackdown has increased with the deal between Yanukovych and Putin. In fact, Putin might have encouraged Yanukovych to deal with the protesters decisively to pave the way for the implementation of the agreement and the money transfer.  In the back of his mind Yanukovych might also think that even if the crackdown backfires and he might lose Kyiv he will still have eastern Ukraine.  In the worst case scenario, Yanukovych can be forced to depart to Donetsk and, with the help of Russia and the Ukrainian oligarch Medvedchuk, he could push for a partition of Ukraine and continue his rule over the industrial and richer eastern part where his main constituency resides.

Strategy for nonviolent resistance
Given the increasing danger of a violent repression the Ukrainian activists must plan accordingly, particularly this coming weekend when massive demonstrations are expected. Until now, the activists have relied on a familiar repertoire of nonviolent actions taken from the Orange Revolution toolbox that include tactics of concentrations such as mass-based demonstrations and occupations of the municipal buildings and main squares in the cities. However, the civil resisters face a different opponent than 9 years ago. In 2004, their adversary – President Kuchma-  was a former communist aparatchik. This time, the opposition challenges a thug and a convict who came from the criminal world.

Violent provocations can provide the authorities with the pretext to try to initiate the crackdown against the protesters which are an easily identifiable target.  This will happen unless the opposition mobilizes millions and manages to sustain that level of mobilization, which is not certain. And even if the high level of mobilization can dissuade the authorities from using violence it might not be enough to weaken the regime or force it to compromise.

The need for the new nonviolent strategy on the part of the Ukrainian activists should stem not only from the realization that there are increasing dangers of a possible violent repression and thus more urgent need to minimize the risks but also the necessity to impose higher economic costs on the regime and its allies. Strikes in the industries that the government relies on for a continuing revenue and employment as well as boycotts of the regime’s business proved historically effective against the entrenched undemocratic regimes. It also helped minimize the exposure of the protesters to state violence.  When people stayed at home and did not show up for work or stopped buying specific products the regime had much harder time to repress such disobedience while it was experiencing (together with its allies) considerable economic costs.  The “buying power” of the organized masses has been vividly depicted in the segment on antiapartheid struggle in South Africa from A Force More Powerful documentary  which is available online for viewing in honor of Nelson Mandela. I encourage Ukrainians to watch it and draw the conclusions  for their own resistance from the rich history of nonviolent struggles.

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