Today Yanukovych expressed a willingness to disband the government of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and create a new government with Arseniy Yatseniuk, leader of the Batkivshchyna Party, as Prime Minister. Vitaliy Klychko, the Leader of UDAR, would be made Deputy Prime Minister with a brief for Humanitarian Issues. There is no news the leader of Svoboda, Oleh Tyahnybok was offered a position in the government. [Ed Note -- this is how he spells his name in English, so I have adopted this over the Library of Congress transliteration used earlier.]
Yanukovych’s offer was conditional and well below the minimum set by the Maidan, so he knew it would be rejected, as it was. Indeed, it was designed to put the opposition in the corner by suggesting that by rejecting the offer the opposition showed that it was unwilling to accept the responsibilities of governing. After turning in poor performances in their previous efforts to win support from the Maidan protestors, the opposition leaders finally found the right message tonight with the help of Petro Poroshenko, the only oligarch openly supportive of the Maidan. In his speech he confirmed their rejection of Yanukovych’s offer but declared that this did not reflect the opposition’s unwillingness to accept the responsibilities of governance.
Yet, if the opposition is finally getting on track, today’s move really amounted to Yanukovych admitting of defeat. For the past two months Yanukovych has played at being conciliatory, but always in ways designed to belittle the opposition. At the first “round-table talks” arranged by the previous Ukrainian presidents in December, Yanukovych managed to include all sorts of supporters and seat the opposition well away from him. Even the talks earlier this week, when Yanukovych offered nothing substantial to the opposition, and then only if the protests disbanded first, was also insulting, something that further hurt the opposition’s reputation with the Maidan protestors when they did not immediately address this insult during their speeches.
Maybe the boos the folks on the Maidan gave the opposition finally convinced Yanukovych that the protestors were not in the pay of the West, or maybe it is it is the growing unrest even in what the Ukrainian East. Most likely though it was a meeting with the oligarchs who urged a peaceful solution that finally forced Yanukovych to offer something that on the face of it at least had to be considered. Yanukovych may not realize it himself yet. He has dug and is still playing games, but today he admitted that he cannot go forward without acknowledging that the Maidan has won. Having done that he cannot go back, because he has admitted weakness. If that was not enough, this evening Maidan protestors stormed Ukrainian Institute (once the Lenin Museum), which was right behind the Maidan but had been used as barracks for special forces and Internal Troops. They did not fight back, and more importantly, for the first time in a week the peaceful Maidan protestors regained center stage, when they formed a corridor to insure that the troops inside were able to leave the Ukrainian Institute unharassed.
There will be many difficulties ahead. We can expect more trickery by Yanukovych, and those that have stuck with him have more reason to stick by him as the prospect of punishment for what they have already done becomes real. Still, in some ways the biggest obstacle has been overcome today, Yanukovych's denial that he is responsible to the Ukrainian people. Sadly there are several stages of grief left to go before acceptance.
[Updated 26 January]
[Updated 26 January]