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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Ukraine. Trois défis à relever d’urgence

by Vadim Kamenka

Ukraine: Three Urgent Challenges to Meet

Translated Monday 3 March 2014, by Gene Zbikowski

Kiev, from our special correspondent. While a political agreement has restored a precarious calm to the capital, the country remains extremely tense. The extremists are waiting in ambush. The eastern Ukraine seems little inclined now to accept Kiev’s decisions and the economy is exhausted.

Families, young couples, tourists, young women in stiletto heels, all of Kiev was headed, on Feb. 23 as on Feb. 22, to Independence Square, which has been transformed into a defensive camp since late November. And despite the crush, mothers even came with their babies. Since the end of the week, militia men and young people in military camouflage outfits have maintained a police presence. Most of these self-defense groups have been spawned by the far right movements Svoboda (Liberty) and Pravyi Sektor (Right-Wing Sector). The police and the army are remaining on the sidelines. “I’m afraid that their presence in the clashes has given them the aura of heroes,” said Leonid worriedly, who does not at all appreciate the aspect taken on by their heavy presence. “I’m waiting to see them dismantle the barricades and pack their baggage so that I can feel relieved,” he continued.

The Ukrainian Communist Party (UCP) “the only party that embodies the unity of the country.”

Svoboda and Pravyi Sektor are continuing their rise. “There’s a real risk. In the last legislative elections, the Svoboda party obtained over two million votes, with very high scores in the western Ukraine. Following these three months of crisis, their aura has clearly benefited. And the many alliances with Iulia Timoshenko that were concluded in the past are not likely to be overturned,” noted Elena Shaltseva, a political scientist at the national university in Donetsk.

What is to be done with these groups? Whereas the shops are re-opening in downtown Kiev, the seat of the Communist Party of the Ukraine (UCP) has been pillaged. The UCP is the third-largest political force in the country, and obtained 2.6 million votes in 2012 (13.5% of the vote, and 32 deputies in parliament). This party frightens, Anatolii Sakoliuk, one of its leaders, said. “It’s the only party that embodies the unity of the country. It is strong in the eastern Ukraine and present in the western Ukraine. Hence the war of which it is a victim.”

This violence also translates a persistent anger that favors an increasing risk that the country will split. Following the uprisings in the western Ukraine, it is now the eastern Ukraine that is rejecting Parliament’s decisions. The congress of representatives of the southeastern Ukraine questions the legitimacy of the decisions taken by the Rada (the Ukrainian Parliament), such as the modification of the Constitution and the designation of a new president of Parliament as the head of state, and it has proclaimed that it will commit itself to defending constitutional order in its region. Andreï Kurkov, the writer, noted: “the Ukraine, which has always been subject to the presence of its powerful neighbors, has not been able to construct a national framework, due to the lack of long periods of independence, such as Poland, for example, has enjoyed.” This painful history does not allow it to stand up to crises of this extent, and the wounds are deep, both in the eastern and the western Ukraine.

For lack of a homogenous nation-state, Jean-Marie Chauvier (1) warns: “There’s no sense in pitting one region against another, except if you’re betting on the country breaking up, or even on a civil war, which is certainly what some are calculating. By continually pushing towards a break-up, as the Western nations and NATO have been doing, the Ukraine might find itself split.” The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, take this risk very seriously.

The cash-drawer is empty

The catastrophic economic situation that the country is experiencing does nothing to ease these tensions. The cash-drawer is empty, Alexander Turchinov, the new president of Parliament, has declared. The previous day, the Standard and Poor’s rating agency lowered the Ukraine’s rating. The present rating, which says the Ukraine is nearly bankrupt, might cause Russia to reconsider its financial aid and deliver a knock-out blow to an already-exhausted economy. For its part, the International Monetary Fund might grant a loan. “But it would be in exchange for extremely constraining measures: privatizations, cuts in aid for gas prices granted to individuals and to companies, budget cuts… This could push more Ukrainians, in both the East and the West, to demonstrate in the streets again,” Elena Shaltseva, a political scientist at the national university in Donetsk, said indignantly.

The premises of the Communist Party devastated. The seat of the Communist Party of the Ukraine (UCP) in Kiev was pillaged by demonstrators. The tags on the building accuse the communists of being “criminals,” “murderers,” and “slaves of (Viktor) Ianukovich.” The UCP, however, distanced itself from the Ukrainian president when the demonstrations began, demanding “an end to the use of force,” condemning the repression and demanding that the foreign policy of integration of the Ukraine be the subject of a referendum.

(1) Interview on the website le Grand Soir.

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