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08 June 2023

Ukraine opposition, president in 'tactical game'


The Ukrainian opposition and President Viktor Yanukovych are now locked in a high-stakes tactical game to resolve Ukraine's crisis after the president made his first offer of concessions, analysts said.

Yanukovych appeared to give some way over the weekend by offering top government posts to opposition leaders but protesters have said they will keep applying pressure until all of their demands are met.

Analysts said the proposals, which the opposition has neither explicitly accepted nor rejected, seemed in fact aimed at driving a wedge between his challengers.

"It was simply a manoeuvre to divide the opposition and somehow hold on to power," Andreas Umland, a German political analyst at the Kiev Mohyla Academy, told AFP.

Ties between Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a former foreign minister who was offered the post of prime minister, and Vitali Klitschko, a former boxing champion asked to be his deputy, are rumoured to be testy at best.

Klitschko pointed to what he saw as a ruse, referring to Yanukovych's comments as "a poisonous offer".

Vadym Karasev, head of the Institute for Global Strategies in Kiev, said both sides now feel stronger.

"Yanukovych in the eyes of the West has shown his willingness to compromise and his commitment to peaceful political methods to end the crisis," he said.

"The opposition has seen that Yanukovych is willing to share power so it can build on this success.

"This is more like a tactical game," he added.

The protests started out as a campaign for greater European integration but have now grown to reflect wider disillusionment with Yanukovych and have spread far beyond Kiev, even into his eastern heartland.

The key day will be Tuesday when opposition demands for an abolition of draconian anti-protest laws and for constitutional reforms to take away presidential powers will be on the table at a special session of parliament.

Yanukovych has held out both prospects although his critics remain wary and say they are still waiting to see concrete action rather than vague promises.

They and international human rights groups have also said they want to see the release of all the dozens of detainees held since the start of the protests.

The big question, however, is Yanukovych's own future.

Opposition leaders have called for the pro-Russian leader to quit before a presidential election in 2015 and the more militant protesters in the streets of Kiev are bent on ousting him as soon as possible.

Yanukovych was ultimately defeated in Ukraine's 2004 "Orange Revolution" after fraudulently claiming an election victory but he rallied back after rivalry between his opponents descended into poisonous feuds.

The opposition itself also faces a difficult balancing act between balancing the more moderate aims of leaders like former foreign minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and more militant protesters fighting for more radical change.

'Options for his departure'

Olexiy Haran, a political science professor at Kyiv Mohyla Academy, said Yanukovych sees the protests as "a real threat" and has shown he is prepared to negotiate "only when he is up against a strong adversary".

Yanukovych's resignation "would be the best solution for the country", Haran told pro-opposition Gromadske Radio.

"I think there is a chance of this happening," he said.

Haran suggested Yanukovych could be persuaded to leave if he is offered some kind of amnesty to him and his son, a leading businessman accused by the opposition of having profited from his father's time in power.

Experts agreed one possible, though difficult, compromise would be for Yanukovych to stay as president but for the constitution to be changed so more powers go to a government that would be led by the opposition.

"This may be possible although he would have very little power under this variant," Umland said.

"But this step is already not enough. Yanukovych just needs to discuss the options for his departure."

Umland said he was confident that in the end the opposition would achieved its aims of early parliamentary and presidential elections.

But Karasev said the situation could develop both ways -- either towards a resolution or further tensions.

Tuesday's parliament session could agree to prepare for a coalition government to include the opposition.

"Or, under the influence of the hardliners in power, it could try to introduce emergency rule," he said.