The fate of Ukraine's revolution is in the hands of the opposition

The intensity of the public protest rallies in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities has peaked.  Will the opposition be able to withstand the government, which has regrouped and is maintaining a ‘business as usual’ stance? Valery Kalnysh wonders.

Kyiv’s street protests are clearly just about to turn into a behind-the-scenes war. Action in the capital has already peaked. This is neither good nor bad, but simply proof that no peaceful revolution can last very long, because sooner or later it turns into war. The Ukrainian government and the opposition have demonstrated to each other what they are capable of.  Now it’s time to build on the result and act on it.

It must, however, be said that at the moment the opposition is losing. It failed by thirty four votes to oust Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his government, which has strengthened their arm. At the first cabinet meeting after the unsuccessful vote of no confidence in the government, Azarov said ‘This is the third attempt to seize power unlawfully in the past ten years. The first was the “Orange Revolution”, the second was the unlawful dissolution of parliament in 2007.  Today is the third. Each time, the violation of the Constitution and the law has had grave consequences for Ukraine, blocking our way forward on the path of development.  Is that what you want?  It’s not what the Ukrainian people want. I can state absolutely that the government will not permit such a catastrophic turn of events.’


Action on the streets may have peaked and the protests may turn into a behind-the-scenes war. Photo CC Ivan Bandura

The authorities have started to recover from their initial shock.  Despite the demonstrations, President Viktor Yanukovych has flown to China on a visit. The government is making it clear that for them it is business as usual.  ‘Everything is proceeding according to plan and the social services are functioning normally,’ said the Social Policy Minister, Nataliya Korolevskaya. Prime Minister Azarov is even threatening that the indefinite peaceful strike action, announced for the beginning of December in Ternopol, Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv regions, could well result in salaries for public sector workers being withheld. The office of the Prosecutor General is threatening to treat ‘the occupation of essential buildings’, and ‘the blocking of traffic on the roads’ as criminal actions.  Anyone engaging in them ‘will be answerable to the law’.

The opposition has demands, but no means of realising them.

For its part, the opposition has demands, but no means of realising them. ‘Our first demand is the resignation of Azarov and his government. The second is the resignation of President Yanukovych, to be followed by pre-term presidential and parliamentary elections,’ stated Arsenii Yatsenyuk.  ‘People are not out on the streets for their pensions, salaries or just plain money – they’re there in defence of an idea, and for justice.’

If the opposition enjoying the support of the people really wants to change the government, then it will have set up various kinds of talks. Arsenii Yatsenyuk, Vitalii Klitschko and Oleh Tyahnybok hope – or say they hope – that President Yanukovych will give in to peaceful protests. But the chances of this happening are pretty small: the head of state is showing every sign of regarding the situation in the country as under control. The opposition should turn its attention to business, and to the oligarchs, who don’t have the same inbuilt objections to big capital as the Communists did.  If Rinat Akhmetov, Dmitry Firtash, Igor Kolomoisky and Viktor Pinchuk are assured that, should the leaders of the opposition come to power, they need have no fear for their organisations, they may even be pleased to hear it. After all, oligarchs are not just about money: they’re also interested in the media, access to the public and, to come right out with it, the votes of the parliamentary deputies whom they helped into parliament.


The opposition hopes that President Yanukovych will give in to peaceful protests but this is unlikely. If it wants change it should turn its attention to business and the oligarchs. Photo cc Ivan Bandura

The opposition should turn its attention to business … but it’s by no means clear that Ukrainian businessmen are interested in playing it straight.

However, no one from a parliamentary minority can give any guarantees.  Moreover, Ukrainian business is far from transparent, and very corrupt, as confirmed by Transparency International data.  In their Corruptions Perception Index, Ukraine is placed 144th out of 177 countries.  It shares this ranking with Cameroon, Iran, Nigeria, Central African Republic and Papua New Guinea. It’s the worst among the European countries:  Russia is at 127th, Belarus 123rd, Moldavia 102nd and Poland is in 38th place. So it’s by no means clear that Ukrainian businessmen are interested in playing straight, as the opposition would have us believe.

The opposition should anyway be working out a clear plan of action. If they want to go on enjoying the support of the people, they have to be able to offer them a strategy. To explain what expectations they might have, what the end result should be and how they intend to achieve it. If they fail to set out any realistic measures, then Ukrainians will become disillusioned and regard them as ‘the same old politicians, who promise the earth and do nothing.’

It sounds banal, but the fate of the revolution is in the hands of the opposition.