When the ground moves, the timing of the reverberations can be unpredictable—you know only that they are coming. So it has been for Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych, who yesterday agreed to early elections that presumably will result in his departure from power.
It has been clear since at least Jan. 28 that Yanukovych’s days were numbered. That is when opposition protesters poured into Independence Square in loud defiance of a law pushed through by Yanukovych that effectively outlawed public dissent. An axiom of such situations is that strongmen are in trouble when protesters stop fearing bullets, and so it was for Yanukovych on Jan. 28—shots were fired, but his opponents stayed put and stubbornly demanded his resignation. To defuse the situation, he had parliament reverse itself, and he pushed out his prime minister. But events already were set in motion. Yesterday, Yanukovych agreed to accelerate elections that were scheduled for next February.
And the play is not over. The likelihood is that worse is coming for Yanukovych. Parliament yesterday also voted by a veto-proof margin to free his arch enemy, Yulia Timoshenko, from prison. Yanukovych sent her there on the laughable charge of negotiating a bad natural gas deal with Russia. The poetic irony is that Yanukovych’s main crime, according to his opponents, has been to erode no small part of Ukrainian sovereignty by accepting a $15 billion bailout from president Vladimir Putin in exchange for abandoning a planned economic partnership with Europe. With Timoshenko out of prison, do not be surprised to hear official corruption charges leveled against Yanukovych. His outright resignation is still possible.
This is not an ideal outcome. Just a year remains in Yanukovych’s elected term and democracy ordinarily means that an opposition waits its turn and tries to win the next election; hence its own candidate stands a better chance of serving out his or her own term. In that sense, Ukrainian democracy is ill-served by the brinksmanship. Now it is up to Yanukovych’s successors to start over. —Steve LeVine
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