Monday, February 24, 2014

Ukrainian President Yanukovych Flees Kiev as Demonstrators Overrun Presidential Compound, Topple Lenin Statues

As anti-government Maidan protestors gained increasing control over parts of the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, President Yanukovych fled his presidential compound to the majority-Russian Crimean port of Sevastopol on Friday.

While Russia denounced the ousters of Kremlin-allied Yanukovych as 'Kalashnikov-toting people in black masks', Ukraine's parliament voted to strip Yanukovych of office and issue a warrant for his arrest in the death of dozens of Maidan protestors in clashes with police last week.

Parliament Speaker Oleksandr Turchinov was named the interim president of the Ukraine while former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was released from prison and flown to Kiev to address the victorious pro-Western Maidan demonstrators.
Tymoshenko, 53, was freed from prison Saturday after two-and-a-half years, most of them spent in a detention hospital.

Dressed in black, she later emerged at Kiev's Independence Square in a wheel chair. Cheers erupted.

Tearfully, she hailed the sea of protesters, who listened and occasionally waved.

"Today, Ukraine has finished with this terrible dictator," she said, referring to ousted President Viktor Yanukovych.

She then passed on a not-so-subtle message.

"There'll be no Ukraine but the Ukraine you want," she said. "And I'm the guarantor of that Ukraine."

The polarizing former Prime Minister has a complicated relationship with Yanukovych

Both have dominated the nation's politics for years. Both have a rivalry that dates years.

Her international popularity soared a decade ago as a result of her ardent speeches that helped overturn Yanukovych's presidential win in 2004. She's considered a hero of the country's 2004 Orange Revolution, a wave of peaceful protests that swept her and Viktor Yushchenko into power as Prime Minister and President, respectively.

The same revolution successfully overturned what many believed was a largely false presidential win by Yanukovych.

But the promise of the revolution soon turned sour. The two feuded publicly, prompting Yushchenko to fire her a few months into her term.

In 2007, Tymoshenko was back as Prime Minister. But she was dogged by accusations of irregularities and overlooking the nation's economic problems.

Her tense working relation with Yushchenko did not help their case. Analysts say it was one of the reasons she lost to Yanukovych in the 2010 presidential elections.

After Yanukovych won that election, Tymoshenko, was forced out of office and into the courtroom. In 2011, she was on trial over a costly natural gas agreement that she signed with Russia while she was Prime Minister.

In October of that year, a Ukrainian court found her guilty of abuse of authority for signing overpriced gas contracts with Russia and sentenced her to seven years in prison.

The prosecutor said the gas deals inflicted damage to the country amounting to more than 1.5 billion hryvnias (almost $190 million at the exchange rate at the time). In addition to the sentence, the court ruled she must repay the money.

Amnesty International slammed the verdict as "politically motivated" and called for the release of Tymoshenko, who was Prime Minister from January to September 2005, and December 2007 to March 2010.

The case against her was widely considered politically motivated, and the United States and other Western nations called her "a political prisoner."

Both Tymoshenko and Yankukovych have been accused of being oligarchs who have consolidated their power and used the presidential office for personal gain. On Saturday, Maidan demonstrators made their way to Yanukovych's hastily-abandoned presidential mansion. According to watchdog website, Yanukovych's presidential salary as the equivalent of US $25,000 per year- yet Yanukovych's mansion in Mezhyhirya is worth an estimated US $75 million and features a private zoo, antique car collection and life-size mock galleon and marina.

Meanwhile, the nationalist Svoboda Party used the collapse of the government to start tearing down statues built to honor Vladmir Lenin that date back to the Cold War- some statues in the eastern and central part of the Ukraine were never torn down with the collapse of the USSR either due to the high Russian population or lingering nostalgia for the old Soviet union by die-hard communists.

Meanwhile, Luxembourg-based steelmaker Arcelor-Mittal [NYSE- MT] announced that they would be removing a Lenin statue and temporarily relocating foreign workers on the grounds of their facility in the Ukraine.

The next round of presidential elections were scheduled to take place in February 2014, but with the ousting of Yanukovych the parliament has now moved election day up to May 25th, 2014.

Russia has said they do not recognize the interim government and there are concerns that the turmoil in the Ukraine will provide Russia with the pretext to change previously negotiated prices for natural gas imported from Russia. Although the Ukraine has sought to diversify its imports of natural gas- as well as exploit their own shale reserves- due to previous disputes with Russia- by early 2014 Energy and Coal minister Eduard Stavytsky said that the Ukraine was importing natural gas almost exclusively from Russia due to a clear price advantage.


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