Brutality won’t save Ukraine’s President

Published 8:15 PM EST, Thu February 20, 2014

Story highlights

Alexander Motyl: Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych's brutality seems desperate

Motyl: Violence has made protesters more resistant and determined to fight

Motyl: Party members are deserting Yanukovych, and police are joining the opposition

He says Vladimir Putin might not think it's worth his while to prop up a doomed president

Editor’s Note: Alexander J. Motyl is professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark. He served as associate director of the Harriman Institute at Columbia University from 1992 through 1998. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia and the U.S.S.R., he is the author of six academic books and several novels, including
“The Jew Who Was Ukrainian”; “My Orchidia”; and “Sweet Snow.” Motyl writes a weekly blog on “Ukraine’s Orange Blues” for World Affairs Journal.

CNN —  

Viktor Yanukovych is probably doomed – even if he does not yet know it. He should just step down.

As the embattled Ukrainian President hides in the presidential administration in central Kiev, medical authorities report from 70 to 100 demonstrators have been killed and hundreds wounded. His minister of internal affairs has authorized police units to employ live ammunition. There are also fears that army units are moving on Kiev, the capital city.

These appear to be the desperate measures of a dying regime.

The turning point took place on Tuesday when Yanukovych ordered police units to storm the Maidan – the area centered on Independence Square that has been occupied by the democratic opposition since late November. Regime forces killed at least 25 demonstrators in pitched street battles, set buildings on fire and initiated a campaign of mass terror.

Alexander Motyl
Alexander Motyl

Yanukovych hoped the opposition in Kiev would disperse. Instead, the violence only spurred demonstrators to greater resistance and underscored their determination to fight to the end. More important, the brutality has had several important consequences.

First, democratic forces began seizing government buildings, attacking and disarming police units, and rejecting central authority throughout much of the country. As of this writing, Yanukovych has effectively lost control of at least half of Ukraine – mostly in the west and center – and demonstrations and disturbances are constant in many parts of the southeast, his power base.

Second, in many of the cities and provinces captured by the revolutionaries, riot police and militia have thrown down their weapons and joined the resistance.

In Kiev on Thursday, several scores of internal troops and their commander surrendered to the opposition. The coercive forces represent Yanukovych’s last line of defense; such defections mean that his regime may soon be exposed to assault by an enraged and increasingly armed population.

Third, dozens of prominent members of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions have left the party and repudiated his rule. Some are genuinely appalled by the brutality of the regime; all sense which way the wind is blowing and want to save their skins – such as up to 30 pro-regime parliamentary deputies who reputedly fled the country for Western Europe. Even Yanukovych’s appointee, the de facto mayor of Kiev, has turned against Yanukovych. The regime’s own power base is crumbling.

Fourth, Ukraine’s oligarchs, who have so far supported or refused to turn against Yanukovych, are now hedging their bets. Massive bloodshed and a potential civil war is not in their interest, and the more things escalate, the more likely will their dissatisfaction with Yanukovych turn into opposition.