Breaking News: Military-backed coup in the Ukraine?
Tuesday note - I'll try and keep this post updated throughout the day
Note 2: It has been brought to my attention by Europhobia's Matt that "the use of the definitive article is wrong and quite insulting in Ukraine. 'The' Ukraine implies it's merely a region of Russia rather than a country in its own right. It's an linguistic invention of Tsarist Russia which was carried on under the Soviets." - Sorry for any insult caused - force of habit...
Note to newcomers via Instapundit etc.: As I write this note it is 4:10pm London time on Tuesday 23rd. I started this post 7pm London time on Monday 22nd. As from below this note, the post is made up of a succession of updates covering developments in Ukraine - and online coverage - over the last 21 hours, none of which have been re-edited since new information has come to light. I'll try and keep it going in the same style. I've kept it like this to maintain a chronology of events - the latest posts are about halfway down the page. Updates currently continue untl 00:20am (London time) on Wednesday 24th November.
This is not good. Very much breaking news, but the UK's Channel 4 News is currently showing live footage of opposition protests in Kiev, where supporters of pro-Western Viktor Yushchenko are contesting the results of the country's presidential elections.
According to official election observers, they have every right to feel cheated by the government of the pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, who has already been congratulated by Russia's man in Kiev on becoming President, as the results are severely, deeply flawed.
Yushchenko's opposition have until 3am Kiev time to end their protest, or the government will send in the troops.
This is a country which still has nukes. Keep your eye on the news tonight. Possible updates here later if I get the chance.
I'll leave the latest trouble to hit Barroso's Commission until later.
Update: I've hunted around the net for the last ten minutes looking for the latest - nothing yet. TV and radio may yet have an edge over the interwebnets...
Update 2: Bits and pieces...
Reuters: "Ukraine's security bodies warned they would put down any lawlessness "quickly and firmly."
"We appeal to the organizers of mass protests to assume responsibility for their possible consequences," said a statement issued by the prosecutor general, the interior ministry and the security services."
The Kiev city council - along with two other cities - has refused to recognise the election results as valid.
"The government is ready for anything, even to spill blood"
Update 3: More on the background, but still no confirmation of the 3am deadline reported on Channel 4 News.
Update 4: Still no word on the 3am deadline. The BBC's 10 O'Clock News hasn't mentioned it, and is referring to events as a "revolt" by opposition supporters. I'm still waiting and dreading for the news of the tanks going in. If you've read The Czech Black Book's account of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia following the Prague Spring, you'll know the feeling.
Meanwhile, via Fistful, a couple of Ukranian blogs (in English) that may be worth keeping tabs on over the next few days:
Obdymok (last entry at time of writing): "maidan is still full of people and likely will be through the morning, unless the goons go to work. big drama. lots of rumors."
Neeka's Backlog (last entry at time of writing): "Lviv City Council has recognized Yushchenko as the legitimate President of Ukraine and will report to him from now on. That's way cool. I hope Kyiv City Council does the same - the sooner, the better. I had to spend some time at home, to recharge my camera - the battery keeps dying after slightly more than an hour of use and I can't replace it because I've no idea where they sell the battery I need here... I'm on my way back to Maidan Nezalezhnosti - reports say there're 100,000 people there now."
Update 6: Both the EU and the US have denounced the elections. Will they be able to unite to put pressure on Russia to withdraw its support for Yanukovych? As long as the "government" thinks Putin's got its back, the threat of violence against the opposition protestors will be ever present...
Update 7: Bruce George, a Labour MP heading the election inspectors in the Ukraine, speaking on Newsnight (garbled, partially paraphrased transcript - sorry): "There is tension here... it's very peaceful despite government threats that any action will be robust... I went to twelve polling stations and they were efficiently run... But my deputy was at a polling station when two thugs came in, supporters of the government, trying to close the polling station down... He showed me pictures of young women blocking the thugs from the polling station... One policeman was killed yesterday guarding a polling station... There was a report ten days ago from a police chief saying he was involved in shenanigans... He said that criminals had been hired to cause trouble."
I doubt I'll get any more tonight. Will try and do an update tomorrow, and get a bit more perspective on this. No violence has kicked off yet, but I can't help feeling it's a only matter of time. Others seem to share my worries. Newsnight had pictures of Cossacks who've been bussed in to deal with any trouble. It's just far, far too reminiscent of Poland in 1980, Czechoslovakia in 1968, Hungary in 1956... I don't like the look of this...
OK, final update: Fistful has an update.
Plus a bit more on-the-scene blogging from Blog de Connard, including photos of barracades being erected by the protestors: "If this is the best they can do for a barricade, I'm afraid that these guys might be in trouble. Rumor (spread by Yushenko himself during the rally) had police coming to bust heads between 2 and 3 AM. Sorry, but I'm not going to stick around to see if that actually happens. After seeinghow these average people (it's not just students in those tents) are putting themselves on the line to support democracy in their country and their personal freedom, I sincerely hope that it doesn't happen. All those people and this country definitely deserve better."
Blog de Connard also points in the direction of einsodernull, which has some more good links.
And also ta to Nick of What You Can Get Away With, who's noted in a comment on this site that the Wikipedia entry for the election is being kept up to date by some public-minded citizen of cyberspace, including a mention of the 3am deadline:
"22 Nov 2004 Yushchenko told thousands of supporters to stay in Kiev's main square overnight to keep a tent encampment safe from security forces who he said wanted to dismantle it.
"'We have received information that authorities want to destroy our tent city at 3 a.m. ... At two o'clock there should be more of us than now,' Yushchenko said, speaking to supporters at Kiev's Independence Square.
"'We must defend every chestnut tree, every tent. We must show to the authorities we are here for a long time.... There must be more and more of us here every hour.'"
And with this depressing and worrying news, to bed.
Tuesday morning update: As has been noted in comments to this post, thankfully no violence has yet kicked off. Yushchenko has called for continuing protests, and denounced the result as a "total falsification". At the same time, the US' official observer, Senator Richard Lugar, has alleged "concerted and forceful" fraud.
Meanwhile the Ukranian Diaspora has apparently issued a statement and hailed Yushchenko as the legitimate winner:
"Among the violations we include such primitive ones as proxy voting, procurement of more than one ballot by some voters, attempts to stuff the ballot box by representatives of the local elections commissions or their friends, the so called carousel, flagrant bribing, etc. More significant were events such as suggesting a vote for candidate Yanukovich by the local elections commissions, remitting invites to vote with a pamphlet about candidate Yanukovich, personal advice on how to vote given by local election commission members, directors of establishments of employment and others in positions of influence. The most severe results were due to an egregious abuse by candidate Yanukovich of administrative state resources, not only from the government of Ukraine but also from non-democratic foreign governments, i.e. Russia and the not-recognized Transdniester. Additionally, we mention detainments and attempts to frighten Yushchenko’s monitors."
And Neeka has more: "Underneath our window on Khreshchatyk, I saw a bunch of guys, six or seven, all with orange ribbons and stuff, and they were pushing one of those very very very heavy benches lined up at the alley there. They dragged it away, towards where the barricades are. After they were gone, I suddenly realized that it was the only bench left standing there (there used to be quite a lot, I swear). As I said, those benches are terribly heavy and must be very useful for street riots..."
Some analysis is starting up online. There's the conflict of US / Russian Ukranian interests, and a bit more about the global context:
"Ukraine has been targeted as an integral piece of the world puzzle by more than one foreign power, not all of them in the east. The fact is that these people still believe in their right to independence. They still believe in their right to resist. As long as these beliefs remain intact, the spirit of these people will be long in the breaking, no matter the tribe of the oppressor... Russia can simply not rebuild any sort of an empire without Ukraine, and will impose her own expansionist designs… her lecherous love… her supposed affection for her old Orthodox ally, irrespective of the will of the people."
Meanwhile, via The Periscope, a news portal which might prove useful to keep tabs on the situation.
Update: The Times has a leader on the significance of the Ukraine:
Yushchenko's "supporters have promised to remain on the streets until victory is theirs, while the Government has brought in water cannons and armed police and given a warning that it will not tolerate “revolution”. The scene is set for a bloody confrontation, with repercussions across Europe and a sharp worsening of relations between Russia and the West."
Meanwhile, more supporters keep arriving.
Here is a handy minute-by-minute timeline which seems still to be updating.
Update: TulipGirl has some good links, including a webcam from central Kiev.
Nick Barlow puts this in some kind of context.
The Kyiv Post (in English) seems to be back online and updating fairly regularly. It reports that an emergency session of parliament has been called by the opposition to annul the declared results of the election:
"If the parliament doesn't take action to solve the crisis, 'we will have no choice but to block roads, airports, seize city halls,' said Yuliya Tymoshenko, a Yushchenko ally."
The Kyiv Post also compares the events in Ukraine to those in Georgia last year, and is reporting that Yushchenko is calling for the international community to support him.
Blogger seems to be acting up today - I'll continue to update when I get the chance and it lets me. Currently 12:45pm London time, and the standoff continues...
Update: The Guardian quotes British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw: "From where I stand now, it is very difficult to argue that this was a free and fair election... The evidence suggests that this was neither a free nor a fair election."
It also has some photos of the protests and a good overview.
Update: More from A Fistful of Euros, including the news that - despite what the EU and US are saying - Russia is maintaining that the elections were "transparent, legitimate and free".
Update: TulipGirl reproduces in full an article by ukranian novelist Oksana Zabushko about the chaos and growth of opposition solidarity:
"A special term has come into use -- 'The Orange Revolution.' It looks like people have dragged all shades of orange, from yellow to vermilion, out of their wardrobes and adorned themselves with them simultaneously -- vests and sweaters, scarves and purses, coats and umbrellas. Orange ribbons flutter everywhere -- on trees, fences, lanterns, and cabs. Drivers joyfully beep to each other, and pedestrians (traffic police included!) salute them with smiles and raised fists. It feels like the capital of three million has been transformed into a sea of brotherly love! The windows of shops are lavishly decorated with things orange. Among my favorites is the stunt of my neighborhood coffee shop -- its windows glow with pyramids of oranges!"
Meanwhile, Neeka reports that the parliamentary meeting has started - although apparently with little or no representation from the government side...
Update: A petition has been started by a group of "concerned Americans" (seemingly Ukranian ex-pat academics in the States), to be sent to President Bush later today, asking that he does "everything diplomatically possible to have the Ukrainian government arrange for an honest RECOUNT in the presence of international observers."
But if reports are to be believed, a recount won't do it - the entire election needs to be run again. Which means even more opportunity for chaos, violence and discontent... Especially if Georgian analyst Gocha Tskitishvili is to be believed (quoted on Yahoo News):
"There is no such unity in Ukraine as there was in Georgia one year ago. Everyone in Georgia was in support of revolution and against the president. Ukraine is divided inside -- there is no such unity there."
Update: Airstrip One is sceptical, noting that "this is less a battle about democracy and more about Ukraine's alignment... don't believe some of the stuff that will come out about Yanukovych being the real democrat. It's about as believable as the pro-Mugabe guff that we sometimes come across."
Rising Hegemon, like a few others, spots some irony. Others aren't as amused by the comparisons.
Update: The US seems to be waking up to the situation a bit more, and coverage will no doubt increase in the online community now that Instapundit has flagged the situation (linking here as well - ta!). National Review Online also has a good summary article, which points out a worryingly realistic outcome:
"a Serbia- or Georgia style solution to Ukraine's disputed elections requires not only energetic street protests, but key elements of the business community to conclude that a Yanukovych presidency would irreparably damage its interests and for large numbers of the military and security services to refuse to put down civil disobedience. And in a country the size and complexity of Ukraine, whose political divisions tend to mirror America's "red/blue state" divides more than the relative homogeneity of small countries like Serbia or Georgia, a successful "Chestnut Revolution" requires voters not only in the west but in many parts of central and eastern Ukraine to believe that they have been robbed of their free choice. Those who cite Serbia-2000 should remember that vocal protests against Slobodan Milosevic in 1996 and 1992 failed to unseat the Serbian leader; what may emerge now in Ukraine is an uneasy truce between opposition-dominated local governments in the west and a central government headed by Yanukovych."
4:25pm Update: According to some reports, Yushchenko has sworn an oath of presidency in the Ukranian parliament; others are calling for him to stand down; Yushchenko has responded by accusing current President Kuchma and his opponent, Prime Minister Yanukovych, of driving the country towards civil war. But it's Yushchenko's supporters who are on the streets...
4:40pm Update: The Kyiv Post has a report on the parliamentary meeting, and Yushchenko's "symbolic" oath - "We have two choices: either the answer will be given by the parliament, or the streets will give an answer."
In response, Parliament's Speaker, Volodymyr Litvyn, has called for calm: "All political forces should negotiate and solve the situation without blood... The activities of politicians and the government... have divided society and brought people into to the streets... Today there is a danger of activities moving beyond control."
It looks less and less promising...
4:55pm: A good overview of the lack of media coverage thus far via einsodernull and a comment to Neeka's last post. Why hasn't this been picked up on properly? Is it the timezone issue? It kicked off too late yesterday to make most European and US newspaper deadlines - will this (just about understandable) oversight be rectified for tomorrow's papers? Have the TV news channels started to improve their coverage yet?
5:20pm: Apparently outgoing President Kuchma has said that the executive cannot interfere with elections. Does this rule out intervention by the security services? If so, how can order be restored without external intervention from the international community? And which part of the international community will win out - the US/EU pro-Yushchenko interest, or the Russian pro-Yanukovych lobby?
8pm Update: Sorry, Blogger's locked me out for the last couple of hours, and things are still happening...
It's now snowing in Kiev, and beginning to kick off big-style, over 24 hours after I first started posting. It seems to have turned into a full-scale popular revolt, and there are reports (below) that the Presidential compound may have been taken over by Yushchenko and his supporters.
Over at The Periscope, Viktor Katolyk, a site visitor from Kiev, is posting translations from Ukranian radio (trackback)and other on-the-scene updates in the comments section, providing regular, up-to-date commentary. They've just added a new post for him to continue in (trackback). Some of Viktor's comments (condensed) to fill in the gap while I've been locked out:
"A column of provokators is moving towards the center of Kiev. They also wear orange stripes on their arms, but they say they are going to defent Yanukovych... The coulumn is around 1000 people.
"Yushchenko's headquarters receive a lot of reports that an attempt to kill Victor Yuschenko are being prepared.
"Pro-Yanukovich sources don't mention ANYTHING about the events in Kiev and big cities of Ukraine, which leaves people in cities of eastern Ukraine totally uninformed... News journalists have refused to tell lies from the screens, and the TV channels which are controlled by Kuchma and Yanukovych don't give any news about these events at all.
"Policemen in Lviv (the biggest city in the Western Ukraine) is wearing orange bands. Police is with the people.
"A column of people dressed in black, total 300 people, talking foul language moves around Kiev. They are not wearing orange. One said they come from Donetsk.
"The protesters in the center of Kiev have started to move towards the residence of the President. It is planned that Yushchenko will occupy the room of the President of Ukraine.
"According to unconfirmed data, 26 trains with armed people left Donetsk for Kiev.
"Accoring to a phone call from Dniepropetrovsk (Eastern Ukraine) in the center of the city there is a meeting of about 150 thousand people.
"Unconfirmed information: panic in the presidential administration. Officers are trying to take safes and stuff from the offices.
"Berkut squads have surrounded the presidential administration and announced total mobilization. The put on masks, shields, helms. Another Berkut squad is getting prepared in the courtyard of the presidential administration. The entrances are blocked with 5 trucks loaded with sand.
"According to the news from the radio, the presidential administration has given up and Victor Yushchenko has entered the building!
"According to the radio, another dozen of smaller cities (up to 100 000 population) have declared that they recognize Yushchenko as their President."
8:20pm: Via TulipGirl, another couple of reports from the scene: "We've spent the day surrounding the Parliament building. Unfortunately, the Communists have kept on the side, and so there was no quorum to overturn the vote... The Prime Minister threatened a crackdown this afternoon in a press conference. We'll have to see. I think there are probably too many journalists still paying attention for him to hit us tonight. I did see a column of thugs from Donetsk in pseudo-military garb and Yanukovych banners marching in the Arsenal District on the drive to Parliament, which is not a good sign." (trackback)
Meanwhile, Interfax's regularly-updated timeline reports that Yushchenko has created a "Coordination Council" to "protect the Constitution" - he's certainly pandering to his Western supporters...
Also, the Interior Ministry is apparently shipping police to Kiev from the regions, and, most worryingly, Russia's Vladimir Putin seems to be backing the initially-declared result in favour of Yanukovych, by stating that only the Yanukovych-controlled Election Committee can decide who wins...
8:40pm: More from Viktor over ath The Periscope - "According to the 5th channel (TV), the information that Yushchenko entered the Presidential Administration is untrue. Yushchenko did not approach the building. Journalists report that a big group of protesters have crossed the first line of policemen, but then were cut off from the rest of the people."
Plus the Bloggosphere seems to be catching up, although it's hard to tell as Technorati has been playing up all day.
As Viktor said earlier on The Periscope, as long as the profile of this is kept high, it is unlikely that the government will send in the troops. Do your stuff, people.
8:50pm: TulipGirl links to more pictures.
8:55: More from Viktor at The Periscope - "According to the radio, only 2 major cities didn't have demonstrations in support of Yushchenko - Donetsk and Lugansk." He's also reporting demonstrations in the US, UK and Poland.
The BBC have finally made the Ukraine crisis their main story on the news site. About time...
9;00pm: The BBC have also got a comments section up.
9:15: According to Viktor, "the President of Georgia M. Saakashvili has wished victory to the Ukrainian People. He was speaking Ukrainian."
9:20: Shades of Czechoslovakia in 1968 again - let's hope it doesn't turn out the same way (again via Viktor Katolyk): "Ukrainian MPs that came with the peolple to the Presidential Administration, are negotiating with the Police. People decorate steel shields around the building with flowers. Julia Tymoshenko has climbed one of the trucks and called the police to let the demonstrators in and take the side of the Ukrainian people."
9:50pm: Blogger's cutting in and out again - sorry...
Viktor has some worrying (but as yet unconfirmed) news: "According to radio news (Radio Era), the Ukrainian police that surrounds the Presidential Administration has told the demonstrators that the building is full of Russian Spetsnaz who are dressed into ukrainian uniform and were ordered to kill demonstrators if they enter the bulding."
I wouldn't put it past Russia to send in "peacekeeping" troops to "preserve order", but disguised as Ukranians? This sounds far too Cold War to be true... I hope...
10:00pm: The Periscope has an update - a roundup of the distinct lack of news coverage. Looks like the good old BBC is the only one to be interested in this story...
Also, Fistful is asking for reports from Ukranian embassies around the world - anyone seen any protests outside the country?
10:10pm: The Jerusalem Post gives an indication of where all those votes for Yanukovich have come from - people afraid of the rise of Ukranian nationalism which seems to be identified with Yuschenko.
Also, CBC has a report from an official election observer.
10:15pm: Le Monde has an interesting Ukranian Q&A (in French).
The BBC's Ten O'Clock News has just reported that opposition leaders have called for their supporters to go home, as negotiations have been promised for tomorrow.
10:25pm: The Guardian has an Associated Press report about Ukranian diplomats speaking out at the Ukranian Embassy in Washington DC: "Guided by our conscience, our professional pride and our oath of loyalty to serve the Ukrainian state we express our solidarity with the voice of the Ukrainian people."
The Guardian also mentions a White House statement. MosNews has more: "'The United States is deeply disturbed by extensive and credible indications of fraud committed in the Ukrainian presidential election,' White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan was quoted by the agency as saying. 'We strongly support efforts to review the conduct of the election and urge Ukrainian authorities not to certify results until investigations of organized fraud are resolved. The government bears a special responsibility not to use or incite violence.'"
10:35: Victor's back with news that "The authorities want to close the only two TV channels that broadcast what is happening in relation to the post-election events."
10:40: Reports of sections of the army and police declaring allegiance to Yushchenko...
Also - ex-Czech President, playwright, and all-round hero of the struggle against the USSR Vaclav Havel has sent his support: "Allow me to greet you in these dramatic days when the destiny of your country is being decided for decades ahead. You have its future in your hands. All trustworthy organizations, both local and international, agree that your demands are just. That is why I wish you strength, perseverance, courage and good fortune with your decisions."
11:30pm: New reports from Yushchenko's people that President Kuchma will transfer his powers to Yushchenko in the morning. No confirmation yet. It sounds unlikely - a declaration for Yushchenko would, by the sound of things, simply get Yanukovich's supporters out on the streets in the place of the current protestors - neither side has a clear democratic mandate. How this can be resolved peacefully - at least without foreign intervention - remains unclear.
11:45pm: AllAboutLatvia has a good piece comparing US and European coverage of the Ukranian crisis
Meanwhile Viktor reports that "Yushchenko's headquarters has information from reliable sources that the authorities are planning to sweep the tent town in the center of Kiev with tear-gas, water jets, and other means."
We're back to where we were yesterday...
11:50pm: Technorati is still six hours behind, but a few interesting blog posts have appeared - Yushchenko, Rumsfeld and Iraq via Daniel Brett and Explaining Ukraine via Coming Anarchy are both worth a look.
11:55pm: Viktor reports that "the ministry of internal affairs of Ukraine have arrested two russian citizens in one of Kiev hotels. They are suspected in preparing an assault on Victor Yushchenko. They had a plan of the assault and weapons."
It's getting late - bed soon... I have to work tomorrow...
Midnight: God damn, Yushchenko wins the prize for the best-looking supporter...
00:05am: Viktor is keeping tabs on Ukranian television as well - "Yanukovich supporters are also setting up tents in the center of Kiev. My wife is watching the TV and says they are all drunk."
00:20am: A final one before bed - again via Viktor - "Kharkiv city council has addressed the Ukrainian Parliament. The deputies stated: 'In view of the disturbing information from Kiev where a small group of carpet-baggers is trying to capture power in the country accross the Constitution and laws; in view of the fact that these venturers called Kiev youth to go out into the streets and exposed inexperienced people's health to danger; in view of the fact tha Kiev authorities and Kiev city council actually supported the riot against the legitimate authorities; we believe that Kiev today can't be the capital of our country.'"
This will probably get worse before it gets better.
Wednesday morning update: I'm continuing this post here.