The President of Ukraine is taking time off to nurse a cold. Viktor Yanukovych, one of the more prominent leaders of Eastern Europe but presiding over an increasingly volatile nation, announced on the presidential website this week that he has “an acute respiratory illness and high fever,” and will not be at work.
According to The New York Times, Yanukovych’s brief respite from the turmoil will further stall peace talks between the Ukrainian government and the opposition, as he is not expected to sit down with opposition groups, negotiate, or govern during this time. There was no indication in the announcement of when the President is expected to return to his duties.
Yanukovych’s temporary exit comes at a pivotal time for talks. After negotiations to replace outgoing Prime Minister Mykola Azarov with an opposition leader collapsed, the Ukrainian Parliament repealed the strong anti-protest laws passed late last year in an attempt to quell rebellion.
Yanukovych was seen visiting the Parliament last night according to the AP, working to further the repeals and find some way to end the protests without relinquishing power. Opposition leaders who object to Yanukovych’s rejection of ties with the European Union and closeness with Russian premier Vladimir Putin have made explicit their desire for an entirely new government devoid of old, pro-Putin officials.
Despite the clarity of the opposition’s demands, the pro-Putin government has done all it can to attempt a compromise that keeps it in power. It has offered Parliament opposition leader and former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko $1 billion to not run for president against Yanukovych. It has offered a number of top positions to those in the opposition aside from the post of Prime Minister, finding that none have accepted. The refusal to yield has caused Yanukovych to accuse the opposition of stonewalling and inciting more violence.
Protests began late last year when Yanukovych accepted an economic agreement with Russia that distanced the country from the European Union. Putin had threatened not to sell oil to the former Soviet state on the cusp of the brutally cold Ukrainian winter, and Yanukovych caved.
Putin continues to exert influence, attacking EU officials who have sent delegations to Kiev to side with protesters, hoping to lure the nation, along with neighbors Georgia and Moldova, to his side. “I can imagine the reaction of our European partners if, in the midst of a crisis in Greece or any other country, our foreign minister would come to an anti-European rally,” Putin railed of the EU delegations in Ukraine. In response to the Ukrainian Parliament’s halting its anti-protest laws and offering protesters amnesty, Russia has rescinded a $15 billion bailout “until we understand what sort of government there will be,” according to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.