Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich reached out and offered Arseniy Yatsenyuk, leader of the biggest opposition group, the post of prime minister as well as the deputy prime minister job and head of humanitarian affairs to boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko.
Protesters have occupied Ukraine’s capitol Kiev since late November when Yanukovich turned down a trade agreement with the European Union in favor of one with Russia. The protesters remained peaceful until January 19 when the president and parliament rushed through very harsh anti-demonstration laws. There are four opposition groups involved: All-Ukranian Union “Fatherland,” Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR), Svoboda, and Pravy Sektor.
This is actually the second time Yanukovich has been at the center of protests in Kiev. It is also the second time he offered Yatsenyuk the prime minister job.
Many have compared the protests to the Orange Revolution nine years ago. The two men at the front of that conflict wer Viktor Yushchenko and then-Prime Minister Yanukovich. Yanukovich won the 2004 presidential election, but reports of election fraud flourishe,d and protesters demanded a re-election, which occurred in December. Yushchenko ended up winning, 51.99% to 44.20%. Yanukovich reappeared for the 2010 presidential election and he ran against Fatherland’s nominee, Yulia Tymoshenko. Yatsenyuk was a self-nominee but did not gain much traction. Yanukovich won again, despite more election fraud accusations, and a year later Tymoshenko was arrested for political crimes. World leaders and human rights leaders say the arrest was political and a way for Yanukovich to silence his opponents.
Yatsenyuk was offered the prime minister post in 2010 but turned it down to hold a higher position in the cabinet. He formed Front for Change after Yanukovich said the parliament could not allow independent lawmakers like Yatsenyuk to take part in forming a major coalition. In 2012, he ran for parliament on the ticket under the All-Ukrainian Union party. He won and in 2013 his group Front for Change officially merged with Fatherland. He is now the group’s de-factor leader.
Yatsenyuk, along with Klitschko, has been at the front lines for the opposition. The protesters want Yanukovich and his prime minister, Mykola Azarov, to resign. They want early elections and for the government to repeal all the new demonstration laws. There will be a parliament meeting on Tuesday to discuss the repeal of the laws.
Klitschko said the protests would not stop until Yanukovich resigns. He turned down the offer for deputy prime minister.
“Our demand is the holding of presidential elections this year… We will not yield but talks will continue,” he told tens of thousands of protesters in Independence Square in Kiev.
Yatsenyuk did not give a simple yes or no but said the opposition is willing to accept leadership positions.
Accepting the offer could have tarred Yatsenyuk among protesters as a sell-out, but rejecting it would make him appear obdurate and unwilling to seek a way out of the crisis short of getting everything the opposition wants.
“Tuesday is judgment day,” Yatsenyuk told a large crowd of protesters on Independence Square. “We do not believe any single word. We believe only actions and results.”