Yanukovich Ousted in Ukraine

Friday, President Viktor Yanukovich signed a peace deal with the opposition in Ukraine. Seemingly, he had managed to keep his job at the price of diminished powers. Saturday, he was a man on the run. Today, a new interim government is looking for him with an arrest warrant charging him with “mass murder of peaceful citizens.” This is far from over.

Quite why President Yanukovich ran away from his peace deal is unclear. Had he remained in Kyiv, it is not entirely certain that he would have kept power beyond the May elections the deal called for. However, by leaving the nation’s capital and the heart of the opposition, he made certain he would be out of power immediately. It appears he simply lost his nerve.

According to the acting interior minister, Arsen Avakov, Mr. Yanukovich left Kyiv Friday by helicopter and spent the night in Kharkiv. Saturday, another helicopter ride took him to Donetsk airport where he tried to board a private jet to leave the country — border guards stopped him. So he headed for the Russian enclave in the Crimea by car. Yesterday, he arrived in Balaklava in the Crimea and tried to reach Belbek airport. Since the new government had forces awaiting him there, he changed direction.

The latest is that he has allowed his bodyguards to leave or stay with him as they like. He was last seen in a 3-car motorcade in the Crimea, and he has not been seen in the last few hours. So long as he is at large and in the Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine, he represents a threat. However, he is nothing like the threat he might have been had he stayed in Kyiv. As a fugitive, his support has dropped significantly, and even members of his own party in the parliament are trying to find some distance from him.

Moscow, of course, is furious. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov condemned “illegal extremist groups” in Kyiv who had seized power “with the connivance of opposition leaders.” The Kremlin is claiming fascists have taken over, and some of the disinformation argues that Jews in Ukraine are in danger and that foreign powers are behind the “coup.” The aid that Russia had promised Mr. Yanukovich upon turning down closer ties to the EU is now in doubt, and someone (the EU most likely) will have to step up. Ukraine has debts of $73 billion, with $6 billion to be paid this year. Estimates are that $35 billion is needed right away.

So, the stage is set for the next act in which Russia will do its damnedest to destabilize the interim government and find a puppet to run in May’s elections. It will claim the elections are rigged, and it will start squeezing Ukraine in economic deals — next winter, the natural gas Ukraine gets from Russia is not likely to arrive in full, on time at the agreed price.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainians need to put together some kind of functioning government. Revolutions are great theatre, but someone has to collect the garbage, fund the schools and paint lines on the streets. The extent to which that gets done in the coming weeks will greatly affect the nation’s future.

For now, the Russian-speaking part of the country is quiet, although not necessarily happy. The people there may want to break away or not, but at the moment, the only leader they had proved himself to be a coward and a thief (Mr. Yanukovich stole billions from them). Since one can’t beat somebody with nobody, the Russian-speakers are going to be difficult but not impossible to handle.

Who emerges as the embodiment of the new direction for Ukraine will matter a great deal. Olexandr Turchynov, currently the interim president, has the post position, but how would it look if the man in charge of holding the next elections won in May? Vitali Klitschko, the heavyweight boxer, is a viable alternative, but can he govern? Oleh Tyahnybok was a key protest leader, but also heads a far right-wing party (Svoboda, which means “Freedom”). Does Ukraine want to move that far that direction? Recently released from prison, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko would represent a move backwards in time, and to be honest, she was an incompetent leader.

It is easier to destabilize a government than it is to govern a nation. One wishes the people of Ukraine the best of luck, because sadly they will need it.