Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said Thursday that he would not accept a victory by his opponent in the Dec. 26 rerun of Ukraine's contested presidential race and that his supporters were likely to turn out into the streets en masse to block such an outcome.
Yanukovych, who was the government-backed candidate in the contested vote of Nov. 21, said the country's political and judicial systems had buckled under the weight of what he called illegal demonstrations and were violating the constitution to orchestrate his defeat.
Yanukovych warned in an interview that he might not be able to control supporters who are already mobilizing to launch a campaign of street protests in the capital in the event of a victory by the opposition candidate, Viktor Yushchenko.
"Even if Mr. Yushchenko wins, he will never be a president of Ukraine," Yanukovych said in a 45-minute interview at his campaign headquarters in Kiev. "The people who voted for me, they will never recognize him. They are talking about it even now."
His comments suggested that his supporters intend to plunge Ukraine into a new political crisis by adopting some of the tactics employed in the "Orange Revolution," a name that arose from the color adopted by Yushchenko's street campaign to protest official election results in favor of Yanukovych following the Nov. 21 vote.
This apparently isn't all. According to the radio station ERA, Yanukovych supporters are forming, with his blessing, organizations that are implied to be paramilitary in nature. It was said that he has put a Donetsk man in charge of them.
On the first, it is hard to take this very seriously. It is sensational and it suggests again that Ukraine might be on the brink of some sort of civil war. And a lot of it rests on the assumption that since he is still Prime Minister, he has retained some sort of power.
The problem with it is that Yanukovych couldn't get anybody here without paying them the first time around. The workers in the east would have to abandon their jobs and make their way here to stage that kind of protest. They showed no willingness to do that except when they were paid to do it before. Many, many people from the east thought the original protest nonsense and that they were the one's hard at work making the country produce. There might be some motivated to do it but for many of them the coup has already taken place. What would the election and installment of Yuschenko add to that?
On the second, if there is anything to it at all, it would be a problem if Yanukovych could count on the military to make up his force. There is no indication that he is able to do that. He may be Prime Minister, but he has only the title, he had no effective power left here in Kiev. And it is hard for me to believe that a man without any power in Kiev and with power waning in the east would be able to count on defectors from the military to his side. (They have to be fed and paid and would they see any possibility of winning?) He had to lobby Kuchma to call out the military in the first place when that option was considered. That suggests he has no base of support there that could be counted on for something like this.
That leaves other citizens. He has always been able to count on thugs to do the work for him. He might be organizing them now in Kiev. There were rumors that Yanukovych was reponsible, for instance, for any early release of criminals who set up camp just off Kreschatik down from the Cabinet of Minister's building. They apparently stayed for a couple of days, got cold and left. He might be able to count on people like this but I doubt if he can count on any loyalty from them to any greater extent than he is willing to pay for it.
The problem with any group like that doing anything is that first, if they want to get serious about it, they will be coming up against the military and the police. Will they bring roses and ask them how they are doing? The second problem is that they think by shutting down the buildings of government, they will shut down the government. It is true that that worked against Kuchma and Yanukovych but it worked because they are systems men and rely on the systems of government to control and to manipulate. You block the buildings, you cut them off from their systems and they become incompetent.
But Yuschenko and his group have shown themselves to be able to create government on the streets or anywhere they can get together. Their source of power is entirely different and they used it to advantage in the protests. The point is that they could govern from a tent on Kreschatik and do it very effectively.
Of course this doesn't mean there won't be protests. I think there will be but they won't be large or effective and could die out quite quickly. The potentially more effective protests I think will come later though as Yuschenko attempts to modernize and rationalize the economy.
But the fact is that Yanukovych has lost all the power he had except for the power to run his mouth off. He is Prime Minister in name only and could only barely summon up enough personal credibility and authority to maybe lead a parched horse to water--maybe.