Tuesday, November 30, 2004

More on the election crimes

This article--The West's Moment:--details more of the election criminality here:

"Dirty doesn't begin to describe this election. During the campaign, opposition activists were beaten up, rallies were disrupted and state-controlled TV spewed propaganda smearing Yushchenko as an enemy of the people backed by America. Kremlin political advisers openly boasted of how they issued daily instructions "temnyki" to news executives dictating what issues to cover and how. There was vintage Soviet-era thuggery. Earlier this fall Yushchenko was apparently poisoned, falling near fatally ill hours after a private dinner with the head of the SBU, the country's secret service. His face, movie-star handsome before the episode, pockmarked and scarred afterward, is exhibit A for those who say the authorities tried to kill him. Just before last week's vote, Yushchenko's supporters say, a heavily loaded truck tried repeatedly to ram his car.

Fraud was everywhere in evidence. There was nothing subtle about it, perhaps because the government had to go to such extremes to manufacture a plurality. 'This election was stolen in broad daylight,' says Stephen Sestanovich, a former U.S. ambassador in the region and an election monitor sent to Ukraine by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in Washington. It's not enough to condemn the ballot as flawed or even illegitimate, as many international organizations have done, he adds. 'My preferred word is 'criminal'.'

International observers recorded an astounding variety of abuses. Yanukovych loyalists were issued certificates allowing them to cast absentee ballots wherever they wished, then transported by bus or minivan from polling station to polling station where they voted repeatedly. Intimidation was routine. At military institutions, cadets were instructed how to vote. At a state-ownedalcohol refinery in the central Ukraine town of Zhytomyr, Yanukovych representatives came to the company director and told him that he would be fired if his workers did not support their candidate. Similar pressure was applied at state hospitals and universities; many were supplied with ballots already filled out. In Zaporizhzhia, in southern Ukraine, European observers watched as stacks of blank ballots were taken into a back room, then returned after being checked for Yanukovych. When two members of the Ukrainian Parliament objected, the lights mysteriously went out and unknown assailants beat them up.

Turnout was high across the country, nowhere more so than in pro-Yanukovych eastern Ukraine. There, an improbable 96 percent of registered voters cast ballots. At one polling station in Donetsk, observers for the NDI recorded more than twice as many votes as there were people on the official voting list—a not uncommon phenomenon. In pro-Yushchenko districts, the game was to disqualify as many citizens as possible, often by posing technical challenges to the final count that would be resolved by a show of hands on an election committee dominated by government appointees. Early on Election Day in Simferopol, reports Sestanovich, one Yanukovych official proudly pointed out a small narushenia, or "violation," not noticed by his rivals. "Oh, yes," he said. "That will allow us to disqualify the entire ballot," worth some 1,700 votes for Yushchenko. Some of the trickery was almost juvenile. In one pro-Yushchenko district, NDI observers found (and kept as evidence) pens with invisible ink. Mark your ballot and, poof, within six minutes it would record a vote for... no one...

The whole article is good.

The Saturday Parliamentary session

I don’t think it is impossible to understate the significance of the Ukrainian Parliament special session this past Saturday. 323 deputies in that session voted to censure the Central Election Commission. The motion passed with those 323 votes. This is a total of 323 votes of 450 possible. This is, of course, only 72% of the total; the voting was not unanimous. But to do a lot of the work in that Parliament, as in every other legislature or parliament, unanimity is not necessary.

But to be in a position to win any kind of vote in the Parliament didn't look possible only the previous Monday. On that Monday, the Parliament held a previous special session to discuss the election. Only 191 deputies were there, an amount short of the number needed for a quorum to get anything done. This fact though did not stop the deputies there from choosing Yuschenko as president nor to stop him from taking a form of the oath of office. (A form, by the way, I think spoke more to Ukrainians than what the legal oath would have done. I was wrong about Yanukovych, but I mention this oath here.) The deputies of the party of Yanukovych and Kuchma, as well as the deputies of the Communist Party, all stayed away.

But from Monday to Saturday something happened. Yuschenko gained 132 deputies to carry the motion censuring the commission. What happened? Kuchma and Yanukovych hemorrhaged support from that Monday to Saturday. Deputies openly changed sides to come over to Yuschenko. This is a significant thing. And it may not bode all that well for Kuchma today as they consider impeachment him. I don’t know what size the vote must be to vote impeachment, but to lose 132 votes in five days should not make for a great degree of confidence on the part of Kuchma that he can now control events like he could.

What happened to cause these deputies to change? The people in the street. These deputies have to stand election, after all, even if they did not have any pangs of conscience in the first place. They were staring right into the face of the people and they saw their futures written there.

Equivalence or Dangling Chads in Ukraine II

There is this argument out there that what is happening in Ukraine is a lot like what happened in the US elections. You see this posted on websites like Le Sabot in the comments section by disappointed Kerry supporters looking for another forum in which to make their single point. But you also see it in supposedly serious major US periodicals. Here’s one for example. (Bush is a hypocrite for talking about the fraud in the Ukrainian election and not talking about the fraud in his own house, so to speak.) And it is not limited to the left. There is some indication that the right is also making the same sort of comparison.

It all boils down to the statement, “That is like what happened here in the last election.” What happened in the Ukrainian election to these people is the same thing they feel happened in the US election. But let me say this so that no one can misunderstand. What has happened here in the Ukraine to hijack the election was not like anything you feel might have happened in the US. Sure you can put certain things into categories and say that that is like what happened here. Like violence, for instance: “Supporters of the opposition candidate were beaten in Ukraine and some of them landed in the hospital.” “Oh, that is like what happened here. A guy was punched in line in Poughkeepsie.” But it is the sheer amount of what has happened here, the magnitude of it, that makes it not only a matter of degree, but also a matter of kind. Some things can happen in such magnitudes and to such extremes as to be of a different kind altogether, separable into its own category. That is the point here. It is the magnitude of it and how extreme it has been that makes it something that is in a different universe from anything these people think might have happened in the US.

I think a lot of these articles and comments stem from a feeling that if you accept the idea that the situation in Ukraine was orders of magnitude beyond what they feel went on in the US, then that diminishes what they feel happened. In other words, to accept what happened in some way downplays what they feel happened in the US. To downplay it in that way tends to minimize the grievance that these people have held. If you have been licking the wounds of your grievance for days and weeks on end and, for some, for maybe even years, to have someone come up and say that it is really nothing at all is not going to go over well. You can’t say that the world has tilted on its axis because of something done and have it have any significance if someone comes along and says that there is other action in other spheres that has set the universe on edge. It sweeps away the concerns that they beleived really offended the universe as something petty and completely unworthy. It is tough to let go of something like this.

But that is exactly what I am saying and what the fellow at Le Sabot has been saying, and he has been holding down the fort on this for awhile. Any concerns that any of you have had about the US elections are really petty compared to what went on in Ukraine. If this offends you and serves to “marginalize” you and to minimize your grievance, that is tough. Your grievance was trivial in the first place when compared to what a real grievance looks like. And the Ukrainian people have a real grievance and have had one for over a decade, if you count the democratic period only. But it extends back for decades to the Soviet period and for centuries beyond that. (It really is all one and the same and they are trying to throw it off once and for all.) This is real grievance.

To me all of this talk of equivalence is like an indulged girl off to college who is depressed about the state of the world because, when her dad bought her a new car, he didn’t buy her the deluxe edition. This is terribly, terribly retro, I know. But the figure—the metaphor—is a good one.

There might be some who still insist on making a case for equivalence, though. OK, have at it but let me set the bar:

If you tell me that there were bands of thugs in masks with clubs beating up supporters of a candidate so that they had to be hospitalized and this not one time but a number of times, we can talk equivalence. (One beating took place with a camera rolling. They got pictures of the car the thugs used and even the faces of some of them--they will never be prosecuted. But they didn’t care and having it on video made it certain others would see what would happen.)

If you tell me that you found tens of thousands of dead persons, or possibly hundreds of thousands or millions of them, on the voting rolls in the US, then we can talk about equivalence.

If you tell me that you found busloads of people traveling from polling place to polling place casting multiple votes—on one bus as many as 70 votes per passenger—then we can talk equivalence.

If you tell me that you found that word went out to public employees--federal, state, county and city employees-- that they had to vote for a particular candidate or risk being fired, then we can talk equivalence.

If you tell me that absentee ballots were passed out at factories and other work places and a demand was made to fill them out on the spot and that a blank ballot was to be returned in its place or the employee would be fired, then we can talk equivalence.

And these are just some of the things that took place to rig the election.

The point is that there is no equivalence.

More on spetsnaz

This article Kyiv Post. Top stories quotes the Daily Kommersant, a Russian newspaper, on the presence of Russian spetsnaz in the country:

The Russian daily Kommersant published a report on Nov. 29 stating that up to 800 Russian special forces, or spetsnaz, began arriving in Kyiv early on the morning of Nov. 23 and changed into Ukrainian uniforms at a Ukrainian military base just outside the capital.

The report says that at 1:32 a.m. on Nov. 23 a Russian Antonov An-26 (serial number RA-26410) arrived at a Ukrainian military base near Irpen, located 10 km from the city center. The base is adjacent to a compound operated by the BARS government security agency, which has as many as 3,000 service personnel protecting the Presidential Administration in central Kyiv.

According to the Kommersant report, at 3:17 a.m. on Nov. 23, a second plane arrived, a Ukrainian-registered heavy lift Ilyushin Il-76. The occupants of both the Antonov and the Ilyushin boarded buses waiting on the tarmac and were transported to the base at Irpen. Kommersant also reported that up to 800 such spetsnaz forces of the Vityaz regiment have arrived in Ukraine from Russia on Russian military transport aircraft, many also having landed at Kyiv's Boryspil International Airport from Nov. 24-26.

The location of the troops is currently unknown.

There is more in the article.

This confirms the television reports at the time. Spetsnaz near Irpen. (In an earlier posting I had it Irpin.)

It can be amusing, if the consequences aren't dire, that is, to read that a certain person will not do a particular thing because it is not in his interest to do it. By interest, we usually mean long-term self interest and that has problems associated with it as a limitation on action. But what we really tend to mean is not that it is against some absolute interest found by some impartial, omniscient jury somewhere, but that it is against a person's interest as I conceive that interest to be. So we get statements like "Saddam won't develop WMD because he knows if he does that he will be subject to an overwhelming military response by the international community." But we know now that he was going to reconstitute his WMD program. There are lots of other statements like this made by serious people who use this too flexible rule of thumb to predict what a person might or might not do.

And "Putin won't send in the troops to Ukraine because..." is the same sort of thing. In the end, what we are really saying is that Putin will not do a certain thing because it is against his long-term interests as we conceive those interests to be. What those interests might actually be or what Putin considers those interests to be might be something entirely different. To him or to anyone else, the short-term interests might be more desirable and he might think he can weather the repercussions for some reason.

That said, this of course is not the smoking gun. It is interesting though that a Russian newspaper is now confirming what was reported here at the time. But we'll just have to see how this develops.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Economic situation in Ukraine

This article Lytvyn: the situation in Ukraine is alarming quotes the Rada Speaker Litvyn on the economic situation in Ukraine.

He said that the customs duties and the entry of transport, especially on the Western border of Ukraine, have decreased and export operations are suspended. The situation in Ukraine is alarming, especially in the financial and banking systems, there are mass withdrawals of funds from savings-banks, and the government doesn’t work. The situation can be even worse next year.

More here

The Cabinet of Ministers cannot fulfill its budget liabilities, reported by the First Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Mykola Azarov, after the end of the meeting of the Council of National Security and Defense of Ukraine, proUA.com reports.

“Looses (sic) of income of the state budget put under doubt the ability of the government to fulfill its liabilities,” said Azarov.

He noted that incomes of the budget decreased because of the events of the last week, and the situation can be corrected by restoring stability only.

“Today we have to state that this week saw a worsening of the economic situation,” said the Minister of Finance.

Out for a walk

My wife and I went out for a walk along the river here in our part of Kiev. We had watched something of the Court hearing on TV but left while it was on to go walk. It was nice to get away from it for awhile. But we saw enough to know that Yanukovych’s people want to delay things. The reason of course is that Yuschenko’s power comes from the crowds on the street and the fact that they will mobilize. But these people aren’t getting paid to be there even those whose companies closed to support the revolution. Will these people be able to stay for another week? Another two weeks? I don’t know but it seems to me that a point will be reached where they will have to go back to work to be able to live. I think that is what Yanukovych’s people are delaying for.

Just as we walked out the door, we passed three guys on their way somewhere with a radio. That radio was on the station broadcasting the hearing.

And there was no one to speak of out there. Usually there are people walking along the river every night though not as many as in the warm months. But tonight it was dead. And the grocery store we went into was dead. No one was there. Maybe they were listening to the hearing. Maybe they were down at Maidan, the square. They weren’t walking along the river with us.

That is one thing that might just come from this that would be an extra good thing. These people might get the idea that democracy requires people to be involved. They are involved now and in a big way. It would be nice for that to be an extra present from this revolution.

When we were down on the square on Saturday, the Parliament session was taking place. It was being televised and the screens at the square were showing it. To be there watching was like being at a stadium with a large crowd watching a football game. One deputy would say something and a cheer would go up as if someone had scored. Then there would be silence for awhile and another cheer would go up after something else was said. Score! When the final vote was tallied, they cheered loudly. (The Rada had voted censure of the Central Election Commission result.) A very interesting thing. Isn’t that the way democracy should work and isn’t that the kind of involvement that ought to be in democracies?

If the lid doesn’t come off here, I think the Rada will be a big winner. There was a sense that people thought it a legitimate thing. They paid attention to it as if it were. Maybe it will have come into its own by the time this is over.

A wealthy camper

We got a report yesterday of a very wealthy man who is down at the protests on the square. Apparently this guy has a three floor apartment, something almost unimaginable in a country where most people live in one or two rooms. (Not bedrooms but rooms. This of course excludes the bathroom and kitchen but they are often not that large at all to add much space.) He has a chauffer who drives him around. He eats at the best places, has the best clothes and I am sure he associates in the highest circles of society and government. In short, this man leads an enviable life for just about anyone either here or in the US.

But this man, to the surprise of his colleagues, set up a tent down on Kreschatik (the street that bisects the square) and is living there, in the tent city, sleeping on a cot--maybe a luxury cot, if there is such a thing, but a cot nonetheless. And his security personnel are staying there with him. His friends can’t understand what has gotten into him. They think he's gone crazy. And if you think about it, he has.

It is highly unlikely that a person here can get wealthy without having some sort of patron in government. Often that means being part of a clan but it can mean simply that you have access to power for some reason. That is the system here. If you have access to the right power center in government, you can become immensely wealthy. And a number have.

This man has made his wealth under that system of patronage, the current system. But Yuschenko has pledged to abolish that system under a campaign to get rid of corruption. This man is helping to fight against the very system that has given him his wealth. Call it killing the goose that laid the golden egg or biting the hand that feeds him, the point is that he is not acting in a way that would protect his interests.

So why is he doing it?

He is doing it because he is Ukrainian and he sees his people out on the street at risk and he has cast his lot with them. For him, being Ukrainian is the most important thing. What is left is not much by comparison. He is out there with his people trying to secure for his people the right to a democratic government. It is as simple as that.

Where was Kuchma?

This is something we got from someone close to us. She got it from a person who got it from a person in the presidential administration building. Or she got it from a person who got it from a person…who got it from someone at the presidential administration building. It is hard to tell how many people are between us and the source, so it needs to be taken with a grain of salt. But it is just too good to pass up.

I have wondered why Kuchma was out of the public eye for what might turn out to be those crucial days at the beginning of the week just after the election. I thought it might have been that he had planned to step away out of the limelight to allow for Yanukovych to take over. This was not really a satisfying answer to me because that would mean Kuchma had ceded power to Yanukovych. And Kuchma has not shown himself to be able to cede power to anyone much less Yanukovych. But that was the best I reason could come up with.

This person gives another reason, however. She says that Kuchma was on his airplane having a party on election night and that he drank so much vodka he was sent somewhere to take the cure. Some sort of purging of the system. In other words, he was out of the public eye for those four days because he was drying out from a bender he went on on election night.

If true, this is just too good. It may not have been calculations at all about transfer of power or domestic affairs or even considerations of geopolitical politics. Nothing of such cosmic significance. It might just be that he got too drunk. Priceless.

On such things can often hang the fate of nations.

This reminds me of the story by Shevardnadze, I think it was, about the time he came out of the White House?--with that defiant letter from Boris Yeltsin. That statement helped secure the myth of Yeltsin. But Shevardnadze said that when he got into the building, he found Yeltsin drunk, passed out on the floor. He says he got him just conscious enough to sign the thing. And Yeltsin became the symbol of democracy in Russia as a result.


In an Reuters article, some possible outcomes to the crisis are outlined.

The following are some of the scenarios for how the situation could develop, based on analyst remarks and speculation by diplomats.

* Yushchenko camp launches strike, hitting freight and commercial traffic and closing plants and factories in Kiev and western regions. With Ukrainian authorities also facing strong Western criticism over the election, the poll result is scrapped and a date is set for a new run-off.

* Yushchenko camp launches strike. But powerful industrialised regions in the east that support Yanukovich keep working normally and strike flops. Demonstrations run out of steam and fizzle out. Yanukovich is sworn in.

* Faced with a strike and continuing streets demonstrations, authorities send in security forces to break up pro-Yushchenko demonstrators overnight. After clashes, the opposition backs down. Yanukovich is sworn in. Ukrainian authorities ride out Western criticism.

* Security forces break up pro-Yushchenko demonstrators. Western and some central regions declare autonomy. Civil conflict erupts. An international crisis erupts, pitting Russia against the West.

* West piles diplomatic pressure on Ukraine. Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma, who only reluctantly endorsed Yanukovich, steps in. He declares a state of emergency and says he will stay on to be a guarantor of the constitution.

(I am trying to find a link to it and will link to it when I do.)

It must be kept in mind that these are possible outcomes only, the possibility of which are considered solely in the abstract. Given this fact, each is as good as any other.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Today on the square

We just got back from going down to the square. There were more people than at any other time I have gone down. People were everywhere. They say there is a million of them. I don't know what a million people looks like. But I do know there are more people there than I have ever seen in one place in my life.

I thought they might begin to disperse after the announcement of the negotiations. But regardless of how they characterize it anywhere else, it was really a demand. Yuschenko and supporters have given them a day or two to come up with a plan for new elections. And he has asked people to stay on the square and for more to join them.

There has also been a call go out on the radio for supplies for the Yanukovych supporters out at the train station. They are apparently without anything. Looks like Yanukovych has left them to fend for themselves. Ten thousand men at the train station brought in by Yanukovych. Beautiful.

My mother-in-law, revolutionary

My mother-in-law called us on Wednesday and told us that she was not getting any news and didn’t know what was going on here in Kiev. (At that time, the news stations couldn’t field enough reporters to cover the news. They were on strike in protest of having to report the party line.) She said that she was going to come here so she could see for herself what was happening.

My mother-in-law lives in a small village about 80 miles from Kiev. The main industry is agriculture though that agriculture is mostly for themselves and for what they can sell in the open air markets of the larger towns in the area. If they need any more money, the men usually go work construction in the larger cities, mostly Kiev. Since they usually need more money than they can get from selling produce in the markets, this means that the men are often gone quite a bit.

Life is hard there. There is no mechanization so any work needing to be done to prepare the soil for planting in the spring or for the harvesting that needs to be done at the end of summer, must be done by hand. Most hand wash clothes with water drawn from a well heated on the stove. There is no indoor plumbing. (When they do think about having indoor plumbing it is mostly to be able to take a bath. Other reasons are further down on the list.) This means that there is always a lot of work to do every day in the village.

My mother-in-law is no exception to this rule. She has work she must do every single day in the village simply to live. But she called up and said she was going to come and get the information for herself. And she came.

I went along with her and my brother-in-law down to the square on Thursday evening. (We had to take the subway because driving and parking downtown has become a bigger nightmare than it usually is.) From the place where the subway car stops to the surface we needed to ride a long escalator. So we rode it.

While riding up, there were some men riding down chanting “YU-SCHEN-KO! YU-SCHEN-KO!” So my mother-in-law joined in in her higher pitched voice, “YU-SCHEN-KO! YU-SCHEN-KO!” From that she went to “Nas bahatu; ta nas ne peremozhesh” rhythmically. It means “We are many; you can’t defeat us!” I am not sure where that came from. I don’t think anyone was chanting it when we rode up but others knew it and started in too. “Nas bahatu; ta nas ne peremozhesh!” (Maybe it’s in the genes?) When we got to the top, there we people in small groups talking to each other and not chanting. My mother-in-law thought this was not right so she walked over to them and started them up, “Nas bahatu; ta nas ne peremozhesh!,” chopping her hand in rhythm.

We walked out onto the square. Actually, we squeezed our way out onto the square from the subway exit. This put us right in front of the stage. She seemed to be in her element then and was getting an idea what was going on at last. I was there for a few minutes but then left to go see what was happening in other areas of the square and to see the tent city they had set up further down the block. When I left her, she was grinning ear to ear.

Yesterday, we got word that she had been with the protestors at the Presidential Administration Building. They were there again as part of the numbers of people who are making their presence felt around government buildings in the downtown area. We were told that she went up to the guards in front of the entrance, guards in full riot gear, masks and shield, in ranks twenty deep. She went up to one and said, “I am a babushka [translated roughly as “grandmother” but used for every older woman grandmother age] from the village. I came here to find out how you are. Are you fine? Are you hungry? Maybe your parents are somewhere worrying about you?

“Babushka has come from the village with some warm socks for you. Maybe your feet are cold and you need some socks?” She talked to this fellow in this way and won him over. He lowered his shield to expose his face and he was grinning at her while she spoke to him.

Today, she was supposed to come over and see us. She likes to do this especially since she has a new grandson she dotes on. But today she can’t be bothered with that sort of thing. She is part of the revolution. Getting out of bed this morning, she went to the store, bought bread and sausage and is on her way down to make sure that the protestors are fed and taken care of.

Before she left, she called her husband in the village. She had been planning on going back home and letting him come to take part but, when she called, she told him “There is nothing for you to do here. There are enough men here already. A woman’s touch is what is needed here to help take care of the people down at the square. So I will stay here. You don’t need to come.” (This is terribly un-PC but that is the way she is and the way of life is in the village.)

My mother-in-law is caught up in the revolution.

And there are large numbers of other babushkas down there on the square. She is not the only one. And they are chanting and cooking, serving food and distributing clothing, making sure that the people down there are taken care of.

Contrast this with the pictures of Yanukovych’s supporters near the train station downtown. There are probably ten thousand of them and they are men; there are no women there to speak of. These men sleep in heated train cars at night, cars provided for them by Yanukovych and his group. (These are government cars, mind you. The trains are owned by the government, government assets.) They get two meals a day prepared for them by other people from other places. And they have access to vodka to round out the accommodations. When they need clothes, people from other places come in and randomly pass out packages of new clothes to them. No care, no warmth and no fellow feeling for these people.

On one day this past week, some of them didn’t get one of their two statutory meals, so they decided they would go down to Independence Square to eat. They walked the three miles or so to downtown and got served by these caring little babushkas. They were made to feel welcome. This is the spirit that has infused this particular revolution.

My mother-in-law is down there right now doing the work of the revolution. She is a revolutionary. But her case may be multiplied many times over by others who feel the same thing and are lead to do something about it. They are down there right now with her at Independence Square.

UPDATE: The chant is "nas bahatu i nas ne podilaty" not what I posted here (though what I posted means the same thing.) I was trying to reconstruct it with my wife since I do not speak Ukrainian and she was not there.

No funds

There was a caller into a television program this morning who said she had gone yesterday to a certain government agency to get the money she needs to support her children. She was told that there was no money available, that all the money was being used to support the people down at Independence Square. “The people downtown need sandwiches. Where do you think the money is coming from?” She said that she has talked to other people who got the same response. It might be local or it might be widespread, it is hard to tell at this point.

This reason, of course, is untrue. All the support of the people down on the square comes from donations. These guys have one reflex, to support the government regardless of what the truth is. And, being the bureaucratic thugs they are, will have no qualms in the least in doing anything, anything, that will further the government’s position, that is, Yanukovych’s position. So it is entirely possible that there has been a hold placed on any funds meant for the citizenry either to punish them or to score propaganda points. These bureaucrats would have no problem carrying such a thing out. Orders are orders after all and they do have the power to deny them. Using that power is actually what defines their authority.

But this may not end up being the real explanation when all is said and done. Yanukovych has brought tens of thousands of supporters from the east by bus and by train. Some of these supporters have been paid cash. Others have had their expenses defrayed to get them here. These supporters have to eat, to have warm clothes and they need some place to live. All of this requires money. (They were distributing new clothes to the Yanukovych supporters near the train station last night to ward off the cold. “The people in Independence Square are happy with their used clothes. The people from Donetsk [an eastern city] get new clothes.”) The better explanation and the most reprehensible explanation, of two reprehensible explanations, is that any available government funds have been spent paying for the supporters from the east. Yanukovych gets his troops in the field but children go hungry.

Knowing how things work here both of these explanations are real possibilities. These officials have been able to act with impunity because there has never, to this day, been any kind of reckoning. But it looks like that day of reckoning may be coming and these people cannot see it. They have either had the power themselves to avoid it or have had a patron with the power that has allowed them to be insulated from any accounting and from the people. But that reckoning may be a' preparing in the square that commemorates independence, in the downtown of Kiev.

Friday, November 26, 2004

The announcement

It was just announced by Kuchma flanked by all the parties involved in the talks this evening, that both sides agreed to sit down to negotiate a resolution to the political crisis. This relieves the pressure here, at least for now.

Good news.


This is my take on Putin. From an email to a colleague in Europe:

Putin is an idiot. He acts as if the rest of the world should take it like the Russians have. One "analyst" who I am sure is only an analyst because he has close ties to the Kremlin said something the other day like, "The West is bothered by Russian involvement in the countries within their sphere. Well, they need to just get used to it." That involvement of course meant pumping lots of money into an election and sending down their media people to help Yanukovych make Yuschenko look like a fascist. (It was reported here the other day that some of those Russian advisors were giddy it the prospect of a Yanukovych win and were laughing about the fact that Yuschenko's face, which is now puffy and pocked and makes him look a full 20 years older at least--he claims he was poisoned by the government--would cost him some of the he's-good-looking-vote. Maybe that was the plan all along?) And it meant a couple of visits to Ukraine for Putin to endorse Yanukovych. This all sounds familiar doesn't it? I read an article which made the point that the reduction in life expectancy for the male Russian was linked to the loss of empire. He's depressed about it. There are rumors that a number of people around Putin are agitating to reconstitute that empire in some way.

But like you say, this Ukrainian situation may just cause Putin to totter a bit. He picked the wrong horse. The Russian press is still flacking for Yanukovych and say that he represents at least half of the electorate. That is half of the electorate after some of the most widespread voter fraud that has been seen anywhere. But even with all of this, Yanukovych still won by only three percent of the vote. With all their efforts they just made it.

And the odd thing is that Yuschenko was more pro Russian business than Yanukovych would be when he was in power. And he probably won't be as pliant a client as they might want. I guess the thing he was counting on is that Yanukovych would be more malleable than Yuschenko. They do after all have Yanukovych's criminal record in their files and that might have given them some sort of confidence.

A meeting

Unian reports at 6:53 p.m. today that


Marinski Palace is the place where meetings with heads of state are held.

This ought to be interesting.

The press

One of the effects of the revolution is that the press has rebelled against the government:

As the fifth evening of growing civil protests approached on Nov. 25, it became clear that the ruling regime’s control over television media was crumbling.

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma’s establishment had, according to oppositionist political forces and media experts, used their control over a handful of channels with nationwide coverage to manipulate voters. Losing control over the media is expected to weaken support for Kuchma, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and their cronies in eastern and southern regions of the country where they benefit from strong support, partly due to the lack of oppositionist media presence.

On Nov. 25, privately owned television channel 1+1 announced that Vyacheslav Pikhovshek had been removed as editor of the venue’s news programs.

Oppositionist political figures have accused Pikhovshek of spreading biased news coverage designed to lower support for Yushchenko while beefing up Kuchma and his allies.

A recent survey of journalists funded by Democratic Initiatives Foundation, a western-funded NGO, singled out Pikhovshek as the “least trusted” journalist in Ukraine.

Officials at 1+1 said Pikhovshek would continue to work at the studio as author of Epitsenter, a political analysis show aired on Sunday

News programs on 1+1 virtually disappeared earlier this week after journalists and editors and the channel went on strike in protest of alleged pressure from management and certain political forces to produce biased media coverage that favored Kuchma and allies.

The whole article is here.

Solano is in town

Javier Solano is here and it looks like he is here thinking to broker some sort of a deal. But the Yuschenko side has said that the deal they will entertain is the transfer of power.

But this doesn't seem to be an absolute position, There is an idea being batted around by the opposition that they would be amenable to holding the election again but with some strict controls this time. One of the ideas is that the people would be allowed to vote by showing their internal passport. That passport would be stamped showing they had voted. If, of course, they were to try to vote again, the passport would show they already had. The thinking is that this would be one way to prevent the widespread fraud of the other elections.

The point is that the Yuschenko sides seem to be interested in a legitimae vote for president. Of cource they are confident that that vote would give him the presidency. They are probably right.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court issued what amounts to a stay of the certification of the president yesterday pending a review of a petition filed by Yuschenko. The Supreme Court is one of the independent power centers in the government of the Ukraine, at least in principle. It invalidated some of the voting stations that were going to be set up in Russia in the October 31 vote. That was something that flew in the face of the interests of Kuchma and Yanukovych. This is a hopeful sign.

On a local talk radio station yesterday, however, a woman purporting to be the wife of one of the justices called in with some infomration that is not hopeful.

She would not identify herself for fear of a potential for retaliation and said that the justices were under enormous amounts of pressure on this case. She was not clear where that pressure was coming from, whether it was direct from the government or as a result of some sort moral pressure because of the people demonstating on the streets. She did though say she was fearful for her husband and family because they had received death threats. Those threats were directed at her children.

In this country, political opponents tend to meet with accidents and some are outright killed. Ukraine has a high number of politicians who die in traffic accidents, some say the highest in the world. Some might put it down to the high rate of fatalities on Ukrainian roads which is a fact. Politicans would be more likely to have cars and would be more likely to drive them than other people in the Ukraine. But some others think differently. These are convinced that it is open season on anyone who crosses powerful interests either in the government or in business. They think that if you run afoul of these entrenched, powerful interests your life is not worth much. And there is some reason to beleive this is true. A reporter name Gongadze was foiund dead and there is a tape with the voice of someone who sounds like Kuchma arranging to have it done. This is well known. Gongadze was a prominent critic of Kuchma.

So she might have reason to be worried and the pressure because of such a thing would be intense and maybe even unbearable for these judges in the end. But this just highlights the fact again that in this part of the world (and in some others also--let's be fair) looking up what the law says may not be the controlling precedent. A threat to self or family can make for a much more effective one.

Hot water

We have been expecting the electricity to go off, or the telephone or any one of a number of other things to happen to make life more difficult for us because of this revolution. And we woke up this morning to the fact that we do not have any hot water. It is off right now and we can do nothing about it because it all comes from a central location and is pumped into the buildings here. (This is true of the heating also. The joke is that it is “central heating” but by central here they mean really central, that is outside of the apartment building in some other, central location.)

Ordinarily, we would blame it on the unrest. But the funny thing is that we lose our hot water all the time, usually on holidays—I guess the workers have the day off too-- but not always. So this one is probably our normal, periodic loss of hot water.

More military

It was reported yesterday that the Independent Trade Union of Soldiers in Ukraine will not take up arms against the people. This is a union, like any other union, which represents the interests of members of the military. (Do they ever go on strike. Well apparently they will if asked to fight in this.) I don’t know if they represent all the members of the military or if this is even something they polled their members about, but it at least represents the opinion of some of them. That is a good thing. The question, though, is how broad that opinion is.

The statement by the union said not only that they would not take up arms against Ukrainians but that they would “annihilate any mercenaries—they said “free lancers”—on Ukrainian soil.

This brings up two interesting possibilities I had not thought of. It is quite possible that the Russian spetznaz forces spied here in the Ukraine are either mercenaries or they have gone off the reservation or maybe both. It is possible that they have been paid by someone to come in to quell the uprising and now the person paying them is not sure what to do. Or they might be rogue units come on their commander’s own initiative. This might sound the least plausible but there is this idea out there that Putin does not control as much of Russia and its government as we think he does is the West.

Anyway, this is just something more to mull over.

Appealing to the east

In a speech yesterday, Yuschenko talked about 150 or so Yanukovych supporters who were standing guard near one of the government buildings in downtown Kiev on Tuesday. They were from the eastern part of the Ukraine. He said they were cold and hungry and that some of his supporters, who had taken up positions near that same building, had given them food, some warm clothes and had tried to make sure they were taken care of. He said that on Wednesday, those Yanukovych supporters were no longer there. And then he said, “I call upon the Prime Minister to send us trainloads of these people. We will feed them, take care of them and they will find out what the truth is.”

Yuschenko’s tone has been pitch perfect on this. He has included the people of eastern Ukraine in everything he has said. He calls them friends and, in a speech I can’t find right now, appeals to them to find out the truth of what is going on. In it he argues that their right of choice was taken away from them by the blackout news organizations imposed on any information about him. No one is blaming them for supporting Yanukovych, he said; that is their political right. But they were defrauded by the government too in that they had no real choice in the election.

This is a striking thing. He could take power on the backs of the eastern Ukrainians by making them the focus of hatred. And what makes it much easier to do is the fact that train-and busloads of toughs—I keep thinking of them as “strikebreakers”-- keep coming in from the east. But he has steadfastly refused to do this. And the real ironic thing is that he was born in the east about 20 miles from the Russian border in the first place. So he calls the east the home of his birth and says in effect, “I am one of you.” This fact, so he says and I believe, has not been told to the people of eastern Ukraine. They think he is an ultra-nationalist from the West bent on taking away eastern culture.

If they avoid any split, I think it will be because of a certain magnanimity on the part of Victor Yuschenko. This is no insignificant thing.

The oath of office

It looks as if the actual swearing-in ceremony for Yanukovych is set to take place today instead of yesterday as was originally planned (and as I originally reported.) It will be interesting to see if they go through with it now that the Supreme Court has quashed the certification by the election commission. The legal effect of the court order should be that Yanukovych cannot be sworn in as president because the election, in legal effect, has not been certified as of yet.

You would think this means that the swearing-in would be put on hold until the Court rules on the certification. And that is how it would play out in the countries of the West. But this is not the West and we are in this current situation in the first place because the rules have been flouted wholesale.

So will Yanukovych be sworn in today? I suspect he will be. There is an authority vacuum out there right now which is being filled more and more by Yuschenko standing at the head of the multitudes on the street.

Kuchma has all but disappeared. He is heard from from time to time in the press but that is about it. I think he wanted to retreat to the background after Yanukovych was elected and assumed power and that is what he has seemed to do. But Yanukovych has not assumed power yet and, with Kuchma out of sight, there really is no one in charge right now.

But not if you look at it from the perspective of the people here. In a speech yesterday, Yuschenko told every institution of government, and the press was included in this, what their duties were under the Constitution and laws of Ukraine. It sounded like he was setting up his government out there right on the street. And he is doing things to take care of the people out there too. He has made special pleas for the people of Kiev to take care of those who have traveled here from other areas, to make sure they are fed, that they have a place to stay and that they are kept warm when they are out in the cold. And he has asked for donations of food and clothing and money from the people here to help those down on the square. And yesterday, he asked for medicine to be brought down because some of the people are sick with pneumonia and need it. And the money, food and clothing are coming in.

What all of this means to the people is that Yuschenko is, in short, acting like president.

The oath of office he took in the legislature on Tuesday was dismissed by the Speaker as not legal. And it wasn’t from a legal point of view. (The Speaker, Vladimir Lytvyn, if I have that right, seems to be a man of principle though. He warned the administration that they could not ignore what was going on in the streets.) But we are not in any territory that could be defined by law anyway. I think that oath of office, taken in the well of the legislature, his hand on a copy of the Bible, a copy, by the way. which is over 300 years old, was an oath taken before the people. It may not have been an oath that had any legal effect, but I think it was an oath that had an effect on the psyche of the people. And by “psyche” I mean something in the much older sense of the word, something more akin to the soul. For the Ukrainian people, the soul is an important thing, the Ukrainian soul. This oath of office was to the soul of the Ukrainian people taken before God, on a Bible old enough to represent some of the traditions and the flow of life of the Ukrainian people over generations. That is not nothing. As a matter of fact, in the end, it might be everything. I think it is for the Ukrainians. (And it even might mean something in the West. Constitutions in the final analysis rest ultimately on the loyalties of the people.)

The other problem is with the institutions of government. In an interesting informal poll, a reporter for the Kyiv Post asked those who were guarding government buildings who the president was now. Many of them did not know. This might be true of all the institutions of government right now. They may not know who is the president, who it is to whom they owe their allegiance. (And allegiance is an important thing here.) If he wants to assert control over the institutions of government, I think he will see that he needs to take the oath of office.

Yanukovych did not rise to power by having his authority questioned. He rose to power by asserting it and making people understand just who was in charge. Though this is the big leagues and it is possible as Newsweek says, that he might not know what to do, I still think the gut reaction for him will be to assert his authority. That means taking the oath.

But if he does that, it will undercut the authority of the Supreme Court and undermine the constitution and I think that will effectively put an end to it. And that might just signal the beginning of an effort to crackdown on the protests.

Who knows what’s going to happen, though. I thought before that the Ukrainians would just accept the election regardless and move on with a life that has gotten steadily better for them the past couple of years. This has surprised me no end.

UPDATE: Vladimir Litvyn, the Speaker of the Ukrainian legislature, the Rada, said that there will be no swearing in of Yanukovych today. He said there is a session of the Rada scheduled for tomorrow but that the swearing-in would not take place then either.

Of course, he is meaning a legal swearing-in. It is possible for Yanukovych to do the same thing Yuschenko did and take the oath of office while his party cheers him on. He could do it more consitutionally even than Yuschenko did by putting his hand on a copy of the constitution, as is required, rather than on the Bible. But to less effect I think than Yuschenko's.

Maybe it takes a clever man to think this way. Or maybe he is thinking about his country which would be a good thing to start to do. Or maybe he is thinking about a loss of prestige internationally if he did this and the possibility of having bank accounts frozen and visas denied so he and his can't travel and enjoy the fruits of the sweat of his brow. Whatever it is, as with everything else, we shall see.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Some irony somewhere?

There was a ceremony of sorts yesterday where Yanukovych accepted the presidency. The swearing in is supposed to take place today so it was not his investment ceremony. It was a kind of acceptance ceremony that took place in some room somewhere in Kiev. He was surrounded by people who looked pleased with these events, but there seemed to be less than fifty. They stood and clapped and he had the look of the humble ruler reluctantly assuming power after the people have spoken.

But there was something pitiful in this in a way. It was a small gathering indoors. He speaks to fifty inside. Yuschenko speaks to hundreds of thousands outside. And on that outside, Yanukovych has to ship in his supporters from other cities to Kiev to counter the crowds in the downtown square and he can’t get anywhere near the numbers Yuschenko gets who pays no one. With no pay, with no one defraying their expenses in any way to come here, these people make their way to Kiev under their own power to take part in the demonstrations. The give their loyalty freely to Yuschenko and to their country. Inside with Yanukovych, though, it is hard not to believe that those who stood and clapped for him are people who are in that position because they owe him something.

In the worst case, Ukraine could descend into a civil war. (I hope not.) Kuchma is a clever man. He has maintained power for a long time with his popular support in the teens. But Yanukovych is not a clever man nor is he an intelligent man. And I don’t think that kind of man keeps intelligent men as counselors, so there may be no hope of intelligence in his inner circle. This means that Yanukovych may not be in an enviable position anyway. He assumes power but is incapable of governing the country he is president of. But that is of his own making.

In the end, this might just finish up as good source material for some sort of ironic, there-is-some-justice-somewhere kind of story like those of the old Twilight Zone. Someone covets a thing his whole life and claws his way up to it letting nothing get in his way. But when he possesses it, he finds that it has hold of him rather than he of it. Maybe it has already been done.

The commission speaks

The Central Election Commission yesterday came out with the official results. There was no surprise. According to the commission, Yanukovych received 49.61% of the vote to Yuschenko’s 46.61%. Four of the commissioners, however, refused to sign the protocol certifying the election. This was the merest of bumps in the road. It didn’t even slow the proceedings down.

Prior to the start, a Yuschenko supporter got a hold of a microphone and said that he had been beaten and not allowed to come in. (He must have forced his way in someway.) The head commissioner dismissed this and told someone to turn off this guy’s mike. He continued to speak for a few minutes but the head commissioner just talked over him.

They presented the election results by region. When some regions were announced, the one’s mostly where Yanukovych received something like 96 or 97% of the vote, there were shouts of “not true!” and “lies!” This also did not matter. The head commissioner simply spoke louder. Nothing that happened mattered. The commission was going to announce the results and nothing else was going to be allowed to interfere.

When the commission announced the new president of the country, most of those in the audience cheered. They were Yanukovych supporters of course. One though who was chanting “Yan-U-Ko-Vych!” had both hands in the air, two fingers of one he had crossed over two fingers of the other forming what the iron bars of a prison cell tend to form. This was a symbolic reference to Yanukovych’s prison time. (He served time for robbery and something else I can’t remember right now.) Not many noticed I am sure.

It seems to me that this was a point in this whole course of events where pressure could have been diffused to some extent. It seems that there are points like these in any uprising or the run-up to any. This was one of those points and an important one. The commission could have addressed the concerns of some in the crowd. They could have gone into their procedures for verifying the votes and for securing the vote count. This they could have done at least. In other words, they could have made their case. But they may have had no case to make.

And they could have at least addressed the fact that this man may have been beaten outside of their chambers and prevented by force from entering. This just seems to me to have been something that could have served to alleviate some of the pressure there. What would they have lost, for example, by saying that they would investigate this incident? How could that have possibly diminished them at all? In doing this they would have shown themselves to be concerned about some basic principles of fairness and for the opposition. It would have been at least some basic humanity. Instead it was “turn off the mike” sit down and shut up. No concern about it at all.

Instead of doing any of these things, the commission just went ahead as if nothing of any significance had happened or was happening. None of these concerns were of any interest to the commission, none at all. This astounds me. These people are looking into the face of a civil war if the worst case comes to pass, a completely unacceptable result. If this happens, they will not be able to control the outcome. Life for them and for everyone else will become wholly unpredictable. But, for the members of the commission, this wasn’t an issue. It was business as usual and a business which was conducted in the most dismissive, bureaucratic manner that Ukrainian functionaries are capable of. This is an astounding thing. Do they think that they will be protected if the worst comes to past? Maybe they do. They must have some powerful patrons who will protect them from any consequences, so they think. That must be the reason for the smugness. But this arrogance may have made them blind.

This reminds me of the poem "The Man with the Hoe." It ends

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
How will the future reckon with this Man?
How answer his brute question in that hour
When whirlwinds of rebellion shake all shores?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings--
With those who shaped him to the thing he is--
When this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world,
After the silence of the centuries?

A copy of an email

Here's a copy of an email sent to a magazine website that has been commenting on the Russian Spetznaz here in Ukraine. (They reported the flight into Borispol airport yesterday.)

The arrival by airplane of special forces from Russia is actually the second wave. Television reports (and video footage) here in Ukraine have them coming in by bus since Monday. I wondered when they reported it how they knew these were from Russia. The answer is that they have photos of the license plates and the numbers show the buses are from Russia. But they are here and have been bivouacking in the city of Irpin which is about 40 minutes from Kiev.

The latest report on the arrivals by plane said that they were turned away by a Ukrainian official. That is the latest but it is hard to know if this is true or not. A lot of rumors are being passed on by the media. It would be nice for it to be but who knows.

There are also reports of increased military activity on the border between Ukraine and Russia, Russian side. This comes from people there on the ground phoning in. They don't talk about massing, if they even know what that means at all, but any increased military activity on the border raises the blood pressure a bit. This isn't confirmed either but the only parties who are able to confirm it deny it (Ukraine) or will neither confirm or deny it (Russia.)

I wonder why there is no general outcry about this in the US and around the world. There has been no crackdown yet and by the grace of God maybe there won't be one, but to think there is a Russian military presence here in the Ukraine is something out of the Cold War. Think Czechoslovakia, 1968, I think it was. This is where I came in.

The problem with Russian troops is that they will not have any problem firing on Ukrainians. They are Ukrainians after all, not Russians. But there is every indication the Ukrainian troops may in fact be reticent to shoot.

There are some blogs out there that are pretty good on this. I have one at http://foreignnotes.blogspot.com and there is good information at http://www.tulipgirl.com/, http://vkhokhl.blogspot.com/, http://fistfulofeuros.net/, and http://theperiscope.blogs.com/the_periscope_/, for starters.

There is another angle to this whole thing though. The Democrats are silent on this as far as I can tell. They have gone from camera to camera lamenting how democracy was the loser in the last election and how the people have been disenfranchised by the right wing intolerant Christian Republicans and how fascism has raised its ugly head in the US. But when there is a case of real election fraud and there is a real threat to a democracy and the iron fist may ring down for real on a people struggling to take their government into their own hands, these guardians of democracy, these Democrats, are nowhere to be found. That is except for some "We welcome the opportunity of dealing with the new president" comments made by a Democratic Congressman who is purported to have taken contributions from the pro-government candidate.

Some irony, huh?

It just seems to me that there ought to be more of reponse to this from the outside world. Maybe they're not confident this is happening? That might be. The evidence is circumstantial, this is true. It is possible that the Ukrainian military is leasing Russian buses to transport their troops or that there is some sort of Lend/Lease program for transportation from Russia, though I doubt both of these. And the planes landing at the airport incident is from the opposition camp, so, being the objective reporters we are supposed to be, we discount that out of hand. (They have an interest in this making them biased. Of course the opposition has shown themselves to be as good as other sources here but the bias is just too much for us.)

But understanding what the consequences of this involvement of Russian troops might be, it would be much better to protest and let the Russians prove that it hasn't happened, than to sit around until the proof becomes incontrovertible. This would help maintain the sovereignty of a nation. Waiting might be too late.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

A good question

Here is a very good question I have been asked:

Forgive my ignorance but how do they feel their protesting is going to change anything?

No ignorance at all. This is actually a very good question. I was thinking the same thing after we got home from the demonstration on Monday downtown. While there though I was thinking differently. When you look into a sea of faces chanting the opposition candidates name and you hear speeches from some firebrands and you hear about the cities that are declaring for Yuschenko one by one, going down like dominoes in what seems to be the power of the movement, you can tend to think that this is a revolution and that they could just do it.

But when I got home reality hit me. People who are authoritarians rulers don't like to see crowds, but the president here is authoritarian, not a dictator--his power is in manipulating people and systems for his benefit, and he doesn't control them all--so he can't really do what dictators might do. He, for instance, has gotten a lot of mileage from playing Russia and the US off each other. That has given him some influence in both places though some would argue that he has moved more east than he has west. But his power is through systems and manipulation and that means his power is not unlimited. So a crowd gathering downtown he can really do nothing about even if he were worried about it.

A moving crowd is something to be very worried about though. And that crowd moved last night to the presidential building. There were riot control troops in full gear there about 20 deep. The crowd was peaceful though and stuck flowers in some of the shields of the troops so nothing happened. They stayed there for a while though and made demands. Some of them set up some tents to camp out, but the rest of them left. But by doing this they showed they will move and they were also able to probe the defenses of the administration, if you will. They talked with the troops there at the building, the building by the way that houses the presidential office, and found out where their sympathies lay. According to reports, they support Yuschenko, and some of them were not afraid to don orange armbands, the armbands of Yuschenko's supporters. That is good information for future use.

It was at about this same time last night when it was reported that Kuchma, the president, had called for all sides to sit down and talk. Other reports said that Yuschenko's camp had made certain conditions mandatory before they would agree to any negotiations and that Yanukovych had called those demands a framework for discussions. (Yuschenko's people today deny that they will negotiate at all.) These are not the actions of people who are confident of their power. This might be because of pressure being put on by outside forces, the EU and the US to be exact and I think the pressure is pretty intense from the US at least, or if it is because they see some of their hold slipping and they fear it tipping out of control. Of course, the cynical appraisal of this is that they are stalling for time in public, telling the West what they want to hear, while they wait for their response to form up in the woods around Kiev. (Russian spetznaz--Russian!-- forces special forces are there now with tanks and APCs on their way from other parts of the Ukraine. There should be an international outcry over this)

So which is it? Who knows. I will tell you though that I thought the weather and the fact that people were not working and not getting paid as a result and the food problems that result from having a large crowd many of which were not working, that all of these would doom this thing quickly. I thought it would be starved out financially and literally, while the cold had its way all around. I gave it three days before the crowds started to disperse and people ended up going home to survive.

But today, there are reports of a million people downtown. A million people. That is over 3 times what we saw down there on Monday. The protest is not getting smaller, it is getting bigger. Some of the food problems were solved by local businesses and the people of Kiev bringing food downtown. Collections of money have also been undertaken. And the people look like they are working this thing in shifts. My brother-in-law, for instance, goes down in the morning for a few hours, comes home for lunch and to get warm, then goes back down for a few more hours. I think most of them are doing this.

They show no signs of dispersing. It is still going strong and getting stronger.

But we will have to wait and see what happens though.

A good analysis

Here is a good analysis on the centers of power here in Ukraine:FT.com / World - Yushchenko probes Kuchma regime.

I think the jury's out on whether what Yuschenko and his supporters are doing will be enough to take power. I thought no two days ago, but now I am not so sure. Calls for negotiations and the military not all on board and some members even threatening retaliation are not signs of a secure power base. But we will have to see.

(via a A Fist Full of Euros)

The march on the president last night

Last night the crowd, headed by Yuschenko and the firebrand female head of his campaign, Yulia Timoshenko, made their way to the Administration of the President building. This was around 9 or 10. There were reported to be tens of thousands but a hundred thousand is not unlikely.

When they got to the building, troops in riot gear stood in front of the building, it looked like twenty deep that I could see from the TV picture. Some people from the crowd put flowers on the shields of the troops.

They, of course, did not get in. (There were rumors passed on on the radio that Yuschenko got in. I don’t think that happened. There is no news of it this morning.) They made demands of the government and then asked for volunteers to put up tents and stay the night. Around thirty of them were put up.

The video shown on TV last night was interesting. The camera was on a couple of the troops in the front line and after a few seconds, the trooper on the right, put his shield up to cover his face. That was an odd thing to do because his face could not be seen all that well on screen. It could be argued that he simply did not want his picture to be taken. That is possible. But I think it was more than that. I think it was some evidence of a bit of guilt for being there.

This, though a little thing, might be evidence of good things for the protestors and for the people of Ukraine. We will have to wait and see.

There were no clashes from this at all. That is remarkable. It could have easily happened with all the people and with skittish troops. But nothing did happen.

UPDATE: More on this from Yuschenko's website here.

A trauma specialist speaks

A trauma specialist was interviewed on television last night. She was told by the government to be where she could be called up. The area she was to be ready to work in was Independence Square, the site of the protests.

She said she feared going public with this but was tired of being afraid. She had friends and family down at the square and wanted to let them and everyone else know so they would be prepared.

Possible negotiations

There was a report last night that Kuchma and Yanukovych were ready to negotiate. Yanukovych is quoted to have said the conditions purportedly coming from the Yuschenko camp created a framework for negotiations. Here's the article: Kyiv Post. Top stories. More here.

I don't know what to make of this. Kuchma has called for it and that would seem to be a sign of a lack of confidence. If Yanukovych has accepted this, the same would go for him. This could be the result of pressure from the US and the EU, which I have no doubt is being applied heavily. (The US ambassador, Herbst, is supposed to have been in meetings yesterday with the government.)

It could also be nothing more than a statement meant to curry public opinion and to get the West off their backs, while what they really want might be forming up in the forests outside of Kiev. It is hard to tell at this point.

A potential military threat

We just listened to a speech by a military man who was said to represent the officer corps in the Ukrainian military. He said that if the blood of any one of these innocent protestors is shed, the military would turn itself on the ones who shed it. In other words, the government. That was as direct a threat to Kuchma and Yanukovych as you are likely to get.

UPDATE: The Periscope identifies his man as Deputy colonel Grigory Omelchenko, the head of Ukrainian Officer's Union. (Is he any relation to the Kiev mayor?) It doesn't appear that he is in the cahin of command in any way, but it is evidence that the military is not monolithic in its support, if indeed there is all that much support for Yanukovych and Kuchma there in the first place.

Chain of command may not make a difference anyway. In revolutions, when control and authority breaks down, chain of command can break down too. So it may may not be the issue it might otherwise be.

Russian spetznaz and the east/west divide

I found out how they know the special forces seen in a certain area outside of Kiev are Russian spetznaz. They have gone off the license plates of the buses used to transport them. Duh. They have video of it shot from quite high up that they showed on the news last night. (It looks to have been shot from the top of a building. No station here has a helicopter.) The camera zoomed in on the license numbers. They are either really stupid, the people who put this movement of troops together, or they don’t care that the fact is known. Or course these are not mutually exlcusive propositions, so I think it's both. In the end, I think it will have proven to be a highly stupid thing to have done. (More of the arrogance of power creating a certain blindness.) But they just don’t care about it. And by "they" I mean neither the Russians nor the Ukrainian authorities.

The Russians don’t care because they want influence in the countries that were traditionally a part of the Russian empire. This means the countries of Belarus (literally “White Russia”) and Ukraine (nicknamed by Russians “Little Russia” to the consternation of Ukrainians) for starters. Everyone here knows this. Putin makes no secret of it. As a matter of fact, a strong minority of Russians feel that Ukraine should be a part of Russia; territorially a part of Russia. And a real majority feels that Ukraine should be integrated economically and that closer ties should be created. What do the Ukrainians feel about this? That’s a bit more complicated.

Ukraine is divided in two. Most of those who have studied it have noted this fact. Huntington, for example, calls the split a split between the Uniate culture in the west and the Orthodox culture in the east. This refers to religion. The west is more Roman Catholic while the east is more Russian Orthodox. But there are other differences.

The west looks more European. When my wife and I visited Lviv a while back, I was struck at how the layout of the streets looked more European. This is different from places like Kiev or even further east. And there is a concert hall in downtown Lviv that looks like it would fit in any European city. In fact, when I saw it, it reminded me of the Vienna Opera house I had seen in pictures. (One place I have not been.)

And western Ukraine has more of an affinity with Poland than it does any with Russia. The language is closer to Polish and the culture tends more toward Poland. That makes them west-leaning by culture, language and religion.

My wife told me an interesting thing yesterday. She said that when perestroika was announced, there was an easing of pressure on the people here. A result of that was a protest in Lviv. Thousands of people took to the streets. She thought it was a strange thing because those sorts of crowds you got here only at May Day parades to watch the military march. But the people in Lviv went out into the streets. In no other city of Ukraine did this happen.

I think what this means is that there has been more of a tradition of freedom in west Ukraine. The West, the civilization, with its idea of liberty, made it that far, at least in part. (You might call that the limit of its eastward advance.) And it would not down during the Soviet era.

The east, on the other hand, is more of an Asian culture with Orthodox Christianity as its religion. Its cultural affinities are with Russia and the language is Russian. It is not all that uncommon to see a Russian flag flying alongside the Ukrainian. And this is true for the resort area of the Crimea to the south. The flag of Russia waves in the breeze alongside the flag of Ukraine, at the same height, in the train station of Semferopol, the regional capitol of the Crimea.

The election has highlighted these differences between east and west. Yanukovych is from Donetsk, an industrial city to the east. He speaks Russian; that is his native language. (He speaks Ukrainian not very well and with a Russian accent. And even in Ukrainian, Russian words pop out often.) Though Yuschenko is from a region close to Kiev, Ukrainian is his native language. (“I think in Ukrainian. It is the language of my mother.”) His support has come from the west.

(This split between east and west is with us now. The country today, Wednesday, is split between east and west on the issue of who won the presidency. This has the potential for being very dangerous. Who knows in the end? We’ll just have to see.)

And Kuchma has come down on the side of Russia. He has courted Russia. As a matter of fact, some would say that he ran to Russia and became a Russian client when he started to have problems with the West, the chief of which being with the US. There is evidence that he sent anti-aircraft equipment to Iraq during the run-up to war there. And there is a tape of a man who sounds like Kuchma, plotting the death of a reporter highly critical of Kuchma, who was later found dead. (That tape came from a member of Kuchma’s personal security staff.) The US didn’t like either of these things and showed its displeasure diplomatically and by modifying its relations with Ukraine.

What this means is that Yanukovych would not feel any scruples at having Russian spetznaz here openly. To him it would be a normal thing. Nor would it bother Kuchma. He is a client after all. They would both wonder what the problem was with it. But it looks like it is not going over all that well here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Swearing in?

An interesting thing happened in the Rada today. (The Rada is the national legislature here in Ukraine.) They had a special session to debate the election results but none of the pro government party was there and neither was the communist party. There were only deputies there from parties that support Yuschenko, the Our Ukraine party and the Socialists. This meant there was no majority there and no business could be transacted. They just were there to talk. At least that was the idea.

But the speaker could not control the deputies. They were agitating to install Yuschenko in power. He would say, “We need to remember what we are here for and we can’t address these other issues.” When one of the deputies moved that Yuschenko be sworn in as president, the Speaker closed the session and left. None of the deputies left with him, however, and they moved the issue in his absence. It passed unanimously. So Yuschenko went to the front, put his hand on the Bible and took the oath of office.

When it was said that this was not legal, the response was, “Was the election legal? No one is following the law in Ukraine.”

The deputies finished up singing the Ukrainian national anthem.

Things get interestinger and interestinger.

Read about it here.

Roads closed and other not good things

One of the major newspapers in Kiev is reporting that all roads are closed coming into Kiev. The roads are reported to be blocked by tractor trailer rigs. But, apparently, the roads are not blocked to Yanukovych supporters.

In a county close to Kiev, police blocked the road with tractors and other machinery preventing busloads of Yuschenko supporters.

And Yanukovych has just declared the protestors to be “provocateurs” which I take to mean some sort of criminal or enemy of the state. But that would mean about a half a million people.

Some of the special forces from Rodina Mat have been moved to the Rada. One hundred thousand supporters are there now protesting.

Another news site is reporting that there are Russian spetznaz (special forces) in that same area outside of Kiev reported by Channel 5. I still don't know how they can tell.

Not good news.

March on the Rada

Right now, Yuschenko is up at the legislature trying to work out some sort of arrangement with the deputies there to dissolve the election commission. It is a deal in the traditions of other deals you might find in any democratic state. The problem with this one is that the party that can make or break it is the Communist Party. Yuschenko is looking for support from the Communist Party because the government party, under the thumb of Kuchma and Yanukovych, will not be giving any, at least at this point.

There have been 100,000 people down at Independence Square this morning. Yuschenko went down and asked them to march on the legislature—the Rada—which is about a half a mile away to make the point. He told the crowd to be peaceful and non-confrontational. We’ll see what happens in response

The press

Some of the local TV stations' employees are not at work today. That has caused a change in programming. Originally, they were planning to broadcast a program about Yanukovych but now that the employees are not there they will be broadcasting something else instead. Maybe that is a way to protest on the part of the media?

It was interesting to me that the TV stations, which had been so pro-government and pro-Yanukovych, were being highly critical of both on election night. And some were broadcasting the protest down at Independence Square. I thought the pressure might have come off or that the stations were refusing to cave in anymore.

But yesterday, they were not showing anything on the protest during the day. Not anything about it. Later in the evening, a station broadcast some parts of a speech, but there were no shots of the crowd. Maybe the pressure's back? Or maybe I was a little premature in my original assessment?

Potential military action?

We are reading reports of concentrations of special forces in and around the city. The head of a local sanatorium to prepare for close to a thousand special forces. This is in the forest of Pushaveditsa, a place ironically where the partizans functioned in World War II. He has some problems though because he only has room for 500. (A sanatorium is a very popular place of resort for Ukrainians. They see them as a place to restore and revitalize themselves. There are quite a large number of them around.)

A resident of the same area has seen a tank in the forest there. That is not a place where tanks are headquartered or stored.

Yesterday, it was reported that close to a hundred buses were near the monument called "Rodina Mat"--a 300 foot high statue of a woman with sword and shield upraised given by Brezhnev to the people of Ukraine in the 70s as a token of friendship (Some Soviet irony perhaps?) The passengers were men dressed in black with their hair described as what the military in the US would call "high and tight." Some suggested that these were just thugs coming from east Ukraine, but they had to be special forces to me. The interesting thing was that they were not dressed in military uniform. Maybe they want any counter measures to look like a clash between citizens.

Interestingly, Rodina Mat has an outdoor museum of military hardware from WWII to Afghanistan. And there is a kind of ad hoc exhibit using a Hind helicopter about the war in Afghanistan which sounds an awful lot like an exhibit that could have come from the Vietnam War. (Or at least CBS's version of that war.) Maybe they gathered there for some sort of renewal and to take from there the conviction that there will be no more Afghanistans ("no more Vietnams!") when they fire on the Ukrainian people? That is, if they do fire.

This might also account for the reports I relayed the other day of buses on their way to Kiev from the east accompanied by police escort. This could have been busloads of these special forces on their way to Kiev.

A general of the army announced last night that there would be no involvement of the army against peaceful demonstrations and constitutional procedures. Many might have heard the "no involvement part" and relaxed. But the qualifiers would open the gates wide.

UPDATE: Local channel 5 is reporting Russian spetznaz forces in an area just outside of Kiev. I don't know how they know they are Russian or not, rather than Ukrainian, but that is the report.

It is interesting that Putin was the first to congratulate Yanukovych for his win on Sunday. He did it before the final result was in. The Russian observers also certified the election as transparent and fair, 180 degrees from all the other observers from the rest of the world.

Voting the dead

It looks like using the deceased was a better tactic than I thought it would be:

The Central Elections Commission's announcement last week that that the number of registered voters shot up by 750, 000 [from October 31] to a total of 37.6 million shows the scale of the vote-rigging, said Andrei Duda of the Union of Ukrainian Voters, a nongovernmental organization that monitored the election.

The commission revised the number after correcting lists of voters from the first round in this nation of 47.4 million.

Duda said that most of these additional voters were "dead souls," whose names were used on multiple absentee ballots and added as many as 2 million votes to the final vote count.

He said he suspects authorities also inflated voter rolls by leaving names with incorrect spellings on them after voters whose names were wrong had them corrected.

Yushchenko said five times more absentee ballots than in the first round were distributed across the country.

Local observers reported a number of cases of voters casting absentee ballots at multiple polling stations. In one example, Duda's organization said it saw 12 young men riding in a yellow minivan from one polling station to the next in the city of Uzhgorod in the Zakarpatsky region. It said the van was accompanied by a police patrol car.

Yushchenko accused election officials of trying to stuff ballot boxes in the Nikolayevsk region, saying a third of voters there cast ballots in boxes that were specially delivered to their homes -- a right usually reserved for ill or elderly people.

Yushchenko urged the authorities to cancel voting results at polling stations where violations were reported.

The entire article is here.

Monday, November 22, 2004

The election results

The official election result is a win for the Prime Minister, Yanukovych. But the following reveals what is unsaid in the results:

With 99.1% of the precincts reporting, the Central Electoral Commission has Yanukovych in the lead 49.4% to 46.7%. This is the worst possible outcome: a close election with overtly implausible figures. As I wrote yesterday, the reported turnout in Donbas [a region in Eastern Ukraine where support for Yanukovych is high] is statistically impossible. National turnout was 79 percent. One would expect that it be somewhat higher in the most politicized regions, and the turnout in Western Ukraine [where Yuschenko has his base of support] was indeed slightly higher (between two and five percentage points). To have the two Donbas oblasts [like counties], however, reporting turnouts ten (Luhans'k) and seventeen (Donets'k) points above the national average is beyond any kind of normal deviation from the mean. Especially since the most pro-Russian region of all, Crimea, has a turnout actually below the national average, at 78 percent. The official results claim that Yushchenko lost the vote nationally by 900,000 votes. The difference between a turnout in Donets'k close to the national average and the 96.6% turnout reported is approximately 600,000 extra votes for Yanukovych. The same calculation could be made for Luhans'k (which I haven't had time to do it). These discrepancies alone, if corrected, would bring the official figures to a virtual tie. The next problem, of course, is the discrepancy between the KIIS exit poll and the official results, currently between 6-7 percentage points. The discrepancy is outside the normal statistical error margin of a credible polling organization, and there are no grounds, given KIIS track record and international reputation, to doubt the credibility of its exit poll yesterday.

One hundred and fifty deputies have called for an extraordinary session of Parliament which, according to the rules, entitle them to one. Yushchenko has called for a peaceful demonstration in Kyiv (in progress). Tymoshenko has called for a general strike. The statement by OSCE, later today, will be critical.

The worst possible outcome.

Source: The Ukraine List (UKL) #269 dcompiled by Dominique Arel, 22 November 2004.

Something like a strike?

My brother-in-law is home now from work. He says they closed down the plant he works at and the employees were told they could go down to Independence Square if they wanted to. He is getting ready to go down there right now. (I may make my way there too.) The plant will be closed for a week.

This is the largest candy manufacturer in the country. They employ thousands of people.

But he has heard that all the other factories in Kiev are closing also. This is hard to believe but if true, it is like a general strike, but this is with the acquiescence of management. This makes things more interesting. Maybe we have reached a tipping point here. I hope so.

There are reports that Yuschenko supporters will be setting up 1500 tents in Independence Square. That is in an area about 20 acres in size.

Independence Square

There are reports that people are gathering downtown at Maidan Nezalezhnostiy. Upwards of 50,000 people are there right now. This is significant because today is a work day; it is only a day off for students. (It might be students down there but I doubt that they make up the bulk.) This is all after Yuschenko has been making his case for being president based on his parallel vote count.

I was there last night with some friends. When we walked out of the subway station onto the square—it is called “Independence Square” for reasons I might get around to explaining—we were hit with the sound of loud music. There was a stage, large speakers booming, laser lights and Slavic rappers rapping away.

This was a surprise to me because I had expected to see some sort of revolution or, at least, the beginnings of one. I know of course some in the US think that music freed the Soviet Union—specifically, the Beatles music, so the argument goes—and maybe they would think that this was the way to hold a revolution, but to me it just looked like a concert in support of Yuschenko. (This music argument allows people to say that what was an indulgence actually had some cosmic consequences. All the time spent listening to the Beatles was actually time spent helping overthrow the Soviets. Gives some purpose to a life spent in what some parents considered at the time to be waste. But I digress.) But, with some apologies to the my-music-freed-the-world people, it is hard to see how strumming a guitar would hold up all that well in response when the guns or clubs come out.

I wasn’t thinking this way while I was down there last night, though. There was no reason to. There were no police anywhere that I could see. And, although I was expecting to see some military and armored cars, there were none. (Earlier in the day, President Kuchma had declared that there would be no revolution and that if one started Yuschenko would be arrested. Sounded to me like a pretext to arrest him anyway if they could justify it.) There were supposed to be some tanks under camouflage netting around the Central Election Commission a few blocks away-- in case, I suppose, the rebels got a hold of some jets and came strafing down the main thoroughfare. These had been shown on TV. (The camouflage netting on the television was green. I guess it was green to blend in with the jungle that must have just sprung up in what had been the cement canyons of downtown. Commander of rebel squadron:" Just aim for the splotch of green. It will be the only splotch of green for blocks around.) What I saw was a concert and people enjoying the concert. No revolution anywhere I could see. It didn’t seem to me to be serious at all.

After a few minutes of this, I asked one of the guys I was with, “Where’s the revolution?” He gestured toward the crowd and toward the stage with a bit of a smile on his face. He understood what I was saying. A little later, the crowd started chanting, “YU-SCHEN-KO, YU-SCHEN-KO…” as if it were a football game. The chant petered out after about 30 seconds and when it finished, I turned to the same guy and said, “That must have been the revolution.” He laughed and nodded his head. We counted a couple of more “revolutions” before I left.

But I may have been premature in thinking that there is nothing serious in the events downtown. There are rumors the military has been ordered to Kiev. If true, that might be simply a precaution by the authorities. But who knows. (The rumors include reports that some units have refused.) The only way to know for sure what will happen here is when it happens, if it does.

And there are other reports of buses loaded with workers from eastern Ukraine—Yanukovych land—on their way to Kiev escorted by police. The argument is that they are coming as some sort of strikebreakers to take on the people down at the square. If this is true and they are coming here for that purpose, they will need a lot of people and a lot of buses. A couple of thousand won’t do to deal with the numbers in the square right now. But maybe they can get a stamped document from the government that officially declares each of them to be, in reality, 73 people. That might just do it.

So it might end up being serious down there today or tomorrow or the next day, I don’t know. But I have stopped joking about it anymore and think that those people down there could end up being instrumental in Ukranians declaring their real independence, an independence from the corruption that is a holdover from the Soviet system. That would make them heroes.

That is, if it happens.

Dangling chads in the Ukrainian election

I am sure that some people in the US will consider all of this to be the moral equivalent of dangling chads—I know Russians do; they have as much as said so about some of the problems in their own elections—but here are some of the “irregularities” that occurred in the Ukrainian election yesterday. Any person with even a smattering of any judgment will find these to be serious and on so different a level from the problems in US elections as to be from another universe. But don’t ask Jimmy Carter. He seems to operate in that other universe or, at least, as if he’s from another planet. Anyway, here they are:

--a polling station was closed in West Ukraine when a group of men tried to steal the ballot forms at gunpoint. A policeman was shot and killed. They didn’t get the ballots but it looks like the gunmen got their way anyway.

--in Western Ukraine, four ballot boxes were set on fire. There is no report on whether the ballots in the boxes survived. These boxes are large—they come up to the waist—and are capable of holding thousands of ballots.

--reports of roving busses taking Yanukovych supporters from precinct to precinct to vote multiple times. They are doing this with an official document that allows them to vote in precincts other than their own. It was reported that on one of these busses the passengers had voted for Yanukovych 73 times each. If the results of these hard working citizens are duplicated with other busloads, that means at least close to 3500 total Yanukovych votes per bus.

An interesting note about one of these busses was on the news last night. It was stopped by a group of students lying in the road all around it so it couldn’t move. (Shades of the US 1960s.) Since it wasn’t going anywhere, the passengers got out and a couple of them were interviewed by a TV reporter. When asked what they were doing, the man said they were out on a picnic. He might as well have said they were going out for a swim for all the sense a picnic made. There is snow around and it has been in the vicinity of 32 degrees F for a couple of days including yesterday. But this just suggests he has a powerful patron somewhere who can run the necessary interference he might require so there is no need to give a good reason even for the TV cameras. Just any reason will do. Arrogance.

--there are reports of people getting paid for their votes. The amounts I have heard range from 100 hryvna—the local currency—to $100. There are reports that students have been offered the 100 hryvna, or about $19, for their vote. (I guess students are hard up everywhere.) The $100 was offered to a woman who said she would give the man making the offer $100 for him to get away from her.

--there are reports of invisible ink pens being placed in polling booths. This was reported in the first election. The mark on the ballot disappears and the blank ballot is marked for Yanukovych.
--there were reports of beatings of Yuschenko supporters in Western Ukraine. Western Ukraine is a bastion of Yuschenko support and it is overwhelming. To stop people from going to the polls in Western Ukraine would be an effective Yuschenko vote suppression tactic. Not only does it prevent the guy who has been beaten from voting but the word gets out that you risk a beating by going to vote. A little work goes a long way.

In one case it was a man and his mother who were beaten. The mother was told that she was being beaten because of her son’s support for Yuschenko. The son was told that there would be more of that when their “pahon” comes, a word used in prison that my wife couldn’t translate all that well but suggests some sort of thug leader—a mafia don?-- there will be more of this and everything will change.

--threats of firings. Public employees have been threatened with being fired if they do not vote for Yanukovych. This was the same thing that happened in the first election but there are reports of this from all over.

--a threat of a denial of medical services. It has been reported that the head of one hospital threatened that medical services would be withheld from patrons who would not support Yanukovych. It is hard to know how who they voted for could be verified, but those who are sick might not want to take any chances.

--spiking of the ballot boxes. In one precinct, paint was poured into the ballot box to prevent the vote count.

--people on multiple lists. In eastern Ukraine, the center of Yanukovych’s support, the names of some people were included on multiple lists allowing them to vote in different precincts. They must have been miffed at having to use their own transportation.

--dead people on the voter rolls. This is a standard tactic that has happened even in the US. But the names of people who are dead have been found on the voter rolls here. This might be some sort of bureaucratic mistake because for a person to vote on behalf of the dead party they would need a forged internal passport. That would take more work than some of these other tactics, a lot more work. An internal passport would have to be concocted for each dead person. Not likely to happen.

--passing out pre-filled in ballots. This is an interesting one that is hard to understand. Unless they were voting for Yanukovych in the first place, a voter would simply ask for another if he saw that it had already been filled in. But the word is that they are being given to older people, people who might be easily confused about what they might or might not have done. This might work (I know, too many “mights”) but it seems to me that it would not be as effective as some of the others. The pool of potentially confused voters cannot be all that large and a significant number of pensioners are for Yanukovych anyway. The returns on this wouldn’t seem to be all that high. But maybe they figure every little bit counts?

--reports of money paid to bring in results. There are some reports that certain local officials in areas of teh country have been paid sums to bring in a certain result. (One sum reported was $16,000. This is a lot of money here. Multiply it by five and you get the purchasing power.)

This list is not exhaustive. I am posting only the ones that I remember from reports of the past couple of days.