- Describes Yanukovich as a flabby leader whose willingness to appease his opponents demoralized his police
- Means it's not very believable he would order a massacre, or that the police would carry it out for him
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
Last Sunday The New York Times had an in-depth article on the overthrow of Yanukovich in Ukraine.
That is if you can call in-depth an article that is full of omissions. Which you can't. So let's just say it was a very LONG article.
We should still be thankful for it, however, because it reminded us of the real Yanukovich.
This was a guy who took it upon himself to negotiate an association treaty with the EU and came within inches of signing it.
Yet in the western Maidan narrative he is cast as a pro-Russian authoritarian hardliner who would rather send out police to pile up bodies of demonstrators than let Ukrainians have democracy.
In reality Yanukovich was a centrist who approximated the policies of pro-western Ukraine politicians to the point where he had lost the active support of eastern Ukraine. Moreover during the Maidan standoff he proved himself an indecisive and timid leader.
He amnestied street-fighting radicals and let them keep control of public spaces in the capital for far longer than would be the case in any western or eastern country. Moreover he bent backward to appease the opposition.
In late January he offered to take them into a new national unity government and name a PM from their ranks. It was a sweet deal they would have probably taken, but for fear of running afoul of the protest movement themselves.
Despite the rebuke Yanukovich still accepted the resignation of his PM Azarov – a reliable loyalist hated by the opposition.
A little earlier in the month his government passed a set of laws it believed would give it the power it needed to deal with the situation, but then just as quickly backed away from them.
This was typical Yanukovich. Hapless, in over his head, and wishing problems would just go away so he wouldn't need to deal with them.
And that is precisely the Yanukovich we meet in the New York Times piece:
Ashen-faced after a sleepless night of marathon negotiations, Viktor F. Yanukovych hesitated, shaking his pen above the text placed before him in the chandeliered hall.
Then, under the unsmiling gaze of European diplomats and his political enemies, the beleaguered Ukrainian president scrawled his signature, sealing a deal that he believed would keep him in power, at least for a few more months.
The Times does another thing. It explains Yanukovich was so timid it was having a demoralizing effect on his police. By 21st February, a day after he went so far as to agree to gradually hand over power, his policemen grew so frustrated they abandoned him in disgust:
The security officers said in interviews that they were alarmed by language in the truce deal that called for an investigation of the killing of protesters.
They feared that a desperate Mr. Yanukovych was ready to abandon the very people who had protected him, particularly those in the lower ranks who had borne the brunt of the street battles.
The Times covers just the last two days of Yanukovich's reign, but it's safe to say police doubt built up gradually. 21st February was certainly not the first time Yanukovich attempted to appease his enemies at the expense of his police.
During the first half of February Maidan protesters arrested by the police were released and amnestied on Yanukovich orders in return for protesters vacating occupied government buildings and lifting some of their barricades.
Literally just days later, on February 18th violent clashes broke out in which 8 riot police and some 14 protesters were killed.* Over a hundred policemen were injured. Additionally, 2 other policemen were killed in an attack on traffic police unit elsewhere in the city. (Yanukovich responded by ordering national mourning for slain policemen and street-fighting protesters alike.)
Indeed, as The Times itself reports, all along police resented Yanukovich for not having been sent in to disperse the protesters encampments early on, when they believed it would have still been relatively easy.
All in all the NYT shows Yanukovich on the evening of February 21th was a flabby, indecisive leader who did not comprehend the seriousness of the situation. Left unstated by the NYT is that that was the picture of Yanukovich throughout the standoff.
The idea that on the February 20th this timid and wavering man woke up, rang his police chief and ordered himself a radical escalation of the standoff in the form of a mass slaughter of protesters is preposterous. It is at odds with everything about Yanukovich's record during the crisis.
It is also not believable his demoralized police would carry out such an order from him. It was a force thoroughly discouraged with what it saw as having been held back, undermined and under-supported.
It is simply not very likely the very same policemen who the NYT shows abandoned Yanukovich to his fate on February 21st would just a day earlier be willing to murder dozens and dozens of civilian protesters for him in cold blood.
That leaves the possibility police snipers did it on their own as vengeance for the losses suffered on the 18th and the 20th. However, this is not much more believable either.
The Times piece makes it clear policemen were actually highly conscious of the possibility they would be hung out to dry by Yanukovich and face judicial charges for their conduct. Going rogue would make that all the more certain.
Also let us be very clear. Nobody on the western and pro-western side ever tried to argue that is how the massacre went down. The story has always been that Yanukovich himself was responsible.
In writing the report the NYT has its own agenda. It is trying to argue Yanukovich was "not so much overthrown as cast adrift by his own allies" due to the "panic in government ranks created by Mr. Yanukovych’s own efforts to make peace".
We get it. NYT wants us to know Yanukovich toppling was immaculate. It wasn't so much that he fled the capital because he had good reason to fear for his safety, it is just that his regime simply dissipated into thin air due to his own flabbiness.
However, isn't it the case that leaders who in their "efforts to make peace" go so far as to cause their allies' desertion generally do not order the mass murder of their enemies?
*Based on reporting by BBC's Daniel Sandford fighting started that day with a successful protester advance against the parliament in the morning. It was followed by a police counter-attack later in the day .
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
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