Ukraine, the Nuland Leak, and the Amnesty Law

A discussion on Crosstalk with Peter Lavelle in which I appeared discussing the Nuland leak.

I found some of the comments made by Taras Kuzio frankly surreal but judging from what I read on Kyiv Post he is pretty mainstream in Ukrainian opposition terms.

Two weeks earlier in an interview on RT I said that though the Ukrainian opposition had appeared to reject the terms of the offered amnesty law and were demanding the unconditional release of arrested protesters their anxiety to get their people released meant that if the government stuck to its position the opposition might modify theirs. See my first reply to the interview below

The news today is that the administrative buildings including the Kiev city administration centre and most if not all of the administrative buildings in the provinces have now been freed in accordance with the provisions of the amnesty law. I believe that as required by that law there has also been or will be a withdrawal from Hrushchevsky Street.

This vindicates both the comment I made in my interview and an earlier comment made by Anatoly Karlin in response to an article by Ben Aris that the seizure of unguarded government and municipal buildings did not in itself mean that a revolution was underway or that the Yanukovitch government was about to fall.

As it turns out the seizure of the buildings was deeply unpopular (opinion polls show only 16-18% of Ukrainians supporting it and attacks on the police) and only took place in those areas where the opposition was already strong highlighting the extent of the division of the country. In addition it seems that only in a small number of regions in the far west where elected local councils already support the opposition was the opposition successful in setting up alternative bodies of power.

What this episode shows is that EuroMaidan is very far from being an unstoppable force and that contrary to most commentary the Ukraine (except possibly in some places in the far west) is not in a revolutionary mood. There is profound disillusion with the government and with Yanukovitch personally but repeated calls for a general strike have gone unheeded and when the government takes a firm line as it did over the seizure of the Justice Ministry building and the amnesty law it is the opposition that tends to back down. No one in the Ukraine appears to be very popular with no political leader being the first choice of more than 20% of Ukrainians. This is a conflict being fought out within a small and unpopular elite with the total number of those involved never numbering more than tens of thousands (as opposed to hundreds of thousands or millions) and with most of the country looking on from the sidelines. Unfortunately this also extremist and self interested outside players disproportionate leverage as we see with many of the people on EuroMaidan (see Mark Sleboda about this) and as we saw with the Nuland leak.


  1. The general view is correct, in my opinion, but I will make some quibbles:

    “No one in the Ukraine appears to be very popular with no political leader being the first choice of more than 20% of Ukrainians.”

    While this is correct, the overall numbers of people supporting various opposition candidates outnumber those who support pro-government candidates (Yanukovich plus Communist leader Symonenko). Polls for the past year, including the most recent one conducted in mid January, show Yanukovich doing much worse, and the Opposition much better, than prior to Yanukovich’s victory in 2010. And indeed the trend is against him – he is sinking. So while it is true that no single person is very popular in Ukraine, the opposition collectively is certainly more popular. This was not the case prior to the 2010 election.

    “This is a conflict being fought out within a small and unpopular elite with the total number of those involved never numbering more than tens of thousands (as opposed to hundreds of thousands or millions) and with most of the country looking on from the sidelines.

    1. You are not grossly wrong, but you minimize opposition support a bit here. While the number actively demonstrating on the streets or taking over government building is indeed rather small (10,000s) these people receive a lot of passive support in terms of donations, places to stay, etc. There are probably a few times that number of passive supporters – people who aren’t standing down Berkut or manning barricades, but bringing over hot soup, donating clothes, etc.

    2. In addition to passive supporters there are attitudes. Polls consistently show that about half the country approves of the protests. Due to regional differences well over half of locals in Kiev (not to mention western Ukraine, where support is almost universal) approve of the protesters and their goals. While the number of people actively protesting in Kiev may be small given the overall population of that city, those protesters are doing so with the approval of a healthy majority of the local population.


    So, while it is true that the number of active participants on both sides is small in a country of 44 million people, the sides are not equal in terms of local support and do not merely represent a handful of unpopular forces operating in a sea of indifference.

    • Dear AP,

      Viz the news from Kiev today, I have been thinking of you and worrying about your family, which I believe you have there. Are they are well?

      • Yes, they are well. One of them was on the Maidan…and is okay. Here is an example of a “rightwing radical”:

        A Soviet-era filmmaker burned on the Maidan as he took part in protests.

        I watched Crosstalk. Kuzio was closest to reality, the Serbian guy is rather clueless and neither in your nor in Kuzio’s league here.

        Recent events make sense if considered in the reality that the opposition is more popular than the government and that while the number of active opposition fighters is small (10,000s) their passive support within the population – particularly in central and western Ukraine including Kiev where they are fighting – is large. Those who believe otherwise – that it’s just some small fringe radicals or terrorists holding the nation hostage or something – have to resort to conspiracy theories, or beliefs about the government’s epic incompetence, to explain the situation.

  2. Thank you Alex. They are silent on facebook, and I will call tomorrow.

  3. aj the Ukrainian Maniac says:

    Ukraine will now descend into a real civil war.

    End result will be Yugloslavia-like situation, will several new countries emerging. Violence will escalate before the end.

    • It’s too soon to tell now. Possible scenarios are:

      1. Yanukovich capitulates and flees, or capitulates and stays, agreeing to new elections. There is an interim government and new national elections. Oligarchs are given some sort of deal to keep the eastern populations whom they control, acquiescent and quiet. Bloodshed is relatively small.

      2. Yanukovich calls in loyal troops and tanks from Crimea or Donetsk, perhaps gets Russian help.
      2a. He crushes the opposition in the country, sweeping westward and establishes a dictatorship after a bloody civil war. Decades of low-grade terrorism against the government in the west and center. Capital moved to Kharkiv?
      2b. He crushes opposition in Kiev, holding it as an occupied city, but lets the West go after a bloody civil war. Massive brain drain of Kiev’s
      middle class and educated people into Lviv and the West. Perhaps capital moved to Kharkiv.

      3. Yanukovich and his minions flee East. The eastern parts of Ukraine and Crimea become a huge “Transnistria” perhaps protected by a Russian army, while the center and west carry on peacefully and move westward politically. The West/Center’s ~25 million people will be easier to integrate than all of Ukraine’s 44 million would have been. There may be battles for Dnipropetrovsk and the South.

      I think the first one is most likely. Eastern populations are more passive and their elites know that the risk of a civil war will mean a risk of losing all of their assets – the financial ones abroad but also destruction of factories as occurred in Yugoslavia. Plus there is a strong international consensus against border changes.