At the end of a day of brutal street fighting in Kiev, the political situation in the Ukraine Thursday night is balanced on a knife’s edge. The Supreme Rada (Parliament), meeting with a bare quorum and with most of the majority Party of Regions members absent, passed a resolution demanding that law enforcement agencies withdraw their forces to barracks, cease all gunfire, and halt the “anti-terrorist operation” announced Wednesday after the seizure of government buildings and arsenals by insurgents in several cities. The Rada session was chaired by Vice-Speaker Ruslan Koshulinsky from the neo-Nazi Svoboda Party, and Svoboda head Oleh Tyahnybok announced the vote to reporters outside the chamber.
The “truce” announced late the night before lasted barely a few hours, if that. Explosions sounded in Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) during the night, amid reports of fresh forces arriving from western Ukraine. By around 5:00 a.m., field commanders Dmytro Yarosh of Right Sector and self-appointed Maidan Defense Forces head Andriy Parubiy had announced via Facebook, that they would recognize the truce and stop the bloodshed only if the Supreme Rada stripped President Victor Yanukovych of his “dictatorial powers” and if the Internal Affairs (MVD) forces implemented a ceasefire. Around the same time, gunfire against the MVD’s Berkut police came from behind the columns of the Kiev Academy of Music building, seized by guerrillas on Wednesday. Initial reports, even in the pro-opposition paper Kievskaya Pravda, said that the guerrillas started the new action: “Protesters went on the offensive and drove Berkut police forces back to the government quarter. Snipers are firing in the Maidan, with 20 policemen wounded.”
According to a statement by Minister of Internal Affairs Vitali Zakharchenko later in the day, MVD officers were then authorized to use firearms. In the ensuing gun battle, upwards of 70 people were killed. Many media in the West are reporting this entire sequence of events solely as “Ukrainian regime fires on protesters.”
During the day, the visiting foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Poland shuttled between President Yanukovych and the Parliamentary opposition leaders Arseni Yatsenyuk (Batkivshchyna), Vitali Klitschko (Udar), and Tyahnybok. At one point, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced that Yanukovych had agreed to early Presidential and Parliamentary elections, but Klitschko subsequently said no such “road map” was yet in place.
Simultaneously, the opposition parties and a small number of Party of Regions deputies convened an emergency session of the Rada. During the day, the Mayor of Kiev and several PoR MPs announced they were leaving Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. Rumors that PoR MPs and government officials were fleeing Ukraine on private planes remained unconfirmed, but most of the PoR caucus was absent from the Rada chamber, including Speaker Volodymyr Rybak. With 239 deputies voting (a quorum is 227), the above-mentioned resolution was passed with 236 votes, including 34 from party of Regions MPs. In a second vote, 229 favored keeping the Rada in session until the crisis is resolved.
Eyewitnesses in Kiev report mammoth traffic jams in the city, with the subway only partly restored to operation and people leaving their places of work and even their homes to get away from the city center. There is panic-buying of food and other necessities. In the Maidan, live web-TV streams during this night show priests leading mourning for the dead, followed by political speakers and field commanders whipping up the emotional crowd for further confrontations if the Rada’s and their own demands are not met.
According to the Kremlin, Yanukovych asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to send an emissary “to take part in the negotiation process with the opposition, as an intermediary.” This evening the Kremlin announced that Putin was sending Vladimir Lukin, a former diplomat and Yabloko party co-founder, who just retired as Russia’s human rights ombudsman. Putin spoke by phone tonight with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron.