KIEV, Ukraine – A deal aimed at ending a lethal spiral of violence in Ukraine began to show serious strains late Friday just hours after it had been signed, with angry protesters shouting down opposition members of Parliament who negotiated the accord and a militant leader threatening armed attacks if President Viktor Yanukovych did not step down by morning.
Russia, which joined France, Germany and Poland in mediating the settlement, introduced a further element of ominous uncertainty by declining to sign the accord, which reduces the power of Yanukovych, a firm ally of Moscow. This stirred fears that Moscow might now work to undo the deal through economic and other pressures, as it did last year to subvert a proposed trade deal between Ukraine and the European Union.
The developments cast a shadow over a hard-fought accord that mandates early presidential elections by December, a swift return to a 2004 constitution that sharply limited the president’s powers and the establishment within 10 days of a “government of national trust.” In a series of votes that followed the accord and reflected parliament’s determination to make the settlement work, lawmakers moved to free Yanukovych’s imprisoned rival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, grant blanket amnesty to all anti-government protesters and provide financial aid to the hundreds of wounded and families of the dead.
Aside from a series of loud explosions Friday night and angry chants in the protest encampment, Kiev was generally quiet. And the authorities, although previously divided about over how to handle the crisis, seemed eager to avoid more confrontations. By late in the afternoon, all police had vacated the government district of the capital, leaving behind burned military trucks, mattresses and heaps of garbage at the positions they had occupied for months.
On Independence Square, the focal point of the protest movement, however, the mood was one of deep anger and determination, not triumph.
“Get out criminal! Death to the criminal!” the crowd chanted, reaffirming what, after a week of bloody violence, has become a non-negotiable demand for many protesters: the immediate departure of Yanukovych.
When Vitali Klitschko, one of the three opposition leaders who signed the deal, spoke in its defense, people screamed “shame!” A coffin was then hauled on the stage to remind him of the more than 70 people who had died during violence Thursday, the most lethal day of political mayhem in Ukraine since independence from the Soviet Union more than 22 years ago.
The violence escalated the urgency of the crisis, which began with the protests in late November after a decision by Yanukovych to spurn a trade and political deal with the European Union and tilt his nation toward Russia instead.
It was difficult to know how much of the fury voiced Friday night in Independence Square was fiery bravado, a final cry of anger before the three-month-long protest movement winds down or the harbinger of yet more and possibly worse violence to come.
Vividly clear, however, was the wide gulf that had opened up between the opposition’s political leadership and a street movement that has radicalized and slipped far from the already tenuous control of politicians.
Klitschko was interrupted by an angry radical who did not give his name but said he was the leader of a group of fighters, known as “a hundred.”
“We gave chances to politicians to become future ministers, presidents, but they don’t want to fulfill one condition – that the criminal go away!” he said, vowing to lead an armed attack if Yanukovych had not announced his resignation by 10 a.m. local time today. The crowd shouted: “Yes! Yes!”
Russia’s decision to distance itself from the accord leaves in place one of the primary sources of tension driving a Ukrainian crisis that is not only a domestic political battle but a geopolitical struggle between Russia and the West.