In Ukraine, objections from Maidan slow naming of new cabinet

February 25

The interim leaders of Ukraine stepped on the brakes Tuesday as they faced resistance from street protesters and some members of parliament who objected that they were moving too fast in forming a new cabinet just three days after the old regime collapsed.

New ministers for every department were supposed to be in place by the end of the day. But strenuous protests from the Maidan — the city’s main square, still thickly populated with demonstrators — about a lack of input forced the leaders of parliament to wait at least until Thursday, despite European worries that Ukraine needs to move quickly to get its financial house in order.

Members of the parliament, or Verkhovna Rada, also complained that the speaker, Oleksandr Turchynov, was pushing bills through with little regard for debate or transparency, much as his predecessor had railroaded a package of harshly repressive laws through the parliament in January. That legislation set off violent clashes between hard-line protesters and police.

But the slowdown also comes as Ukraine remains deeply unsettled by the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovych as president. In Kharkiv, a large eastern city where hostility to the Maidan was strong, tensions ran high as rival crowds faced off, with no one seemingly in charge. In the Crimea, with a strongly pro-Russian population, a Russian flag was raised on a major government building and four Russian legislators met with local officials.

Officials in Moscow continued Tuesday to express displeasure with events in Ukraine, if not as harshly as the day before. One bill that flew through the Rada on Monday downgraded the status of Russian as an official language, which struck critics as an unnecessary and incendiary move and which opened Ukraine’s new authorities to stinging criticism from their larger neighbor.

Ukraine's parliament voted to delay the formation of a new national government until Thursday, as mourners flooded Independence Square with flowers for killed protesters. (Reuters)

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, tweeted Tuesday, “We want to curtail the influence of radicals and nationalists who are trying to play first fiddle in Ukraine.”

The turn of events in Ukraine has been a major setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who wants to draw Ukraine into a new Eurasian Economic Union. Protesters on the Maidan worry that Russia still hopes to recoup its losses.

“There are an awful lot of bandits here,” said Viktoria Ignatova, “and Putin wants to get them back into power.”

Moscow argues that the Ukrainian protests have been taken over by extremists. But on the Maidan, there were strong fears that the revolution was being sold out.

Activists were unhappy with the roster of veteran politicians being mentioned for top posts in a new government. And one very familiar face was missing Tuesday: A giant poster with a portrait of Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister and arch-foe of Yanukovych, had been taken down.

Her release from prison Saturday had turned her into a player again instead of a cause, and she is no longer a uniting factor among what until a few days ago was the opposition. In any case, her party said she will go to Germany for medical treatment.

“We need totally new people,” said Yaroslav Kazmyrchuk, 70, who described himself as a pensioner and a revolutionary.

A Maidan council has been established by a group of prominent activists to consult on ministerial choices. It wants to veto any candidate who is rich, who worked for Yanukovych or who was involved in human rights abuses.

The Maidan had a full crowd Tuesday as Kievans laid flowers at shrines to the dead built from stacked paving stones and snapped photos of the barricades of rubble that had held back the police. Kazmyrchuk said the camp protest would continue until it was clear that all the “bandits” would be removed from power.

There was no conclusive word Tuesday on the whereabouts of Yanukovych, a day after the authorities here announced a nationwide manhunt for him on murder charges.

But a top aide, Andriy Kluyev, who was thought to have been with Yanukovych, was reported by his press secretary to have been shot and wounded. Where and when were not clear.

While the Rada was putting off a vote on a new government, Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top foreign policy official, met with the interim leaders and asked for a financial reform plan, which would open the way to E.U. loans.

Ukraine’s economy is in dire shape, and the new authorities said they have found the government’s coffers almost bare.

In Kharkiv, where nationalists seized the local government building over the weekend, an opposing crowd gathered around a huge statue of Lenin across the main square to protect it from assault.

The nationalists wear the red armbands of the right-wing Pravy Sektor movement that was the militant backbone of the Maidan protests. Those defending the Lenin statue flew the black and orange Saint George flag commemorating the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II.

Neither Mikhail Dobkin, the governor of the region, who said he would run in the presidential election in May, nor his deputy, Valentin Dulub, has been seen since the weekend.

Still, local government employees continue to show up for work, picking their way through the crowds roaming the ground floor of the building on their way to their offices.

All over Ukraine, in fact, the wheels kept turning. The Daily Bulletin of the Council of Ministers was published as usual Tuesday, even if there aren’t any government ministers at the moment. It contained a few nods to the crisis but also announced the construction of 743 locomotives last month, a new transport agreement with Turkey, a plan to build a bridge across the Dnieper River next year and a 5.3 percent increase in natural gas extraction.

There’s a vast bureaucracy in Ukraine, and it would take more than the overthrow of a president to bring it to a halt.

Isabel Gorst contributed to this report from Kharkiv.

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