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In November, the now ousted Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovych balked on a trade agreement with the European Union after he was strong-armed by Russian President Vladimir Putin into instead accepting a $15 billion bailout and cheaper natural gas badly needed for the flailing economy.
Then the protests began. And now Yanukovych is out—fleeing the capital Kiev on Saturday after an interim deal with opposition leaders signed on Friday fell through. The president’s ouster came after one of the deadliest weeks in decades for Ukraine: At least 77 were killed in clashes with police, who allegedly used snipers and machine guns to suppress the anti-government protestors in Independence Square.
Now a coalition of opposition leaders have coalesced the powers of the government into the new parliament speaker, Oleksandr Turchynov, who found the president unable to fulfill his duties and has rightly repealed most of the strict “anti-protest” laws that limited freedom of speech, press, and assembly. His close ally, the jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, was also freed on Saturday.
But now should not be the time for retribution. The election, set for May 25, must be carried out fairly, freely, and expeditiously. The most important objective for the transitional government ought to maintaining the country’s unity.
Ukraine is already a divided country. Western Ukraine, which speaks the official language of Ukrainian, is more pro-European, and strongly supported Tymoshenko in the 2010 elections. Eastern Ukraine is heavily Russian speaking and overwhelmingly voted for the pro-Russian Yanukovych.
That fragile union is under great strain: Yanukovych last gave an interview in the eastern city of Kharkiv, where he denounced the latest developments as “vandalism, banditism, and a coup d’état” and tried rallying his supporters against the opposition government.
The best way for the Turchynov government to resist these machinations is to simply focus on restoring fair democratic rule to a notoriously corruption-plagued country. Protestors seized a lavish presidential palace over the weekend, replete with luxuries like a private zoo and private golf course. Yanukovych’s son rose from a simple dentist to one of the richest men in the country during his father’s tenure in office.
The country’s endemic corruption remains the greatest barrier for a bailout package prepared by the International Monetary Fund. Accepting the long-delayed loan would both help restore the failing economy and move Ukraine out of the geopolitical intimidation of Russia.
But a stable economy requires a stable government—one that can only be achieved by a speedy return to democratic rule.
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