UK Parliamentarians happy to be misled


The British Government has seriously misled both Houses of Parliament about the removal of Ukraine’s elected President from power on 22 February 2014, giving the impression that it was carried out in accordance with the Ukranian constitution in response to popular pressure, when it obviously wasn’t.


There are 650 MPs in the House of Commons and around 750 peers in the House of Lords.  A considerable number of these 1,400 or so parliamentarians must know that they were misled, not least because Peter Oborne wrote about it in the Telegraph on 12 March [1].  And, with the internet links he provided, they could have quickly confirmed to their own satisfaction that they had been misled, if they had any doubts about the matter.


One must conclude that they were happy to be misled because, to the best of my knowledge, only one out of these 1400 or so parliamentarians has queried the matter at the time of writing.  He was Independent Labour peer, Lord Stoddart, who remains an active member of the House of Lords at the age of almost 88.   He put down the following question for written answer in the Lords:


To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they took to satisfy themselves that the removal from office of President Yanukovych was carried out in accordance with Article 111 of the Ukranian Constitution.” [2]


Foreign Office Minister, Baroness Warsi, replied as follows on 20 March:

“The Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) is elected to represent the Ukrainian people. Those people have spoken for a better, more prosperous future, free from corruption. Clearly, former President Yanukovych lost the confidence of the Rada and Ukrainian people.

“Mr Yanukovych abandoned his office and the country before fulfilling his commitments under the 21 February agreement. The former-President’s departure meant that parliament had to act. The 21 February agreement provided for a return to the 2004 Constitution. On 22 February the Rada voted to restore the 2004 constitution and to impeach the former President. The interim government, which was approved by an overwhelming majority in a free vote in the Rada, including representatives of Mr Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions, has: restored the 2004 Constitution; begun the process of constitutional reform; and scheduled Presidential elections.

“We welcome the swift steps to appoint a new government of national unity which can rule Ukraine until Presidential elections in May.”


Reply doesn’t answer question


This reply doesn’t make any attempt to answer Lord Stoddart’s question, understandably so, since an answer that had even a passing resemblance to the truth would have to admit that the Rada didn’t follow the impeachment procedure in Article 111 of the Ukranian constitution [3] – and that the Government had misled Parliament in giving the impression that it did.  It follows from this that the new regime in Kiev, which the Government has unequivocally supported from the outset, is wholly illegitimate.


Had this unconstitutional regime change taken place elsewhere in the world, it is easy to imagine the UK taking the lead at the UN in demanding that that sanctions be applied to its illegitimate replacement and that the ousted head of state be reinstated.  But, in this instance, it has openly backed a violent putsch against a democratically-elected government it didn’t happen to like.



Hollow protestations


Another point: the Government has persistently criticised the referendum in Crimea on 16 March on the grounds that it breached the Ukranian constitution.  For example, on 18 March, William Hague told the House of Commons:


“The referendum was clearly illegal under the Ukrainian constitution, which states that the Autonomous Republic of Crimea is an integral constituent part of Ukraine, that it can resolve issues related to its authority only within the provisions of the constitution, and that only the Ukrainian Parliament has the right to call such referendums.” [4]


That is factually correct.  But the Government’s protestations that the constitution was breached by holding the Crimean referendum ring rather hollow when it remains silent about the removal from office of a democratically elected president by unconstitutional means – which is another reason why the Government must pretend that the proper constitutional procedure was followed on 22 February.



Outright lie


Baroness Warsi’s reply contains the outright lie that “on 22 February the Rada voted … to impeach the former President”.  It didn’t – the resolution passed by the Rada on 22 February, which purported to remove the President from power, doesn’t mention impeachment or Article 111 of the constitution.


The resolution titled “On self-withdrawal of the President of Ukraine from performing his constitutional duties and setting early elections of the President of Ukraine pretends that the President had ceased performing his presidential duties of his volition [5].  In other words, although he may not have formally resigned from the presidency, he had resigned in practice by walking off the job voluntarily, which made it necessary for the Rada to set a date for the election of a replacement. 


This fairytale, which is repeated in Baroness Warsi’s reply, has been contradicted by a senior figure in the new regime, the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, Andriy Parubiy, who was a leader of the paramilitary forces in Independence Square in Kiev during the preceding months.  In an interview with Die Welt on 18 March [6], Parubiy boasted:


“The Russians miscalculated.  They did not realise that we would suddenly be able to hound Yanukovych out of office in a matter of days.”


That gives the lie to the assertion in Rada resolution (repeated by Baroness Warsi) that the President was guilty of “self-withdrawal … from performing his constitutional duties”.



21 February agreement


The background to these developments was the 21 February agreement for temporary all-party arrangements for governing Ukraine.


This agreement [7], brokered by the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland on behalf of the EU, provided for the transfer within 48 hours of substantial presidential powers to the Ukranian parliament by reinstating the 2004 Constitution and for the creation within 10 days of a “national unity government”.  This was to remain in place until a presidential election was held by December 2014 at the latest.


In other words, the President agreed to surrender a large measure of his powers to the opposition right away and to bring forward the presidential election scheduled for February 2015 by a few months, an election which was unlikely to lead to his re-election if he stood. 


(For details of the agreement, see my article EU disavowal of 21 February agreement responsible for standoff between the West & Russia [8]).


The agreement was signed by the leaders of the three main opposition parties, Arseniy Yatsenyuk (Fatherland), Vitali Klitschko (UDAR) and Oleh Tyahnybok (Freedom) and by the President himself.   And it was supported by the EU and the US – and by Russia.



Why wasn’t the agreement implemented?


Why wasn’t the agreement implemented?   Baroness Warsi’s reply gives the impression that it was the president’s fault – she says that he “abandoned his office and the country before fulfilling his commitments under the 21 February agreement”.  This is not true – there is little doubt that the President would have fulfilled his commitments had he been in a position to do so.  In reality, the agreement wasn’t implemented because it was unacceptable to the occupants of Independence Square, who demanded that the President resign immediately and had sufficient muscle to unseat him when he didn’t.


Here’s an extract from an RT report of 21 February on the reception for the deal in Independence Square:


“Opposition leader and head of the UDAR party Vitaly Klitschko was booed while speaking on stage at Maidan Square about the newly signed deal. Klitschko was booed while attempting to speak during a memorial service for a protester killed during recent clashes.


“He was then interrupted by a protester who got on stage and declared: ‘If tomorrow by 10 am you don’t come and tell us that Yanukovych has resigned, we will put up a storm with weapons, I swear.’


“Klitschko apologized to protesters who were upset that he shook Yanukovych’s hand.


“Later, the leader of far-right group Right Sector, Dmitri Yarosh, took to the stage, telling protesters that the deal reached between the president and the opposition is not acceptable.  Yarosh said that his group will not be putting down their arms until Yanukovych resigns: ‘The Right Sector will not lay down its arms. The Right Sector will not remove the blockade of one of the government buildings until our most important requirement is fulfilled – the resignation of Yanukovych.’ ” [9]


(The New York Times report Ukraine Has Deal [10] has a similar account).


The agreement stated that “both parties will undertake serious efforts for the normalisation of life in the cities and villages by withdrawing from administrative and public buildings and unblocking streets, city parks and squares”.  In compliance with this, Yanukovych ordered police to leave the government district of Kiev shortly after the agreement was signed.  The Guardian reported:


“In Kiev, the lines of riot police that have stood at key points across the capital disappeared on Saturday [22 February] morning, leaving the city in the hands of the protesters.” [11]


Needless to say, the opposition paramilitary forces that had fought the police for months in Independence Square and occupied public buildings in the centre of Kiev did not withdraw.  On the contrary, they proceeded to occupy the presidential office and the parliament building, making it impossible for the president, who had left Kiev for Kharkov, to return and function as president.  And the paramilitaries were then in a position to dictate to the Rada, in so far as it was necessary, to provide a constitutional veneer to the ousting of the President by passing the resolution of 22 February pretending that he had walked off the job voluntarily.


(President Putin advised Yanukovych against withdrawing the police from the capital.  Here’s what he told a press conference on 4 March [12]:


“[Yanukovych] called me on the phone and I told him not to do it. I said, ‘You will have anarchy, you will have chaos in the capital. Think about the people.’ But he did it anyway. And as soon as he did it, his office was seized, and that of the government, and the chaos I had warned him about and which continues to this day, erupted.”)



Widespread support for ousting of President?


In her reply to Lord Stoddart, Baroness Warsi said:


“The interim government, which was approved by an overwhelming majority in a free vote in the Rada, including representatives of Mr Yanukovych’s Party of the Regions.”


The Government has repeatedly emphasised that Rada members from the President’s party, the Party of the Regions, voted with the opposition on February 22 and have done so since.  The name of the game here is to give the impression that the new regime, and its subsequent actions, has widespread support in the Rada and, by implication, in Ukraine as a whole.


It is certainly true that support for the President from his party leaked away.  It has been suggested that this was triggered by the US threatening to apply sanctions to the assets in the West of president’s chief oligarch backer, Rinat Akhmetov, who personally sponsored around 40 Rada members of the party [13].


Be that as it may, it is fairly clear that, once the opposition paramilitary forces took over the parliament buildings on 22 February, the intimidation against supporters of the President was such that Rada members of the President’s party had two options – either vote with the opposition or flee.  Dissent was not allowed from then on.


One thing is certain: when Rada members from the President’s party voted with the opposition, it wasn’t because the people who elected them were demanding that they do so.


The end result is that, instead of a broadly based coalition government as proposed in the 21 February agreement, which had a chance of keeping Ukraine together, Ukraine has a government which has no representation from the Russian oriented section of the population in the east and southeast of the country.  No wonder there is discontent about the new regime there.


Baroness Warsi’s reply to Lord Stoddart ends by welcoming “the swift steps to appoint a new government of national unity”.  That is highly misleading: no steps have been taken to create a “government of national unity” as envisaged in the 21 February agreement.



Physical intimidation of supporters of the president


Physical intimidation of supporters of the President didn’t begin or end on 22 February.  The Party of the Regions had its headquarters attacked by paramilitaries and set on fire on 18 February (see BBC report [14]).  And this was before the police were withdrawn from the centre of Kiev.  Other buildings used by the Party of the Regions around the country have also been trashed.


The Communist Party (which had 32 out of 450 seats in the Rada) has also suffered because of its support for the President.  Party headquarters in Kiev was attacked on 23 February. On 25 February, a house belonging to its leader, Pyotr Simonenko, was burnt down [15].  According to the Daily Mail, around a hundred statues of Lenin across Ukraine were pulled down by the opposition [16]


There have been frequent calls from the opposition for both the Party of the Regions and the Communist Party to be banned and bills to do so were proposed in the Rada (see [17] and [18]), but were not passed. 


On 23 February, the Rada approved a Bill to abolish the 2012 language law, which allowed Ukraine’s regions to use official languages in addition to Ukrainian if they were spoken by over 10% of the local population [19].  Thirteen out of Ukraine’s 27 regions, primarily in eastern Ukraine, adopted Russian as a second official language as a result.  Two western regions introduced Romanian and Hungarian as official languages.  Under pressure from the EU, the Acting President didn’t sign the Bill, so the 2012 language law remains in place.


Judging from the treatment meted out to the leader of the Communist Party, Pyotr Simonenko, on 8 April, the opposition’s intolerance of dissent is still operating in the Rada.  When he pointed out that those who were occupying state buildings in the east were merely following the example set by the opposition in Kiev and other parts of the country, he was physically removed from the podium by opposition members (see RT report and video [20]).


Also, Presidential candidates have been assaulted in the street.  For example, according to Euronews, on 15 April, Oleg Tsarev, who was opposed to Ukraine signing the EU Association Agreement, was attacked after giving a TV interview, dragged from an ambulance by members of Right Sector and taken to the headquarters of the state security service [21].



What Baroness Warsi should have said


Baroness Warsi’s reply to Lord Stoddart should have been along the following lines:


“Article 111 of the Ukranian Constitution sets outs the procedure that the Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) must follow in order to impeach a president and remove him from office.


“This procedure obliges the Rada to establish a special investigatory commission to formulate charges against the president, seek evidence to justify the charges and come to conclusions about the president’s guilt for the Rada to consider.


“To find the president guilty, at least two-thirds of Rada members must assent.  Prior to a final vote to remove the president from power, the Constitutional Court of Ukraine must review the case and certify that due process has been followed, and the Supreme Court of Ukraine must certify that the acts of which the President is accused are worthy of impeachment. In the final vote to remove the president from power, at least three-quarters of Rada members must assent.


“Regrettably the Rada didn’t follow this procedure.  No investigatory commission was established and the Courts were not involved.  On 22 February, the Rada simply passed a resolution removing President Yanukovych from office and this did not receive the support of three-quarters of Rada members.


“President Yanukovych’s removal from power was illegal under the Ukranian Constitution and that the new regime in Kiev is wholly illegitimate.


“President Yanukovych had lost much of the popular support that he had at the time of his election in 2010, when he received nearly 50% of the popular vote in what was widely regarded as a free and fair electoral process.  But the proper way to remove an unpopular president in a democracy is to unelect him by voting against him in the presidential election at the end of his term, if he is a candidate.”



Note on Lord Stoddart

Lord Stoddart was a Labour MP, who was first elected to the House of Commons in 1970 and became a Labour life peer in 1983, where he was a frontbench spokesman on energy from 1983 to 1988.  He was expelled from the Labour Party in 2002 for backing a Socialist Alliance candidate in the 2001 general election, an action he took because he opposed the parachuting of Shaun Woodward, a defector from the Conservative Party, into the safe Labour seat of St Helens South.  He now describes himself as Independent Labour and remains an active member of the House of Lords at the age of almost 88.  He is, and always has been, opposed to the UK’s membership of the EU in its various forms.



David Morrison

18 April 2014