The embattled president of Ukraine and leaders of the opposition signed a political deal Friday aimed at ending a spiral of lethal violence with early elections and a reduction in presidential powers, but Russia declined to endorse the accord, and many protesters said nothing short of the president’s resignation would get them off the street.
In a further sign of President Viktor F Yanukovych’s diminished influence, the Ukrainian Parliament voted to allow the release
of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who has been imprisoned for more than two years. In a 310-to-54 vote, lawmakers
decriminalized the actions for which she was incarcerated.
It was not immediately clear when Tymoshenko might be released from a penitentiary in the eastern city of Kharkiv where she
has been serving her sentence. But she is still considered one of Yanukovych’s most potent adversaries. The vote aimed at releasing her came hours after word of the political deal reached between Yanukovych and the main opposition leaders.
Radoslaw Sikorski, the Polish foreign minister and part of a European team that has been pushing for a settlement, said a council
representing some protesters in Independence Square in Kiev, the focal point of months of protests, had endorsed the hard-fought
deal in a vote, with 34 voting in favour and only two against.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, one of three opposition members of Parliament who signed the accord with Yanukovych, acknowledged
that it might not go down well with protesters who want Yanukovych gone, but said they could be persuaded.
“We need to explain, and we need to not only explain, we need to act,” he said after marathon negotiations at the presidential
administration building mediated by European and Russian diplomats.
“People will never trust any kind of signature. People
will trust real action.” A bigger problem could be a refusal by Russia’s representative to join the Europeans in signing
the accord, which suggested Moscow might work to undo the deal through economic or other pressure.
“I am upset that the Russians are not signatories,” Yatsenyuk said. “I am really upset.” Previous settlements and truces have broken down several times, engulfed by wild bursts of violence on the streets of Kiev, the capital, and in other parts of
the country, particularly western regions where anti-government sentiment has always been strong. A statement from Yanukovych’s office, issued before the signing, said the talks had been “very difficult”.
The pressure for a political settlement has been intense, coming not only from foreign governments but also from a widespread fear among the population that this former Soviet republic of 46 million people was hurtling toward a possible civil war, particularly after frenzied violence on Thursday that the opposition says killed more than 70 protesters.