Gunfire continued to ring out in Kiev’s central Independence Square Friday when Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych agreed to activists’ demands and an international-brokered deal to hold early elections and establish a coalition government.
This is Yanukovych’s second attempt this week at quelling the ongoing deadly violence that killed dozens in “EuroMaidan” protest camps in the capital city, including some members of the security forces. A reported cease fire Wednesday lasted only a few hours before fighting began again.
In a statement released early Friday, the president lamented “these tragic days, when Ukraine suffered such heavy losses, when people died both sides of the conflict.”
“I consider it my duty to the bright memory of the deceased to declare that there is nothing more important than human life,” he said. “I declare that I initiate early presidential elections.”
Yanukovych said he hopes this will restore peace and avoid more victims of the confrontation. He reached this settlement following negotiations with Russia, as well as the European Union, which on Thursday levied sanctions against the Eastern European nation.
But elections do not guarantee an end to the crisis, as it's not clear whether opposition groups will be satisfied with the outcome. The Ukrainian protesters, named for their encampment in the Maidan Square, have staunchly called for Yanukovych to step down from power entirely, and say they will not vacate their encampments until that time.
The news came hours after Yanukovych spoke with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who warned the Ukrainian president against the continued use of government troops against his own people. Biden told the president to pull back these forces, including police, snipers, military, paramilitary and irregular forces.
The Defense Department is not currently planning any direct operations within Ukraine, including the potential evacuation of Americans, according to Pentagon spokesman Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby.
Secretary of State John Kerry issued a blistering statement late Thursday, the latest in a series ratcheting up its rhetoric against the government for abusing its citizenry.
“It is with anger and anguish that we have watched renewed violence on the streets of [Kiev] today destroy more lives and rip apart more families,” he said. “The people of Ukraine deserve far better than senseless death and suffering on the streets of one of Europe’s great cities.”
Kerry cited the State Department’s travel ban against more than 20 Ukrainian officials the U.S. considers to be responsible for the violence, adding international organizations will continue to hold these people accountable.
To Yanukovych he said, “There is no time for brinkmanship or gamesmanship.”