Fistfights Break Out in Ukrainian Parliament Over Russian Fleet

 

Despite throwing eggs and smoke bombs, opposition members lose bid to block ratification

By Andrey Volkov

KYIV, Ukraine—Ukraine’s Parliament disintegrated into an all out brawl on Tuesday, as politicians threw smoke bombs, eggs, and fists at each other over the government’s attempt to ratify last week’s gas deal with Russia that the opposition calls “unconstitutional.”

Under the agreement, Russia can keep a naval fleet in Ukrainian waters in the Black Sea until 2047, 25 years beyond the original contract expiry date. In exchange, Ukraine will be able to buy cheaper gas from Russia, which the government says is essential to help the ailing economy.

Ukraine’s opposition calls the deal “anti-Ukrainian,” saying that pro-Russian President Yanukovych has sold the country’s sovereignty, allowing a Russian “occupation.”

As the parliamentary session started in Kyiv, opposition lawmakers threw eggs at House Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, whose was shielded by his aides with black umbrellas. The scene was total pandemonium as fistfights broke out in several corners and opposition set off smoke bombs attempting the vote from taking place.

About 40 minutes into the brawl, security barred the media from entering the hall telling reporters that “all is in order” without further explanation.

Despite the chaos, the agreement passed with 236 votes out of possible 450.

Russia’s Parliament likewise ratified the deal on Thursday, but without incident.

Outside the state building, angry opposition demonstrators gathered on one side of the street with more calm government supporters rallying on the other. Police were out in force, possibly outnumbering protesters from both sides combined.

In one small skirmish, a group of protesters tried to break through the chain of security guards to make their way into Parliament, but were stopped by police.

Many Ukrainians who saw the debacle on TV were disheartened by their politicians’ behavior.

“The words I want to say would be hard to translate and rather improper to put in a newspaper. In a democratic, civilized country these things are unacceptable. The ministers should be the best of the best, but the fistfighting in our Parliament just doesn’t fit. It looks like a circus,” commented Taras Bilyi, a masters student in law at University of Kharkiv.

In rare show of solidarity, all opposition party leaders joined the battle together, triggering a deeper split between Ukraine’s more Russian-leaning southeast and the west where nationalists have strong support.

“Today is a black page in the history of Ukraine’s independence,” former Primer Minister and Opposition Leader Yulia Tymoshenko told reporters.

Tymoshenko, who won over 12 million votes in last February’s election that she lost to Yanukovych, strongly condemned the current government and said she will travel across the country to rally people to demand new elections.

Since Yanukovych became president, the ties between Kyiv and Moscow have grown closer, with frequent meetings between top officials from both countries.

At the last meeting on April 26, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin came to Kyiv to discuss cooperation on aircraft manufacturing, shipbuilding, and nuclear power.

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