One step further: Ukraine’s discredited President must call a general election

The country's President cannot redeem himself merely by eschewing tyranny

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It is too soon for undue optimism, but the signs of progress in Ukraine are welcome nonetheless. As protests against his preference for Russia over Europe escalated, President Viktor Yanukovych faced two alternatives: clamp down or compromise. Last week, he appeared to be choosing the former. Now there seems at least a chance that sense – and order – may prevail.

Government and opposition negotiators have been locked in emergency talks since the weekend, and a comprehensive deal is as far away as ever. But there was some movement yesterday. The cabinet, including Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, all resigned, to remain in post only pending the formation of a new government; MPs in Kiev’s Verkhovna Rada voted by 361-to-2 to repeal the draconian anti-protest laws, rushed through last week, that played no small part in the recent violence; and Mr Yanukovych offered an amnesty to protesters in return for a retreat from government buildings.

All are steps forward. But the Ukrainian President cannot redeem himself merely by eschewing tyranny. Of course he must compromise with the opposition and forge a political solution to the crisis. Ultimately, however, he must also call an election. Endemic corruption, economic stagnation and the botched withdrawal from talks with Brussels that sparked the worst unrest since the 1991 Orange Revolution render his position otherwise untenable.

There is a long way to go, then, notwithstanding the putative reshuffle and relative quiet on Ukraine’s streets. Nor does a solution to the domestic crisis come without strings. Indeed, there were already hints yesterday that Russia’s desperately needed $20bn bailout might be withdrawn if the composition of a new government in Kiev is unpalatable.

Baroness Ashton, Europe’s foreign policy chief, was due to arrive in Ukraine yesterday, 48 hours earlier than originally planned. She must tread carefully. Much of Ukraine still has close economic and cultural links with Russia. If we are to help resolve the crisis, we must not inflame it further by trying to make Kiev choose. We can, however, try to persuade Mr Yanukovych to go one step further and call an election.

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