Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich has signed off on a series of tough bills against public protests that mirror anti-opposition legislation enacted in Russia, toward which Ukraine has tilted after spurning alliance with the European Union.
The bills, rushed through Parliament on Thursday, introduce fines, arrests and prison terms for those who blockade and occupy public buildings, take part in unauthorised protests, disseminate “extremist” or “slanderous” materials, and hinder movement on streets and in public venues.
In signing the bills Mr. Yanukovich ignored protests from Western leaders.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry denounced the laws as “undemocratic” and “taking from the people of Ukraine their choice,” while E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was “deeply concerned.”
By contrast, the Kremlin refused to offer any comment saying the new legislation was “Ukraine’s internal matter.” Ukraine’s new legislation is clearly designed to forestall a repetition of large-scale protests that rocked the capital Kyiv for nearly two months after Mr. Yanukovich ditched an association pact with the E.U. in favour of closer alignment with Russia.
The Ukrainian President also sacked his Chief of Staff Serhiy Lyovochkin, who had been reportedly blamed for failure to prevent main Ukrainian TV channels from taking the side of protesters.
In enforcing severe anti-protest measures, Mr. Yanukovich appears to have taken the cue from his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, who enacted similar laws in response to massive protests against his return to the presidency two years ago.
For example, Ukaine’s law that requires non-profit organisations receiving foreign grants to register as “foreign agents” is a carbon copy of a Russian law passed in 2012.
Adopting a hard line on protesters could be one of Mr. Putin’s conditions for granting Ukraine a $20-billion bailout package last month.