Country in crisis? Just take a sick leave!Protesters of all stripes have besieged your capital, an economic lifeline from your most important trading partner has just been compromised, and the worst political crisis in your country’s independent history is only worsening.
What do you do? If you’re Viktor Yanukovych, take a sick leave.
The embattled Ukrainian president’s website announced on Thursday that he is suffering from “acute respiratory disease accompanied by fever” and made no mention of when he would return to work.
The news came as the two-month-long anti-government protests that have rocked Kyiv and other regions in Ukraine show no signs of abating.
It followed a late-night parliament session in which the ruling Party of Regions pushed through a controversial law granting amnesty to detained activists.
But the opposition has deemed the terms unacceptable because they stipulate protesters must vacate seized government buildings in Kyiv and elsewhere within 15 days.
Critics slammed Yanukovych’s visit to parliament before the vote, which they suggested constituted pressure on his party to pass a more hard-line version of the bill.
Opposition deputies had prepared a similar bill, although without conditions.
“This is a law that doesn’t correspond with the people’s interests,” boxing champion-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko told reporters late Wednesday, adding that the authorities are “doing everything in order to increase tensions in society.”
Some analysts suggest the president may have fallen ill thanks to the fast-moving developments in Kyiv.
"What's happening to Yanukovych these days is that he needs more time to rest because there's been so much pressure on him," said political consultant Taras Berezovets.
He added that much of Yanukovych's energy has probably been spent on enforcing discipline within his Party of Regions, where he says support for the embattled president has been waning as the crisis has worsened.
In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to raise the stakes by announcing his country may suspend a $15 billion bailout for Ukraine until authorities in Kyiv form a new government.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, who concluded the agreement with Putin, resigned earlier this week in a move aimed at calming anti-government anger, leaving observers uncertain over whether Moscow would honor its deal.
Analysts saw that lifeline — needed to pull Ukraine back from the brink of bankruptcy — as a reward for Yanukovych’s refusal in November to sign key political and trade agreements with the European Union, which prompted the initial protests.
There are also signs that Moscow is reapplying the trade sanctions it levied against Ukraine last summer in a bid to deter Kyiv from signing the EU agreements.
Ukraine’s Confederation of Employers said in a statement on Wednesday that it is looking to restore normal trade relations after Russian border guards imposed stricter inspections on Ukrainian goods the day before.
“These measures lead to delays of terms of delivery to Russian clients,” it said.
Neither the government shuffle nor the amnesty law has done much to appease protesters, who have grown more radicalized since the death of several activists amid violent clashes last week and ongoing reports of police abuse across Ukraine.
Yanukovych has yet to formally approve a law cancelling anti-protest measures that helped boost tensions earlier this month, another apparent concession to the protest movement.
The EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is in Kyiv for talks with both sides. She said on Wednesday that government is responsible for launching a political process to end the crisis.
But in a statement posted to his website on Thursday, Yanukovych suggested his administration’s patience is wearing thin.
“The opposition continues to aggravate the situation, calling on people to stand in the freezing weather for the sake of the political ambitions of a few leaders,” he said.
“I think it’s wrong.”