January 23, 2014

Ukraine’s Political Conflict Turns Violent: What Next?

TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY MAX DELANY (FILES) A file picture taken on January 22, 2014 shows a protestor throwing a molotov cocktail at riot police in the centre of Kiev on January 22, 2014. When Igor Romanenko's friend suggested heading to a gathering on Kiev's Independence Square a year ago on November 21, 2014, he had no idea he was about to witness the birth of a movement that would change his country forever. After that first night on the Maidan -- the Ukrainian word for square -- the protests quickly swelled to tens of thousands. Brutal police efforts to disperse the demonstrators with batons and teargas backfired and the crowds only got bigger. People quickly started pitching tents. AFP PHOTO/ VASILY MAXIMOV
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY MAX DELANY (FILES) A file picture taken on January 22, 2014 shows a protestor throwing a molotov cocktail at riot police in the centre of Kiev on January 22, 2014. When Igor Romanenko's friend suggested heading to a gathering on Kiev's Independence Square a year ago on November 21, 2014, he had no idea he was about to witness the birth of a movement that would change his country forever. After that first night on the Maidan -- the Ukrainian word for square -- the protests quickly swelled to tens of thousands. Brutal police efforts to disperse the demonstrators with batons and teargas backfired and the crowds only got bigger. People quickly started pitching tents. AFP PHOTO/ VASILY MAXIMOV

Yesterday’s violent escalation of the conflict in Ukraine— in which at least 4 and as much as 7 protesters were killed, marking the first loss of human life since the protests began two months ago—unfortunately means only that the crisis will continue, with no clear path towards an end in sight. Although the full story of what happened may not be known until the smoke literally clears, the fact that people have now been killed reduces the likelihood that either side will compromise. It also lends more urgency to the calls by opposition leaders Oleh Tyahnybok for “ 100 % mobilization ” and Volodymyr Klitschko for all citizens to come to Kyiv and “ defend their country ” against Yanukovych—as well as, on the other side, promises by Prime Minister Mykola Azarov to “ restore order ” against those he has deemed “ terrorists .” With more people coming to Kyiv from Western and Central Ukraine, and more demonstrated willingness from the government to use the tools at its disposal to try and impose a resolution on its terms, the ingredients are now in place for a protracted—and perhaps bloodier—crisis.

Yesterday’s violent escalation of the conflict in Ukraine— in which at least 4 and as much as 7 protesters were killed, marking the first loss of human life since the protests began two months ago—unfortunately means only that the crisis will continue, with no clear path towards an end in sight. Although the full story of what happened may not be known until the smoke literally clears, the fact that people have now been killed reduces the likelihood that either side will compromise. It also lends more urgency to the calls by opposition leaders Oleh Tyahnybok for “ 100 % mobilization ” and Volodymyr Klitschko for all citizens to come to Kyiv and “ defend their country ” against Yanukovych—as well as, on the other side, promises by Prime Minister Mykola Azarov to “ restore order ” against those he has deemed “ terrorists .” With more people coming to Kyiv from Western and Central Ukraine, and more demonstrated willingness from the government to use the tools at its disposal to try and impose a resolution on its terms, the ingredients are now in place for a protracted—and perhaps bloodier—crisis.

Western governments are thankfully starting to move beyond the expressions of “deep concern” that were their primary response to the Black Thursday legislation and subsequent events. The United States has imposed concrete and welcome measures in the form of visa bans and asset freezing against some two dozen officials deemed responsible for the violent crackdown on the opposition. However, given the denser ties of Ukrainian government officials and oligarchs to the European Union, the latter would need to enact similar measures for their impact to be felt; unfortunately, the EU’s internal divisions make such a move unlikely in the short term.
Given sufficient political resolve, the West could seek to bring both sides to the table and negotiate at least a temporary agreement to reduce tensions and avert the risk of further bloodshed. A senior figure would have to be found, one respected and trusted by both government and opposition in Ukraine—someone like the former Polish president Aleksandr Kwasniewski, who helped broker the Mariyinskyi Palace agreement ending the Orange Revolution in 2005, or French then-president Nicolas Sarkozy, who negotiated the cease-fire between Georgia and Russia in 2008.
If Western leaders are serious about trying to minimize the loss of life in Ukraine, however, they need to act fast—when even a sober-minded opposition figure like Arseniy Yatsenyuk leaves negotiation sessions declaring his willingness to take a “ bullet in the head ,” it seems that the country may yet face worse violence in the near future.
Please continue to monitor our blog for further updates and analysis on Ukraine as the crisis develops.

Filed under: BlogTagged with:

No comment yet, add your voice below!


Add a Comment