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Putin’s inferno

Ukraine in flames

Putin’s inferno

The West must take a tough stand with the government of Ukraine—and with Russia’s leader
Feb 22nd 2014 | From the print edition

inferno
CIVIL strife often follows a grimly predictable pattern. What at first seems a soluble dispute hardens into conflict, as goals become more radical, bitterness accumulates and the chance to broker a compromise is lost. Such has been the awful trajectory of Ukraine, where protests that began peacefully in November have combusted in grotesque violence. The centre of Kiev, one of Europe’s great capital cities, this week became a choking war zone. Buildings and barricades were incinerated and dozens of Ukrainians were killed.

Despite talk of a truce between some of the participants, the horror could yet get much worse. The bloodshed will deepen the rifts in what has always been a fragile, complex country (see article). Outright civil war remains a realistic prospect. Immediate responsibility for this mayhem lies with Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s thuggish president. But its ultimate architect sits in the Kremlin: Vladimir Putin.

Neither East nor West

The territory that is now Ukraine has a long and painful history as a bloody borderland between East and West. But it came into being as an independent nation only in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed. Combining lands in the west that had once been part of Austria-Hungary, and a Russian-speaking south and east, the new country always had its doubters. Since then Ukraine’s politics have been characterised by infighting and graft—including in the years following the orange revolution of 2004, a peaceful uprising whose promise was squandered by its rancorous leaders. Many Ukrainians feel their state has been captured by a corrupt elite, which cannot be dislodged by the usual democratic means. Kiev is one of the few European cities where the European Union is synonymous with good government and the rule of law.

It was Mr Yanukovych’s rejection, in November, of a trade agreement with the EU, in favour of an opaque deal with Russia, which started the unrest. Soon the protesters were demanding his resignation, while Mr Yanukovych and Russian propaganda denounced them as terrorists. How, after three months of tetchy stand-off, the killing started this week is murky. But most of it was perpetrated by the president’s men.

The response from the West should be firm. The president’s henchmen deserve the visa bans and asset freezes that America has imposed and the EU is considering. Mr Yanukovych must rein in his troops and, if he can, the plainclothes goons who are committing much of the violence. But the protesters, if they want to stop a full-scale blood-bath, also need to compromise—to quit their symbolic base in Kiev’s Independence Square, and the other buildings they have occupied. The best option would be for the two sides to form a transitional coalition government.

A presidential election is due in 2015: it should happen this year instead, preferably without Mr Yanukovych. His regime has featured rampant cronyism, the persecution of his rivals, suborning of the media and nobbling of the courts, now topped off by slaughter. But he will be hard to move. Built like a bouncer, he twists like a weasel; he is likely to try to wriggle out of any commitments he makes when he thinks the crisis has passed. If so, the tycoons who have sustained his power, and who have much to lose in this madness, must force him out.

CIVIL strife often follows a grimly predictable pattern. What at first seems a soluble dispute hardens into conflict, as goals become more radical, bitterness accumulates and the chance to broker a compromise is lost. Such has been the awful trajectory of Ukraine, where protests that began peacefully in November have combusted in grotesque violence. The centre of Kiev, one of Europe’s great capital cities, this week became a choking war zone. Buildings and barricades were incinerated and dozens of Ukrainians were killed.

Despite talk of a truce between some of the participants, the horror could yet get much worse.
The bloodshed will deepen the rifts in what has always been a fragile, complex country (see article). Outright civil war remains a realistic prospect. Immediate responsibility for this mayhem lies with Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s thuggish president. But its ultimate architect sits in the Kremlin:Vladimir Putin.

Neither East nor West

The territory that is now Ukraine has a long and painful history as a bloody borderland between East and West. But it came into being as an independent nation only in 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed. Combining lands in the west that had once been part of Austria-Hungary, and a Russian-speaking south and east, the new country always had its doubters. Since then Ukraine’s politics have been characterised by infighting and graft—including in the years following the orange revolution of 2004, a peaceful uprising whose promise was squandered by its rancorous leaders. Many Ukrainians feel their state has been captured by a corrupt elite, which cannot be dislodged by the usual democratic means. Kiev is one of the few European cities where the European Union is synonymous with good government and the rule of law.

It was Mr Yanukovych’s rejection, in November, of a trade agreement with the EU, in favour of an map3opaque deal with Russia, which started the unrest. Soon the protesters were demanding his resignation, while Mr Yanukovych and Russian propaganda denounced them as terrorists. How, after three months of tetchy stand-off, the killing started this week is murky. But most of it was perpetrated by the president’s men.

The response from the West should be firm. The president’s henchmen deserve the visa bans and asset freezes that America has imposed and the EU is considering. Mr Yanukovych must rein in his troops and, if he can, the plainclothes goons who are committing much of the violence. But the protesters, if they want to stop a full-scale blood-bath, also need to compromise—to quit their symbolic base in Kiev’s Independence Square, and the other buildings they have occupied. The best option would be for the two sides to form a transitional coalition government.

A presidential election is due in 2015: it should happen this year instead, preferably without Mr Yanukovych. His regime has featured rampant cronyism, the persecution of his rivals, suborning of the media and nobbling of the courts, now topped off by slaughter. But he will be hard to move. Built like a bouncer, he twists like a weasel; he is likely to try to wriggle out of any commitments he makes when he thinks the crisis has passed. If so, the tycoons who have sustained his power, and who have much to lose in this madness, must force him out.

What should come next is less clear. Virtually all of Ukraine’s established politicians have discredited themselves, including Yulia Tymoshenko, the jailed opposition leader. The protesters have no clear champion—one reason the violence may prove difficult to stop. It is hard to envisage a candidate emerging who will bridge the underlying fault-lines in Ukrainian society (see map). Mr Yanukovych still commands support in the east and south; in Kiev and the west, where protesters have seized government facilities, he is reviled. A split remains terrifyingly plausible. Avoiding that fate requires, above all, an end to the Russian meddling. Mr Putin may not have lit the match this week, but he assembled the pyre.

To most rational observers, fomenting chaos across the border in Ukraine might seem an odd ambition for Russia. Not to Mr Putin, who regards Ukraine as an integral part of Russia’s sphere of influence, and saw the orange revolution as a Western plot to steal it. His economic sanctions and threats helped to persuade Mr Yanukovych to turn his back on the EU. It is clear that the loans and cheap Russian gas that prop up Ukraine’s teetering economy are conditional on Mr Yanukovych taking a tough line with the protesters. Mr Putin’s bullying and machinations have brought Ukraine to this pass.

If Mr Yanukovych clings on, weakened at home and ostracised abroad, Mr Putin will be content, for he will have another dependent leader to add to his collection of pliable clients. But he might not stop there. Russian hawks have long wanted to annex Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula that Nikita Khrushchev transferred to Ukraine (reputedly while drunk). This upheaval could provide a pretext for Mr Putin to grab it. Either way, a wretched Ukraine will help convince his people that street protests, and political competition, are the road to ruin.

Confronting the Kremlin

It is past time for the West to stand up to this gangsterism. Confronting a country that has the spoiling power of a seat on the UN Security Council, huge hydrocarbon reserves and lots of nuclear weapons, is difficult, but it has to be done. At a minimum, the diplomatic pretence that Russia is a law-abiding democracy should end. It should be ejected from the G8. Above all, the West must stand united in telling Mr Putin that Ukraine, and the other former Soviet countries that he regards as wayward parts of his patrimony, are sovereign nations.

There is a kind of rough justice in the timing of Ukraine’s turmoil. In 2008 Russia invaded Georgia, its tiny southern neighbour, just as the Olympic games began in Beijing, prompting formulaic Western protests but no meaningful retribution. The events in Kiev interrupted the winter Olympics in Sochi, intended to be a two-week carnival of Putinism. This time the West must make Mr Putin see that, with this havoc at the heart of Europe, he has gone too far.

www.economist.com/news/leaders/21596941-west-must-take-tough-stand-government-ukraineand-russias-leader-putins

Immediate responsibility for this mayhem lies with Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s thuggish president. But its ultimate architect sits in the Kremlin. Mr Putin’s bullying and machinations have brought Ukraine to this pass. It is past time for the West to stand up to this gangsterism: Russia should be ejected from the G8.

Ukraine ‘on brink of civil war,’ ex-leader warns as protester amnesty debated

Ukraine ‘on brink of civil war,’ ex-leader warns as protester amnesty debated.HornetNest
Kiev, Ukraine (CNN) — Ukraine is on the brink of civil war, the Eastern European country’s first post-independence President warned Wednesday as parliament met again to debate a possible amnesty for protesters arrested during two months of demonstrations.

Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine’s President from 1991 to 1994, addressed a special parliamentary session to seek a way out of a deepening political crisis following weeks of mass protests that have crippled the capital, Kiev.

“Let’s be honest, the situation is dramatic. Both Ukraine and the world recognize the country is on the brink of civil war,” Kravchuk said.

Wednesday’s session comes after a day of political upheaval when Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his Cabinet resigned and draconian anti-protest laws were annulled.

Opposition politicians and activists welcomed the concessions made but said they were only a small step toward the change needed.
Journalist: The people are not satisfied
Tymoshenko: Yanukovych still in control
Ukraine protesters demand more
Ukranian Prime Minister resigns

They want to see wide-ranging constitutional reform and a shake-up of the Ukrainian political system to shift the balance of power back toward parliament.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reforms party, or UDAR, said on his party’s website that the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych would be “a logical step.”

Kiev’s snow-covered streets remained calm Wednesday, namely around the demonstrators’ makeshift barricades in the central Independence Square and a road leading up to parliament — the scene of violent confrontations last week.

“I think the people should not leave the barricades,” one Kiev resident told CNN. “Nothing is decided yet, let them decide — now they just promise but don’t make decisions. People are being tricked. They are tired of it.”

Amnesty debate

Ukraine’s parliament, or Verkhovna Rada, is considering legislation that might provide amnesty for more than 200 people arrested since the demonstrations began in late November, centered on Independence Square.

Debate began Tuesday but continued into Wednesday. “The amnesty issue is not simple and difficult negotiations continue,” state news agency Ukrinform quoted parliament’s chairman, Volodymyr Rybak, as saying Tuesday.

Nationalist opposition party Svoboda, or Freedom, led by Oleg Tiahnybok, said the main bone of contention is that the government insists protesters must leave Independence Square before any amnesty law can take effect.

“The opposition, of course, cannot accept this condition,” said a statement on the party’s website.

Klitschko told journalists he was opposed to any bloodshed, but that demands in the government’s proposed amnesty bill remained unacceptable.

“People took to the streets because they want to change the situation. A statement ‘We will free people, if they go home’ is unacceptable. It cannot be understood,” he is quoted as saying on the UDAR website.

“Today, the key issue is the confrontation between people and government. Withdrawal of charges and amnesty is not enough.”

Violent confrontations

Parliament’s vote Tuesday in favor of repealing the controversial anti-protest laws, rammed through January 16 in a show of hands by members of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, was overwhelming.

The repeal legislation has still to be signed off by Yanukovych.

Anger about the controversial anti-protest laws escalated the long-running protests into violent confrontations in the capital, with police and protesters fighting pitched battles among burning tires and barricades.

The legislation also prompted concern in the European Union and United States, where leaders condemned what appeared to be an attempt to limit freedom of speech and the right to protest.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton traveled to Kiev and met Yanukovych on Wednesday.

“It’s important to stop the senseless violence. … The dialogue that happens from time to time needs to become a real dialogue,” Ashton later told a news conference.

“It’s very clear that people are very keen to find a solution. …There is no question of the importance of finding a quick way forward.”

Vying for influence

Under Ukrainian law, Azarov’s resignation as prime minister triggered the resignation of his government with him.

But he and his Cabinet will continue in a caretaker function until a new government is formed, the presidential website said.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who heads the opposition Fatherland party, refused an offer from Yanukovych over the weekend to be prime minister.

Klitschko also turned down an offer to be vice prime minister of humanitarian affairs.

According to the law, a new government should be formed within 60 days.

Yanukovych’s representative in parliament, Party of Regions lawmaker Yuriy Miroshnychenko, told parliament Wednesday that discussions on the makeup of a new Cabinet could begin next week, Ukrinform reported.

“We cannot talk about the political color of the government, because there is no response from the opposition regarding seats on the Cabinet of Ministers, and it will be clear only after the talks whether this is a technical government or a political government,” he said, according to the news agency.

The next presidential election is due in March next year.

Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, is home to 45 million people. The recent clashes are an escalation of weeks of largely peaceful public protests prompted by Yanukovych’s decision in November to spurn a planned trade deal with the European Union and turn toward Russia.

He and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on a $15 billion deal for Russia to buy Ukrainian debt and slash the price of natural gas.

Putin has denied that Moscow is exerting undue influence in Ukraine.

“Russia has always respected, is respecting and will respect the sovereign rights of all the international entities including new states that emerged after breakdown of the Soviet Union,” Putin said, speaking after a summit Tuesday with senior EU figures in Belgium.

Putin also said Russia would stick to the loan and energy commitments to Ukraine — agreed in December — even if the opposition comes to power.

CNN’s Laura Smith-Spark wrote and reported in London and Diana Magnay reported from Kiev. CNN’s Khushbu Shah, Karen Smith, Marie-Louise Gumuchian and journalist Victoria Butenko contributed to this report.

http://cnn.com/2014/01/29/world/europe/ukraine-protests/

Pray for Ukraine.