The flaming and bloody images from Kiev’s Independence Square are profoundly disturbing. As is the mounting death toll as anti-government protesters clash with Ukraine’s increasingly despotic regime.
After 25 citizens were reported dead earlier this week, a truce apparently was called, but lasted barely a few hours. More citizens and police perished in the battles Thursday. Rooftop snipers were seen picking off protesters. A wounded young medic tweeted her impending death.
European diplomats pressed for talks to ease the conflict and on Thursday announced sanctions against Ukrainian officials. President Barack Obama sternly urged the Ukrainian government to back off and “show restraint.” Russian President Vladimir Putin, who’d be happy to reknit the scattered nations of the Soviet empire, reportedly sent in Russian special forces to help the locals quell the rebellion and must have known that his marauding Cossacks assaulted those vocal musical pests, Pussy Riot, in Sochi.
Putin and Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, blame “extremists” for the violence, a contention that seems disingenuous at best, given the swift fury that has rained down on Independence Square and the perplexing inability of the regime to negotiate. Opponents have seized government buildings in other regions of Ukraine, and have called unceasingly for Yanukovych’s resignation.
This latest drama began last fall when Ukraine, on the verge of signing a trade pact with the European Union, was lured by the promise of $15 billion in loans back to the Kremlin’s orbit. It’s shades of the cold war as hot Russian blood stands up to apparent Western civility.
But it’s also more perilous than that. Some have mentioned that the tremors in Ukraine foretell a Yugoslavia-style breakup; others see a reverse domino effect, as former Soviet states are hauled back in by Putin’s octopus arms.
Like the massive populist uprisings in Egypt, Thailand, Venezuela and other countries, and like the unresolved and horrendous civil upheavals in Syria, the Central African Republic, Iraq and elsewhere, Ukraine represents another destabilized and distracting danger zone.
All require careful, measured and thorough responses, a delicate use of diplomacy and a confident sense that democracy is a hard-won and worthy goal.