Feature

Ukraine: Will Europe intervene?

The masses of protesters are no longer confined to Kiev—they’re all over the country.

“Ukraine is close to suicide,” said Lubos Palata in Mlada Fronta Dnes (Czech Republic). The masses of protesters marching in freezing temperatures are no longer confined to Kiev—they’re all over the country, even in some of the Russian-speaking provinces that form the power base of President Viktor Yanukovych. The unrest began in November when Yanukovych, under Russian pressure, refused to sign a political and trade pact with the European Union and took an aid package from Russia instead. In the last week, the protests have become especially violent. It is not enough for the government to resign. Ukraine needs new parliamentary elections, yes, but it also needs new presidential elections. EU leaders must intervene diplomatically to help Yanukovych see reason. “The top priority now is to make sure we don’t get Syrian-style news from a country that borders Slovakia.”

The Ukrainian opposition all but ensured things would turn ugly, said Marina Perevozkina in Moskovsky Komsomolets (Russia). From the very beginning, radical nationalists were a strong presence in the protests. They have “attacked police with rocks and Molotov cocktails.” According to an expert on Ukrainian extremism, many of the violent demonstrators belong to organized paramilitary squads of the neo-fascist group Patriots of Ukraine. That’s probably true, said Marina Seric in Vecernji List (Croatia). But it hardly means the peaceful, pro-EU opposition is allied with the fascists. I see the hand of Russia here. Russian President Vladimir Putin knew that forcing Yanukovych to pull out of the EU agreements would spark protests, and he “undoubtedly advised Yanukovych to have violent agitators infiltrate the peaceful demonstrations.” In fact, the entire situation “has been staged down to the last detail by Moscow in a bid to destabilize Ukraine.” Then Russia can “present itself as a stabilizing factor and bring the country into its sphere of influence.”

This is no less than a battle for Europe’s soul, said Daniel Brössler in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany). “People are being beaten and now shot merely for waving EU flags,” yet Brussels has done nothing. The EU bears part of the responsibility for Ukraine’s eruption, since it “fell for Yanukovych’s pretense of being pro-European and it underestimated Putin’s determination to prevent a deal.” But even if it were blameless, Europe would be obliged to act, because it is in European interests to prevent Putin from permanently tethering Ukraine to a Russian orbit. Fortunately, Europe has leverage, because Yanukovych—unlike, for example, Belarusan dictator Alexander Lukashenko—does not rule as a sole autocrat but depends on the support of the Ukrainian oligarchs. The EU can hurt him and his cronies with travel bans and frozen bank accounts. If, instead, it just leaves Ukraine to fend for itself against Russia, the EU will “lose its last shred of credibility.”

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