The unrest in Ukraine threatens to exacerbate into a pogrom-like denouement for the thousands of protesters braving bullets, tear gas and wrath of the authorities at Kiev’s Independence Square. The former Soviet Republic, which is being used by Russia’s Vladimir Putin as another battleground in the post-Cold War period, has been rocked and shocked by incessant violence for weeks due to clashes between anti-government protesters and government troops. In worsening signs of violence that has seen European Union leaders intervene, 39 protesters were killed yesterday.
Protesters have accused authorities of using snipers. Buttressing their claims is the fact that a number of deaths have been attributed to single shot wounds.
A gleam of hope appeared late last night — the only news that can’t be called bad — from Kiev. The Polish foreign minister said that President Viktor Yanukovich has agreed to hold early elections — parliamentary and presidential.
Given the authoritarian streak that Yanukovich has been lately showing, the early election proposal sounds more like a gimmick to buy time. Many a ruler cornered by violent protests buckles to international pressure. But Yanukovich hasn’t buckled, he is just flailing and trying to postpone some more trouble.
The foreign ministers of Poland, France and Germany decided to continue talking till today in the hope of a breakthrough. However, Ukraine’s former master Russia wouldn’t let the West get away with it so easily. On Yanukovich’s bidding or otherwise, Moscow dispatched its envoy for participating in the talks.
The role of Russia as a troublemaker in the region is for everyone to see. Vladimir Putin turned the tables on the West by strong-arming Yanukovich at the eleventh hour that proved to be a trigger for the violence. The Ukrainian president, who was almost close to signing an accord with the European Union as part of the bloc’s Eastern Partnerships agreement, did a volte face and joined the Russian propagated Customs Union. The debt-ridden country’s population lost an opportunity to see their country aspire for the European Union after decades of serving the Soviet Union.
Yanukovich’s move was not only dictated by economic blackmail by the Soviet Union. Yanukovich, who got rid of Orange Revolution leader and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko by throwing her into jail, ensured a longer life for his political career by getting closer to the Kremlin. After years of playing second fiddle to the West, Moscow under the suzerainty of Putin got an opportunity to spread its influence and pulled the trigger.
It will be hard for Yanukovich to rescind the agreement with Russia, but he has to find a way out of the quagmire by moving away from Moscow’s shadow. The spark of revolution in the country has been lit with Putin’s influence-mongering. Yanukovich has to rise to the occasion to stonewall Kremlin’s influence lest it should endanger Ukraine’s and his future.