Kiev’s Independence Square erupted in fighting late Tuesday, claiming 67 lives as of today. The pictures that the world saw as it unfurled looked more like a scene from a big-budget Hollywood movie than the center of Ukraine’s capital city. Although violence subsided on the square the following day, there still lies the possibility that the nation will be engulfed in a larger civil war, even with the announcement later Wednesday by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych of a truce between Ukrainian authorities and the opposition.
There is the matter of the Ukrainian military which has not formerly taken sides on the conflict that has lasted almost three months. Though the soldiers have kept away from the fighting, there were mixed signals being sent via the Defense Ministry who said that “Military servants of the armed forces of Ukraine might be used in anti-terrorist operations on the territory of Ukraine.”
There were also the words of the nation’s top security agency, Oleksandr Yakimenko, that fuel fears of a wider conflict in Ukraine. Speaking about the “anti-terrorist operation” Ukrainian authorities launched yesterday targeting “extremist groups” nationwide, he mentioned that it could involve, according to Ukrainian law, “the country’s interior ministry, border guards and armed forces.” Although the military has remained on the sidelines for now, there are reports today that riot police were shooting at demonstrators from a rooftop. They fly against any common sense of how a government should respond to the complaints of their citizenry. There is little reason to believe that the Ukrainian authorities would hesitate to use those forces in the future if talks with the opposition fall through.
The truce itself that was announced by Ukrainian authorities and the opposition provides no guarantee the country will be kept from the edge of civil war. There have been multiple reports that similar violence like that seen in Kiev on Tuesday has spread to at least three cities in western Ukraine, including claims the police station in Temopil was torched. There were also reports from police that protesters had seized administration buildings in Ivano-Frakvisk and Lviv.
The violence is also prevalent from the pro-government side. Today in Odessa, 100 unidentified men wearing helmets assaulted a pro-European Union (EU) demonstration. There have also been reports today that the acting Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharschenko had sent riot policemen, or “Berkut,” with assault weapons to disperse the protesters from Independence Square.
Even with the recent implementation of sanctions by the European Union, there are no signs as of now that one single party will be able to bring the nation away from the brink of civil war. Much like the ongoing UN mediated talks between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the opposition Syrian National Congress (SNC), it’s going to take a collective effort to accomplish. One that we’re seeing already being to take place with the foreign ministers of Germany, France, and Poland meeting with the Ukrainian President to discuss some type of political road map toward peace and stability. The only hope is that, unlike those talks which ended in a virtual stalemate, they can get something done in the near future. The eyes of the Ukraine people and the world will be on President Yanukoyvych and what he does next.
Editorial By Brian Ault