Violence escalated in the Ukraine again today as Russia made a loan offer to the embattled state, intending to prop up the government of President Viktor Yanukovych. Germany also stepped to the forefront of the crisis, hosting a meeting with several key members of the Ukrainian opposition. The number of casualties thus far remains uncertain with some reports stating that only three protesters have been killed, while others claim a death count as high as nine as well as the death of a Ukrainian police officer. It is also uncertain what precipitated this latest round of violence as no specific event has been identified as a potential trigger.
This episode in the Ukraine takes place in the context of other political developments surrounding the situation. The Ukrainian Parliament was set to begin debating a series of changes to the state’s constitution. These changes would restrict some of the powers of the presidency. Opposition members of parliament claimed that those loyal to President Yanukovych were blocking the changes on the floor of parliament, preventing them from being formally debated. This would reinforce the argument made by the opposition that Yanukovych and his allies are unwilling to negotiate in good faith to end the crisis.
Germany has also stepped to the forefront of the international effort to resolve the situation in the Ukraine. Germany has become one of the leading voices of the European Union (EU) as its economy emerged mostly unscathed from the recent recession. Chancellor Angela Merkel has sought to use that economic clout to increase Germany’s presence on the world stage, and the Ukraine crisis is one opportunity for her to accomplish this.
Merkel seeks to position Germany and the EU as an alternative to the approach being pursued by the United States. The U.S. has called for sanctions against the government of the Ukraine because of the crackdown on civilian protests. There are some within the EU, such as Sweden, who agree with the U.S. approach. Germany believes this will not succeed and is instead attempting to engage with the Ukraine directly, and perhaps more importantly, to talk with Russia. Merkel believes that Germany is in a better position to exert influence on Russia and therefore the situation in the Ukraine itself. It is for this reason that Germany hosted a meeting with members of the opposition as violence escalated in the Ukraine and Russia offered to extend aid.
Merkel’s plan involves increasing the legitimacy of the Ukrainian opposition. It is believed that is why she agreed to host a meeting with several prominent members, including former heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko. Klitschko meeting with the head of state of a powerful nation like Germany is a sign of respect in international relations. It portrays him as a potential “equal” to someone like Merkel and therefore as someone who could serve as the leader of a country like the Ukraine.
Russia did not stand idle amongst these other developments however. In December of 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed to extend as much as $15 billion in credit to the Ukraine and President Yanukovych’s government. $3 billion in Ukrainian bonds were purchased by Russia as the first “installment” on this loan. These payments were suspended last month when protests in the country turned violent. Russia announced today that it would be purchasing an additional $2 billion in bonds, restarting the loan process and offering much needed funds to Yanukovych.
The U.S. and the EU have been working to secure aid to the Ukraine as well, mostly though the World Bank, but no formal progress on such a loan has been made. International observers have warned against the West getting into a “bidding war” with Russia in an attempt to “purchase” the loyalties of the Ukraine. It is believed that such an action would be received negatively within the Ukraine itself as nationalist forces would see it as an attempt to “buy” the country.
These many political developments have taken place in the context of the renewed violence within the Ukraine seen today. It is unknown at this time whether there is a connection between these events and the violence, but any increase in violence makes the possibility of a negotiated resolution to the crisis less likely. The involvement of Germany hosting opposition leaders and Russia extending aid adds another dimension to the escalating violence in the Ukraine.
By Christopher V. Spencer