Ukraine’s descent into violence ups the ante for both the government and the protestors, reinforcing the “all-or-nothing” paradigm of the conflict and dimming the possibility of a negotiated resolution.
An anti-government protester prepares to throw a petrol bomb during clashes with riot police at Independence Square in Kiev / Source: Reuters
The bloodshed in Ukraine is a serious cause for concern about the future of the Ukrainian state. There is no evident way out of the current conflict.
It is clear to many in Russia that the fierce fighting in the streets of Kyiv is a result of external interference in the domestic affairs of Ukraine. The crisis broke out in the midst of the Olympic truce shortly after the visit of the opposition leaders to Europe, which they might have interpreted as a carte blanche in terms of political support in their efforts to seize power. However, the situation is more complicated than it appears at first glance.
There are several factors that account for the clashes. First, all major political forces find themselves in a stalemate with an “all-or-nothing” paradigm. Significant compromises are impossible, since any such compromises would impact the survival of either group.
The Yanukovich administration is ready for half-measures (such as a change of the government, continued talks with the EU, amnesty, and so on), but it has no desire for any strategic course except one that prevents early presidential elections. Such a back-and-forth policy, combined with the total neglect of the radicals and a lack of harsh measures against their provocations sent the wrong signals to opposition leaders. They see a lack of political will in the ranks of the presidential supporters. Therefore, many in the opposition have been looking for an easy victory.
Meanwhile, the moderate opposition feels high pressure from the Maidan activists and foreign sponsors (who, as usual, support the idea of overthrowing tyranny according to their black-and-white picture of the world). The moderate opposition cannot meet the government halfway without losing their face, and thereby forfeiting political and financial dividends.
Second, all of the foreign actors who are allegedly supporting Ukraine’s right to make an independent choice are unable to impose a political solution on the involved parties. It is quite curious how a “win-lose” confrontation over “Europe-vs.-Russia” economic issues has transformed into “Europe-vs-Russia” choice in terms of democracy and values. Events have followed a scenario typical of all “revolutions” of the recent years: the goal evolves into changing the regime and removing the specific person who embodies the evil. Quite sadly all precedents – from Iraq to Kyrgyzstan, from Libya to Syria – must have already proved to the Western politicians the false nature of the pattern.
Finally, the worst thing is that there is no leader in Ukraine who could take responsibility for the situation. In Egypt, the turmoil ended with a military coup. In Ukraine, even the military (who have appeared to be the most rational people in the crisis) prefers to abstain. The politicians fall victim to the radical unrest. It is a crowd led by extremists who see no authority, and, what’s worse, who cannot set up any authority even if they win. As a result, foreign actors cannot find a person to deal with. Under these circumstances, “without Yanukovich” could be even worse than “with Yanukovich.”
Thus, the tactical victory will likely be on the party of violence. This will be true whether the government puts an end to a “terrorist” coup d’etat, or the radicals repel all the attacks of the police and capture weapon storage facilities. But decisiveness in action is crucial and the entire country is waiting for a winner – one who “takes all.”
However, any victory will only be the start of the process. The divided society will have to build again the links between “Maidan” and “anti-Maidan” followers. It is also evident that in its current status, Ukraine can hardly dream of any integration procedures – be it association with the EU or the Customs Union. The existing politicians in Ukraine should reconcile with the idea that they are the interim elite, which will have to leave the scene for new leaders in the foreseeable future – a difficult, but inevitable decision, which may pave the way to political solutions.
The good news is that external actors may be willing to eradicate the fire of the revolution with financial injections. Such assistance may be helpful in the short run, but in the long run, it will be useless in a country without institutions. These may be formed again only if all parties concerned come together over concern for the future of Ukraine. The young Ukrainian state does not need money – or military interventions (which should be avoided by all means). It requires a “2+3” negotiation process (meaning the Ukrainian government, the Ukrainian opposition, Russia, the EU and the United States). Or, in other words, “Geneva-2” for Ukraine, with the isolation of extremists and tough law enforcement as an indispensable conditions.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.