The situation in Ukraine seems to have shifted overnight, with police withdrawing from Kiev’s Independence Square. As far as one can tell, the authorities fear that the savage violence needed to clear the square would set off a backlash. The FT reports on Yanukovich’s climb-down:
Thousands of police had descended on the protesters’ tented camp on Independence Square at midnight, but as the day progressed they pulled back, leaving the square in the possession of thousands of demonstrators.There were widespread scuffles as protesters attempted to defend the square from the police assault. But officers appeared to be under orders not to target protesters with deliberate violence, as they did when clearing a smaller protest camp 10 days ago in a clash that injured dozens, and did not make many arrests.
Another win for the protesters: the leading churches in Ukraine seem to be coming down on their side. Ukraine has a fractured religious scene. Catholics, Uniates and Orthodox often disagree and there is a history of bad feeling. But with the country shaken to its foundations over the issue of whether to choose Russia or the EU as its principal economic partner going forward, the churches all seem to be standing with the protesters and against the government. As the Orthodox church is strongest in the Russian-speaking east, this could be significant.The Putin government in Russia sees the Orthodox Church as an important instrument in its struggle to maintain its grip on civic life and political power. Close links between the Church and the Russian government are not new. In the Soviet era, the KGB supervised all church appointments, and the hierarchy in place in 1990 was the product of decades of communist infiltration and control. The Putin government appears to be even more interested in the church than the communists were; strong support from the Orthodox leadership at key points has been very helpful to the development of the blend of nationalism, Russian exceptionalism and anti-western populism that constitute what we might call the Putinist ideology.That makes the position of the Ukrainian Orthodox both interesting and important. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church doesn’t appear to be longing for a closer relationship with Moscow. This drastically undercuts the potential strength of pro-Russian forces in the east and substantially enhances the chances that, in the end, Ukraine will look west.