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Ukraine Blowing Up
As Protesters Ready for Fight, Feeble EU Looks On

The first fatalities in the ongoing protests in Ukraine may have forced government and opposition leaders to meet around a negotiating table yesterday, but the ceasefire subsequently reached is only the calm before the storm. Three hours of face-to-face talks yesterday afternoon yielded no results, and by nightfall the same three opposition leaders who had urged protesters to remain peaceful on Monday—Vitali Klitschko of the Udar Party, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk of the Fatherland Party, and Oleg Tyagnibok of the nationalist Svoboda Party—were raising the specter of violence, vowing to “go into attack” unless President Yanukovych called snap elections within 24 hours. That clock is ticking.

The ultimatum may have been meant to convey determination, but it sounded desperate to anyone who has followed the unfolding drama in Ukraine. Klitschko and Yatsenyuk in particular seemed more concerned with making martyrs of themselves than with finding viable strategies for achieving their political goals. “If we have to fight, I will fight together with you. If we have to face bullets, I will face bullets,” Klitschko told the crowd, according to the Guardian. And the New York Times quoted Yatsenyuk as saying, “Tomorrow we will go forward together. If there will be a bullet in the forehead, so be it. It will be an honest, just, and brave action.”

We will see very soon what comes of these fighting words. But what is already abundantly clear is that the government, under the tacit direction of Vladimir Putin, is willing to push ever harder, and that the opposition’s ability to push back has been severely undermined by the U.S. and EU joint policy of elegant speeches and anguished hand-wringing.

That is a tragic failure on the part of Western diplomats, whose attempts to pry Ukraine loose from Mother Russia with trade agreements sparked this now bloody stand-off, after all. EU officials naively and fatefully miscalculated both how much it would take to lure Ukraine westward and how far Putin would be prepared to go to thwart their efforts. For the most part, integrating Ukraine into European trade agreements represented a logical extension of their lofty ideals, but it did not constitute an existential necessity. For Putin, on the other hand, this is do or die. He cannot let Ukraine slip out of his grasp without also losing Russia’s hope of becoming a great power. That has produced the present asymmetry, in which Russia has offered the Ukrainian government a multibillion-dollar bailout and unflinching support even in the wake of a drastic democratic rollback, while all the European Union has offered in return is platitudes. Reports the BBC:

The European Union said earlier it would “rethink” its relationship with Ukraine if there was a “systematic violation of human rights”.

And further:

The US accused the Ukrainian government of failing to “engage in real dialogue” and revoked the visas of “several Ukrainians who were linked to the violence”. It did not give names.

That is hardly the stuff of tough diplomacy. Whatever comes of the protests now, the European Union looks feeble and exposed, having brought a baguette to a knife fight. Perhaps it is just as well, for all it has managed to do so far is to stab the opposition it seeks to support in the back.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Swords into Baguettes? Not exactly. While the EU is, indeed feeble, it was simply stupid to think that Putain wouldn’t do whatever it took to keep the Ukraine within his orbit.

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