“There will be consequences if people step over the line,” President Obama chirped from Mexico, addressing the violent clashes in Kiev. “We expect the Ukrainian government to show restraint, to not resort to violence. We expect peaceful protesters to remain peaceful.”
No doubt the President is already working on a new spin-control speech in which he declares The World drew that line in the Ukraine and he merely noticed it, the same way he begged out of his Syria bluster last year, because everyone ignored him, and gunfire once again ripped through Independence Square. Reuters reports:
Fresh fighting broke out in central Kiev on Thursday, shattering a truce declared by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, as the Russian-backed leader met European ministers demanding he compromise with pro-EU opponents.
A Reuters photographer saw the bodies of 21 dead civilians in Independence Square, a few hundred meters from where the president met the EU delegation, after protesters who have occupied the area for almost three months hurled petrol bombs and paving stones to drive riot police from the plaza.
“Berkut” riot policemen, shown on television, fired bursts from automatic rifles on the run as they covered retreating colleagues fleeing past a nearby arts center. In other video, an opposition militant in a helmet fired from behind a tree.
Other protesters used police riot shields for cover, while some fell wounded as the protest camp became a killing zone.
The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland were to report back in Brussels later in the day to EU colleagues, who will decide on possible targeted sanctions against those deemed responsible for the worst bloodshed in Ukraine’s 22 years of independence since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Russia criticized the European and U.S. measures, calling them “blackmail” that would only make matters worse. It also stepped up pressure on Yanukovich to crack down and restore order if he wanted more, desperately needed, loans – the Russian prime minister said it would not hand over cash to a leadership that let opponents walk over it “like a doormat”.
Putin paid for a Russian-aligned dictatorship, and he expects value for money. He doesn’t much care what the American empty suits who handed him Syria have to say about it. Ukrainian opposition leaders are calling for immediate elections and revisions to the constitution, which would be just the sort of concessions Russia doesn’t want its men in Kiev to make.
Here’s a video that purports to show snipers picking off protesters (content warning for violence, obviously.)
The protesters, in turn, were evidently able to capture some security officers. I haven’t seen any firm information about their current whereabouts, but the New York Times has some more details about the prisoners, along with remarks from a demonstrator who says his people initiated the latest clash, because they thought the declared “truce” was a fake-out:
Demonstrators captured several dozen policemen, whom they marched, dazed and bloodied, toward the center of the square through a crowd of men who heckled and shoved them.
???There will be many dead today,??? Anatoly Volk, 38, one of the demonstrators, said. He was watching stretchers carry dead and wounded men down a stairway slick with mud near the Hotel Ukraina.
Mr. Volk said the protesters had decided to try to retake the square because they believed the truce announced around midnight was a ruse. The young men in ski masks who led the push, he said, believed it was a stalling maneuver by President Viktor F. Yanukovych, to buy time to deploy troops in the capital after discovering that the civilian police had insufficient forces to clear the square.
The Associated Press elaborates on this point, holding “radical elements” within the protest movement responsible for the escalation of violence, and noting that Russia’s foreign ministry has begun making dark allusions to Nazi brown shirts.
The ongoing violence on the square Thursday indicates that more radical elements among the protesters may be unwilling to observe the truce and may not be mollified by the prospects of negotiations. Although the initial weeks of protests were determinedly peaceful, radicals helped drive an outburst of clashes with police in January in which at least three people died, and the day of violence on Tuesday may have radicalized many more.
Political and diplomatic maneuvering has continued, with both Moscow and the West eager to gain influence over this former Soviet republic. Three EU foreign ministers ??? from Germany, France and Poland ??? are in Kiev Thursday speaking with both sides before an emergency EU meeting in Brussels to consider sanctions against those responsible for the recent violence in Ukraine.
Russia also did some tongue-clucking in the general direction of Europe and the White House, warning “the ongoing attempts to obtrusively intervene from outside, threat with sanctions or trying to influence the situation in any other ways are inappropriate and can’t lead to anything good but can only aggravate the confrontation.”
CNN has a statement from Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s office: “Protesters broke the truce. The opposition used the negotiation period to buy time, to mobilize, and to get weapons to protesters.”
Yesterday I wondered if the situation might spiral into a full-blown civil war, given the sharp regional contrast between pro-Europe western Ukraine and the dominant Russian-aligned east. I see from today’s Reuters piece that Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk expressed similar concerns. The Ukrainian military has thus far stayed out of the conflict, but if they intervene it could either decisively settle matters, perhaps with considerable bloodshed… or provide the spark that would touch off a civil war, especially if not every soldier proves willing to obey a crackdown order.
Update: There is late word that Ukrainian President Yanukovych is considering emergency measures that would shut down much telephone and Internet communication.