Only a month ago, rare efforts at reconciliation had marked the conflict in Ukraine. Although President Viktor Yanukovych had given no hint of a rethink on his decision to stay away from Ukraine’s merger with the European Union, he had relented on granting amnesty to the arrested protestors and held out an olive branch to the Opposition. That did not end the stalemate, but even as the movement spread to the interiors of the country, including the president’s own citadel in the east, there was little indication that there would be blood on the streets so soon. Kiev has turned violent, with protestors resisting the strong-arm tactics of clearing the streets of agitators. In spite of warnings from veteran politicians about a civil-war-like situation, and from the army of the likely outcome of using force against protestors, Mr Yanukovych has gone ahead, perhaps to prove to his detractors that he is neither weak nor vacillating. That message may have also been meant for the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who seems to be banking on Mr Yanukovych to stave off what is perceived to be the West’s designs in Ukraine. The result is that the body count on the streets is steadily rising despite the call for truce a day ago. The president blames it all on right-wing “extremists”, who, he believes (as does Mr Putin), are trying to engineer a coup against his government.
It is not that Mr Yanukovych’s apprehensions about the rise of the right-wingers are entirely misplaced. The moderately liberal Opposition also shares the president’s discomfort and has tried to distance itself from the radicals while calling for peace. But, as Mr Yanukovych tries to re-affirm his control and the moderates debate on the right way to protest, the movement appears to be slipping out of their control. Cities in western Ukraine, like Lviv, have refused to acknowledge the government anymore, while governors in the east have begun to mock the Yanukovych government for its inability to come down more heavily on the protesters. The clear divide in Ukraine mirrors the divide in the international community, with the United States of America and EU as partners in condemning the government for the violence, and Russia backing the government. No matter how much the US president may refuse to see Ukraine as part of the Cold War chessboard, Ukraine seems trapped in its long shadow.