Thursday, February 20, 2014

We're Clearly Past the Protest Stage

If the death toll keeps rising, Ukraine is in for some serious fighting if all sides go for broke.

This is not comforting:

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.

If government forces remain loyal, the protesters won't win without a prolonged insurgency. That just invites post-Olympics Russian intervention and possible partition of Ukraine.

And in western Ukraine, some protesters/rebels even speak of independence from the rest of Ukraine:

As the standoff in Independence Square continues in Kiev, the western part of Ukraine has added a more serious element to the country's internal struggle. On Wednesday, several administration buildings were taken over by protesters in the west, including in Khmelnytskyi, Ivano-Frankivsk, Uzhhorod and Ternopil. Meanwhile, demonstrators from an opposition group called People's Rada in Lviv, the largest and most important city in the west, said on Wednesday that they want to declare independence from Ukraine.

It might be a symbolic statement rather than intent. But it took more than a year after clashes at Lexington and Concord for Americans to go from defending our rights as British citizens to demanding independence.

And any such declaration gives added legitimacy to ethnic Russian demands to separate:

From the dingy basement of a decaying apartment block on the outskirts of Simferopol, Crimean parliament deputy Sergei Shuvainikov is leading the fight to defend the ethnic Russians of this strategic Black Sea peninsula.

In an office festooned with banners showing a map of Crimea overlaid with a World War II medal featuring the communist hammer and sickle and the slogan "In union with Russia," the voluble Shuvainikov spills out a litany of alleged assaults on the Russian language and Russian culture in Ukraine.

Just securing Crimea for their military would be an advance for Putin, if he can't pull all of Ukraine into Russia's orbit unofficially or officially.

As I've wondered if Ukraine's army was reliable enough to be used against civilians, the Ukrainians replaced their chief of the armed forces:

President Yanukovych on Wednesday appointed a new chief of the Ukrainian armed forces general staff, naming Admiral Yury Ilyin to replace Colonel General Volodymyr Zamana.

Is this someone willing to give the orders to move against civilians?

And this seems ominous:

The Ukrainian army is coming under mounting pressure from the government to intervene in the country's political crisis. Here are five things to know about where the military stands.

The army is as divided as the society. Committing the army is risky and could lead to the army splintering along those ethnic divisions if the mission is too tough. Read the whole thing.

Perhaps John Kerry could take some time off from combatting dread climate change and see if he can keep this from spiraling out of control. Talking is better than war, here.