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Ukraine in flames

Putins inferno
The West must take a tough stand with the government of Ukraineand with Russias
leader
Feb 22nd 2014 | From the print edition
CIVIL strife often follows a grimly predictable pattern. What at first seems a soluble dispute
hardens into conflict, as goals become more radical, bitterness accumulates and the chance
to broker a compromise is lost. Such has been the awful trajectory of Ukraine, where
protests that began peacefully in November have combusted in grotesque violence. The
centre of Kiev, one of Europes great capital cities, this week became a choking war zone.
Buildings and barricades were incinerated and dozens of Ukrainians were killed.
Despite talk of a truce between some of the participants, the horror could yet get much
worse. The bloodshed will deepen the rifts in what has always been a fragile, complex
country (see article). Outright civil war remains a realistic prospect. Immediate
responsibility for this mayhem lies with Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraines thuggish president.
But its ultimate architect sits in the Kremlin: Vladimir Putin.
Neither East nor West
The territory that is now Ukraine has a long and painful history as a bloody borderland
between East and West. But it came into being as an independent nation only in 1991, when
the Soviet Union collapsed. Combining lands in the west that had once been part of AustriaHungary, and a Russian-speaking south and east, the new country always had its doubters.
Since then Ukraines politics have been characterised by infighting and graftincluding in
the years following the orange revolution of 2004, a peaceful uprising whose promise was
squandered by its rancorous leaders. Many Ukrainians feel their state has been captured by a
corrupt elite, which cannot be dislodged by the usual democratic means. Kiev is one of the
few European cities where the European Union is synonymous with good government and
the rule of law.

It was Mr Yanukovychs rejection, in November, of a trade agreement with the EU, in favour
of an opaque deal with Russia, which started the unrest. Soon the protesters were demanding
his resignation, while Mr Yanukovych and Russian propaganda denounced them as
terrorists. How, after three months of tetchy stand-off, the killing started this week is murky.
But most of it was perpetrated by the presidents men.
The response from the West should be firm. The presidents henchmen deserve the visa bans
and asset freezes that America has imposed and the EU is considering. Mr Yanukovych must
rein in his troops and, if he can, the plainclothes goons who are committing much of the
violence. But the protesters, if they want to stop a full-scale blood-bath, also need to
compromiseto quit their symbolic base in Kievs Independence Square, and the other
buildings they have occupied. The best option would be for the two sides to form a
transitional coalition government.