KYIV – Acrid black smoke hangs in the air and stings the eye in much of central Kyiv, where state repression is dampening hope of resolving Ukraine’s political crisis. With a truce between the government and the opposition shattered only hours after it came into effect, and with dozens of people reported killed in recent days, any hope for an end to the country’s deepening civil disorder appears to be fading fast.
Yes, a tentative settlement has been reached, following mediation by European Union foreign ministers, with a promise of early elections. But such settlements have been proposed before, and no agreement is likely to gain broad acceptance unless it includes the immediate departure of President Viktor Yanukovych.
In fact, Yanukovych’s government seems prepared to use any and all measures to remain in power. Taking a page from Russian President Vladimir Putin’s playbook, tax police are prosecuting civil-society organizations in the hope of cowing them into silence and irrelevance. Yet, despite such intimidation, Ukrainians from all walks of life have been protesting for three months in cities across the country.
At its heart, this is a struggle between Ukraine’s European-oriented West and its Russian-fixated East for the country’s geopolitical soul. Will Ukraine move closer to the European Union or instead join the Russian-dominated Eurasian Union?