This video from the protestors has gone viral:
As I wrote in late January, the last time that protests reignited, Ukraine’s politics have long been divided into two major factions by the country’s demographics. What’s happening right now is in many ways a product of that division, which has never really been reconciled. Just about every Ukrainian government since independence has been seen as representing one “side” of this divide, with the other hating him or her as a perceived foreign pawn. That’s exacerbated by political corruption and by the fact that Ukraine’s troubled economy does indeed make it reliant on outside countries. Today, Ukraine is still demographically divided, its government is still troubled by corruption, and its economy is still in bad shape. As long as those things are all true, public unrest is likely to continue.
Joshua Tucker wonders what comes next:
Policy makers should not rule out the possibility that the country could split, enter a period of prolonged violence, or even face something approaching a civil war. This does not mean that any of these outcomes are foreordained, but for anyone looking forward it is no longer unreasonable to speculate about the causes or the consequences of such outcomes.
Mary Dejevsky agrees the government could fall:
This is a potentially revolutionary situation – we are watching violent street protests that could force out a government that was, whether we like it or not, reasonably democratically elected. It is also an emergency in which an ill-informed EU policy played a role. In demanding an all or nothing, now or never, decision from a Ukraine that needed emergency financing more than it needed European promises, it badly misplayed its hand.
Ioffe calls the protests “Putin’s worst nightmare”:
The last time that this many people came out to the Independence Square (the Maidan) in Kiev, nine years ago, protesters undid the election of Victor Yanukovich and brought to power a Western-friendly government. In the process, they scared the living daylights out of Putin. … Ukraine is Slavic. Ukraine speaks Russian, even though the Western part insists on having its own tongue. Kiev is the cradle of Russian civilization. Ukraine, in Putin’s mind, is almost just another province of Russia, one that, by some accident of history and politics, has a different government and a different name. He is said to have said as much to George W. Bush in 2008. “Don’t you see, George, that Ukraine is not even its own state?” he is reported to have smirked.
Update from a reader:
And what must really be causing Putin to tear his chest hair out is the fact that, so long as he is the very public face of the ongoing Winter Olympics in Sochi, he pretty much has to sit on his hands at precisely the time when his allies in the Ukraine most require his support. Hell, it’s entirely possible that before the Games end, things in will be too far gone in “just another province of Russia” for him to rescue the pro-Putin government. How schadenfreude-tastic would it be if, on account of an Olympics whose staging is designed to prop up his image at home and abroad, Putin gets a bloody nose and a black eye?
Meanwhile, Bob Dreyfuss thinks there is little the West can do about the violence in Kiev:
Likely, there will be American and European sanctions against Ukraine now, at least directed at some of its leaders, but sanctions will simply push the country’s leaders even farther from the West, and from any accord with the European Union. In the Cold War-like struggle between the United States and Russia over Ukraine, which many Russians (including Vladimir Putin, Russia’s autocratic, czar-like leader) see as part of Russia’s sphere of influence, Moscow—which urged the Ukrainian government to crack down on protesters—may have won a round. But a bloody, shaky peace, filled with simmering hatreds, is not likely to be the final result of the ongoing crackdown in Kiev.
Gideon Rachman also considers the role of the US and EU:
The West’s instinct in these situations is to call for fresh elections and that is certainly a demand that can be expected to be promoted now. In theory, this should lead to the establishment of a legitimate government, ending the need for violence. But what if elections in Ukraine actually confirm that this is a deeply-divided country with an increasingly incompatible west and east? That is certainly one possible outcome of a poll. At that point, a durable political solution might need something rather more drastic, and difficult, than holding fresh elections.
In Focus has photos from the protests. A startling contrast via Twitter:
— Joseph Stashko (@JosephStash) February 19, 2014
The Guardian is live-blogging.