Ukraine protests comment: Vitali Klitschko has emerged as a real contender in the fight for a political solution to the crisis
We must assume things will get worse before they get better
When Ukraine’s protests started on 21 November, the main issue was Europe. Today it is democracy. Yet the issues are difficult to separate. Under four presidents, Ukraine defined itself as a European state. EU integration brought out differences in Ukraine, but unlike Nato integration, it never polarised the country.
When Viktor Yanukovych, the candidate of the Russophile east, came to power in 2010, the EU was his first port of call. His abrupt turn away from the association process he initially embraced struck a raw nerve in an already embittered country.
Ukraine has also defined itself as a democratic state. In practice, Ukrainian democracy has been corrupted by the generic flaw of all post-Soviet states: the fusion of power and money. Nevertheless, politics in Ukraine has been pluralistic, vibrant and, like civil society, uncensored, uninhibited and relatively tolerant.
The law of 16 January, which challenges fundamental rights of association, speech and assembly, has not only overturned the constitution but the social contract itself.
In this entire dynamic, Mr Yanukovych has been driven by the logic of his objectives and methods. He has pursued power for the sake of it. His policies have enriched corporate raiders, the casino culture and the so-called Family. At the same time, they have choked off national revenue, dried up investment and pushed Ukraine to the brink of default. By the eve of the Vilnius summit, this handed Russia a trump card, and Vladimir Putin played it.
The radicalisation of today’s protests is a natural response to the radicalisation of power. It is also a response to the perceived ineffectiveness of Ukraine’s divided opposition. But this perception might be changing.
Within the past few days, Vitali Klitschko has begun to look like a national leader. Unlike the intellectually radiant Arseniy Yatsenyuk (leader of the Tymoshenko bloc), he is not tarred by failures in power; unlike Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the Freedom Party (Svoboda), he does not arouse the phobias of the Russian-speaking east and south. Mr Klitschko’s message has been clear: defend the Maidan, but fight for a political rather than armed solution.
That message might have wider resonance than the gruesome imagery of protest suggests. Every forceful suppression of violent protests by the authorities has brought 10 times the number of peaceful protesters back on to the streets. Moreover, force is not unlimited. There are only a few thousand Berkut (riot police) in the country. Only a small number of Ministry of Interior gendarmerie (internal troops) are fit for purpose. Despite Mr Yanukovych’s sacking of the Commander of Ukrainian Ground Forces, the Minister of Defence has reiterated that the use of the army in internal conflicts is unconstitutional.
Realism has not been the defining theme of Mr Yanukovych’s tenure. He is a man whose political instincts were acquired in a merciless and unscrupulous world. He is reliant on a narrow circle of narrow thinkers. It is only prudent to assume that things will get worse before they get better. But it is possible, even probable, that they will get better, and we would do well to ask (in Europe as well as Ukraine) how to strengthen this probability.
James Sherr is an associate fellow of Chatham House, and author of ‘Hard Diplomacy and Soft Coercion: Russia’s Influence Abroad’.
Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts
Met Police confirm there was a 'minor disturbance' and that no-one was arrested
George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios
Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?
Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets
Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination
I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title
- 1 Indian footballer Peter Biaksangzuala dies after injuring spine doing somersault celebration
- 2 Jack the Ripper: Scientist who claims to have identified notorious killer has 'made serious DNA error'
- 3 Banksy arrest hoax: Internet duped by fake report claiming that the street artist's identity has been revealed
- 4 Drink alcohol and eat meat to improve male fertility - but cut down on coffee, studies suggest
- 5 Brian Harvey turns up at Downing Street and 'demands to speak to Prime Minister'
Jack the Ripper: Scientist who claims to have identified notorious killer has 'made serious DNA error'
Banksy arrest hoax: Internet duped by fake report claiming that the street artist's identity has been revealed
'Russian submarine spotted' by Swedish military off coast of Stockholm
Brian Harvey turns up at Downing Street and 'demands to speak to Prime Minister'
Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver allegedly kicks gay couple off for kissing
Amal Alamuddin calls for the return of the Elgin Marbles from Britain: 'Injustice has persisted for too long'
Lord Freud: Tory welfare minister apologises after saying disabled people are 'not worth’ the minimum wage
£80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...
£35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...
£35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...
£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ampersand Consulting LLP: Senior Change ...