It is getting ugly in Ukraine. In fact the scenes coming out of Kiev look like the trouble in Tahrir Square a while back, only on steroids. Vast numbers of combatants are silhouetted against raging flames as explosions rock the streets. Molotov cocktails arc through the air and blossom into new fires. Wave after wave of black clad police in riot gear surge forward, then ebb as they break against walls of fierce resistance.
Yes, at the moment, Kiev is not a place for the faint of heart. The U.S. State Department has issued warnings to Americans in the capital to either leave or prepare to stay indoors for an extended period of time. The police are attempting to seal off the city in order to prevent reinforcements from swelling the ranks of the protesters. Even as they do the violence has spread to the city of Lviv where a crowd took over a regional administrative building and forced police to surrender. There are also reports of violence in the city of Ivan-Frankisvsk and at a border crossing into Poland.
It all started back in November when Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych backed out of a deal with the European Union and accepted a $15 billion payoff from our old pal, Vladimir Putin meant to bail out the economy. The problem is a vast number of Ukrainians don't want anything to do with Russia and, frankly, never have. At first the protests were peaceful, but over the next three months became edgier and more dangerous. Now, at least in Kiev's Independence Square, they've reached the point of virtual civil war.
An indication of how out of control things have become came today from the Ukrainian Prime Minister, Serhiy Arbuzov. He told government officials, in front of members of the western media, "This is not a demonstration of democracy. It is the manipulation of people's minds and an attempt to seize power by force." That statement, in front of those witnesses, wasn't an accident. Both Yanukovych and Putin have also described the protests as an attempted coup. Obviously the view, Yanukovych is trying to sell to the world is this is a revolution attempting to overthrow a legally elected government. The hot button word "terrorism" is also being bandied about by various Ukrainian officials. NBC's latest bulletins note Ukrainian anti terrorist forces have been put on full alert.
Well why not? In this day and age one man's freedom fighter is anothers terrorist. When power is threatened, power responds with--you guessed it--power. Besides, Yanukovych knows that after everyone takes a look at the photos coming across the internet, the word riot seems totally inadequate.
At last look media sources are saying at least 26 have been killed. The number includes 10 police and 1 journalist. In addition it is reported 263 protesters have been wounded as well as 342 police. The government is claiming almost all the police have been wounded by gunfire. Whether that allegation is accurate, or just a propaganda ploy to strengthen the argument this is truly an armed insurrection is still up in the air. It is known the number of casualties have apparently overwhelmed the local hospitals and NBC is saying a temporary one has been set up at St. Michael's Cathedral.
The United States and the European Union are threatening economic sanctions unless the Ukrainian government backs off. It is, at best, a shallow show of support to the protesters since any sanctions will have little or no real effect. They will, however, fuel Russian charges the west is behind all the unrest and violence to begin with.
The hard truth is the men and women facing the riot police are on their own and now it seems like it's' only a matter of time before things worsen and the tanks roll in. If the violence continues to escalate across the countryside there is even a possibility of Yanukovych asking Putin for military assistance. Let's face it, this is Vlad's backyard and his country is heavily dependent on Ukrainian pipelines to carry Russian gas out of the motherland. Indeed, he could call it a matter of immediate national security and send in the army to stabilize the region. After all, we've sent American troops further distances for reasons which were far murkier.
The reality is the U.S. and European powers are utterly impotent when it comes to what is going down in Ukraine right now. Economic sanctions aren't going to work and no one in their right mind will suggest a NATO intervention.
It seems impossible, Yanukovych will cave into, or even compromise because the violence has gone too far and it's his head all those pissed off people want. And--in all honesty--there is no accurate way to know the real depth of support the demonstrators have from the majority of Ukrainians. In the final analysis, it is easy to count those in the streets, but extremely hard to gauge the thoughts of all the ones sitting at home.
The only thing we know for sure is this will end badly. These things always do. That, we can count on.
sic vita est