Ukraine boils over: U.S. and Russia should agree not to interfere

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The continuing drama in Ukraine over whether it turns to the West and the European Union or to the East, retaining its traditional relationship with Russia, has now gone far enough.

Violence in the streets of Kiev, the capital, is increasing, including claims of torture. There is talk of civil war, and of possible division of the country. When its elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, took sick leave last week there were reports that he was, in fact, throwing in the towel and planning to resign, as some of the opposition to his government are demanding.

The background to the strife is Ukraine’s relatively low level of development, underlined every winter by the price that neighboring Russia charges for the natural gas that heats Ukrainian homes and businesses. The battle lines up, on one side, Ukrainians who believe that the only answer is for the country to move toward membership in the European Union, and the other, those who believe that its traditional relationship with Russia is the answer.

Ukraine’s politics line up pretty much along the same lines, reflecting religious, regional and linguistic differences among its 46-million population. Mr. Yanukovych won the 2010 elections as the candidate of the Russia-oriented part of the population.

Unfortunately, the intra-Ukrainian debate, which has evolved into a contest in the streets, has been sharpened by a kind of old East-West rivalry that everyone wanted to believe died with the end of the Cold War in 1990. European Union countries and the United States are now actively backing the Ukrainian opposition, against the Yanukovych government, and Russia is backing the government.

In Biblical terms, it is like the two mothers dueling over a baby in the quarrel which King Solomon resolved. It is becoming increasingly possible that the East and West will end up tearing Ukraine apart in their drive to add it to their pile of countries.

What is needed at this point is for Secretary of State John Kerry and EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton to go to Moscow and agree with Russian president Vladimir V. Putin that it is definitely to no one’s advantage for Ukraine to remain in turmoil, or, worse, to split up, and to agree to stop tugging at its limbs.

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