Ukraine ablaze: Foreign powers must calm, not fan, the violence

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The predicament of Ukraine, a poor, divided country in flames, with Russia pulling on one arm, the United States on another and the European Union tugging at a leg, should lead to a simple declaration: “Enough, already!”

The demonstrators opposed to government policies in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, have turned the city’s Independence Square, the Maidan, into a ring of fire. Opponents of President Viktor F. Yanukovych’s rule are also protesting in other cities. At least 26 are dead, with hundreds wounded, a result of the government’s use of force to try to end the Kiev demonstrations and the protesters’ violent response.

The causes are deeper than the Yanukovych decision that set off the demonstrations, a choice to reinforce Ukraine in its traditional role close to Russia, as opposed to pursuing more actively a membership in the European Union. The real causes of the disturbances are fractures in Ukrainian society between Ukrainian speakers and Russian speakers, old east-west divisions, general poverty and high unemployment, and corruption that stifles foreign investment and economic development.

The foreign players in this explosive, destructive internal game are simply irresponsible. The European Union, egged on by the United States, would like to see Ukraine as another country successfully wrested away from Russia, or the old Soviet Union. Russia under President Vladimir V. Putin wants to retain its old, imperial hold on Ukraine, a buffer state between it and Central Europe. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Paris Wednesday that the United States may join the EU in a sanctions response against Ukrainian leaders.

Meanwhile, it is Ukraine that is being destroyed, along with its capital, its infrastructure and the legitimacy of its government. Late Wednesday, Mr. Yanukovych and protest leaders said they had agreed to a truce.

What needs to be done is for President Barack Obama and EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton to make their way to Moscow or Sochi, the site of the Olympics, ask Mr. Putin if he really wants to see Ukraine in flames and agree on a way to quell the violence. That is statesmanship, not dancing around a disaster.


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