Calm in Ukraine: Obama should consult with Putin on the future

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Ukraine may be returning to relative normalcy after three months of violent demonstrations, which claimed at least 82 victims across the country last week.

President Viktor F. Yanukovych departed the capital, Kiev, perhaps for the country’s Crimea region, and is being sought on charges of killing civilian protesters. Early elections have been set for May 25, only three months away. The parliament, which functioned during the unrest, elected its speaker, Oleksandr Turchynov, as acting president. He is assembling a government of national unity. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the best known of Ukraine’s imprisoned Yanukovych opponents, has been released.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, who has supported Mr. Yanukovych and might have considered military intervention to save his protege, has made no move. U.S. officials had urged Mr. Yanukovych to step down, and President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, warned on television against any outside intervention.

Some very worrisome pieces remain. The first is the government’s disastrous financial situation, which Mr. Putin had been in the process of relieving with $15 billion in loans and energy subsidies, until Russia decided to withhold it for the time being. Ukraine’s external debt is gauged at $73 billion, all of it due within 12 to 18 months. It needs $35 billion right away to avoid default. The European Union has promised to help but doesn’t normally move quickly.

A more dangerous problem is that Ukraine remains divided between its generally pro-Western Europe west, which wants EU membership and its generally pro-Russian east. It is possible that the country might split, although the general assessment is that the Ukrainians’ sense of national identity will preclude such an undesirable development.

Mr. Obama, having passed up the opportunity to go to the Olympic games and talk with Mr. Putin in Sochi, needs to stay in close touch with the Russian president on the subject of Ukraine, to seek to erase it as a sore point between the two countries.

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