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EU and Russia: Intervene

Ingo Mannteufel / cdJanuary 22, 2014

The situation in Kyiv has escalated. For the first time since demonstrations began, protestors have died. The EU and Russia need to work together to avoid something worse happening, writes DW's Ingo Mannteufel.

DW's Ingo Mannteufel, who heads the Russian department
Image: DW

The several protestors killed in street battles in Kyiv are the sad, preliminary climax to an ongoing, months-long confrontation between euro-friendly Euromaidan activists and the security forces of President Yanukovich. The street fight in Kyiv is now in full swing.

That the altercations would intensify and potentially yet worsen has been the fear since last week: With new repressive laws that substantially limit the right to demonstrate and other protest measures, President Yanukovich clearly set himself on a path toward escalation.

Escalation strategy

Instead of conducting serious negotiations with moderate Euromaiden opposition leaders in the new year period, the surprise bill issued a challenge to Ukrainians who had been protesting Yanukovich for months. The result was a split in the anti-Yanukovich camp: Radical and battle-ready demonstrators criticized opposition leaders such as Vitali Klitschko for their failed strategy, and called for violence against Yanukovich power structures.

Ukraine is on the edge of civil war. That's the result of the radicalization of protestors and the escalation strategy from Yanukovich. Protests had originally begun peacefully in November after Yanukovich did not sign an Association Agreement with the European Union.

In the meantime, it hasn't been about rapprochement with Europe. Fundamentally, it has been about the survival of Yanukovich's reign, a man who, through repressive laws and brutal actions by security forces, has established his lack of democratic credentials.

EU and Russia have to negotiate

A policy that leaves Ukraine to its own devices is outwardly dangerous. Yanukovich and the opposition leaders, insofar as they can speak for all demonstrators, indulge in recriminations and will have a hard time reaching a solution without outside interference. Thus, if an expansion of violence is to be prevented, one which could slide Ukraine into a civil war-like state, then the EU and Russia must now act jointly.

Due to complex national interests, the unclear objective of Europe's Ukraine policy and the zero-sum foreign policy rationale predominant in Russia in particular, it will not be an easy undertaking. The example in Syria has shown, in an awful manner, where things can lead when the international community remains inactive as a result of its differences. Yet the Syrian case has made it just as clear that Western pressure - and the EU should finally threaten the Yanukovich regime with sanctions - as well as a pragmatic policy with Russia can lead to a political solution.

For Ukraine to slip into a civil war-like state is neither in the interest of Russia nor in the interest of the West. This point must be pressed in diplomatic efforts between the EU and Moscow. During talks on Syria in Montreaux and the meeting of global elites in Swiss Davos, there should be enough opportunities to prevent further escalation in Ukraine.