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Uncertainty as Ashton visits Kyiv

The European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton visited Kyiv to help find a solution to the political crisis. Observers hope EU mediation can help prevent further violence against protesters.

The EU Commission says Catherine Ashton wants to help Ukraine find a way out of the political crisis. The EU high representative's visit to Kyiv on Tuesday is reminiscent of events in 2004, when her predecessor Javier Solana participated in round-table negotiations in Kyiv during the Orange Revolution.

Due in part also to the participation of mediators, a peaceful solution to that conflict was found. But what role can the European Union play today, as hundreds of thousands of people throng the streets of Kyiv calling once again for democratic change?

After Ashton left, Ukrainian police moved in on the Maidan, the central square that has been the main focus of protest, to clear the demonstrators

EU assesses the situation

Ashton's visit is meant to gain a first-hand impression of the situation and to assess "the positions of the different players," Susan Stewart from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) told DW. Ashton might also be able to persuade at least some of those involved to agree to international mediation or support, Stewart adds - the fact that a high-ranking EU politician is visiting the country is important in itself.

Polizei und Demonstranten in Kiew 10.12.2013

Clashes between protesters and police have escalated

Hrant Kostanyan, of the Center for European Studies (CEPS), can't imagine the EU will play a decisive role in solving this conflict. "The visit is designed to prevent any escalation and more violence against the peaceful demonstrators and to remind Ukraine of the EU's willingness to sign the Association Agreement," he told DW.

Should the EU mediate?

After a long period of silence, Viktor Yanukovych said he wanted to find a peaceful solution to the crisis, and also showed a willingness to participate in a "national round table." It was Ukraine's former President Leonid Kravchuk who originally suggested such a forum to negotiate a compromise. It remains to be seen whether Yanukovych plans to offer seats to EU representatives - his advisors have repeatedly spoken out against international mediators.

Ashton's visit may help prevent the worst case scenario, Oleksij Haran says: a violent crackdown on the protesters on Kyiv's Independence Square, often simply called the Maidan. The professor of political science at Kyiv's Mohyla University is skeptical about the EU's role.

In the recent past, Ukrainians have heard earnest declarations from politicians worldwide, and seen many symbolic gestures, he says, and notes that quite a few foreign ministers even visited the Maidan on the sidelines of the OSCE meeting. "But we haven't heard what's most important: that those who abused human rights in Ukraine, who beat journalists and provoke violence, will face sanctions," Haran says.

Appeal for sanctions and investigations

Sanctions such as EU travel bans or freezing bank accounts could be imposed on Ukraine's Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko, Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka, and several other officials who are believed to have violated the rights of peaceful demonstrators. "We want to see Europe take steps to support us," Haran says, making it clear that Ukraine's rulers fear pressure from the EU.

Ukrainischer Politologe Olexij Haran

Haran would like to see the EU impose sanctions on certain Ukrainian leaders

EU nations should be prepared to impose sanctions on certain Ukrainian state representatives, Kostanyan agrees, adding that the EU demands an investigation into the events. According to him, this matter "has priority for the EU."

Demonstrators at the Maidan are also demanding such investigations, while representatives from opposition parties want to hold the government responsible for the violence against the peaceful demonstrators on November 30. They are also seeking the release of activists arrested December 1 during clashes in front of the presidential palace.

Talks could fail

Stewart thinks the EU could play a decisive role in the quest for peaceful solutions to the political crisis in Ukraine. But she doesn't rule out the possibility that the talks could disappoint.

"The sides could drift even farther apart," Stewart said, adding that the government could attempt to use its power to stamp out the protests.

Discussions about possible sanctions against the Ukrainian government are not yet on the agenda for Ashton's visit to Kyiv. But Stewart believes this could change if the regime refuses to resolve the country's crisis peacefully.

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