Ukraine deal could bring some calm to the strife-torn nation

  • Anti-government

    Anti-government protesters clash with policemen in Kiev. (AFP photo)

  • William Hague

    British foreign secretary William Hague listens to Croatia's foreign minister Vesna Pusic (L) and Lithuania's foreign minister Linas Linkevicius (R) during an emergency meeting of ...

  • Medical personnel

    Medical personnel prepare an improvised field hospital in the lobby of hotel Ukraine during clashes between anti-government demonstrators and riot police in Kiev. (Reuters)

  • Square in Kiev

    Anti-government protesters push logs to build barricades during clashes with riot police in the Independence Square in Kiev. (Reuters)

  • central Kiev.

    An anti-government protester shows empty bullet casings used by riot police against demonstrators in central Kiev. (AFP photo)

  •  riot police

    A priest holds a cross and shield during clashes betwwen anti-government protesters and riot police in central Kiev. (AFP photo)

  • Riot police

    Riot police face anti-government protesters during clashes central Kiev. Ukraine's brittle truce shattered in fierce clashes between baton-wielding protesters and riot police. (AFP photo)

  • Independence Square in Kiev.

    A woman reacts as anti-government protesters place a dead body on a stretcher after violence erupted in the Independence Square in Kiev. (Reuters)

  • Square in Kiev

    A dead body is seen on the ground after violence erupted in the Independence Square in Kiev. (Reuters)

  • police in Kiev

    Protesters burn as they stand behind burning barricades during clashes with police in Kiev. (AFP photo)

Hope and fear could be found in equal measure in Ukraine after President Viktor F Yanukovych’s flight and ouster on Saturday, following the deadliest violence in the country’s history in the recent past.

The interim leadership issued an arrest warrant against Mr Yanukovych for ‘mass murder of innocent civilians’. Amidst fears of a civil war, it pledged to put the country back on course for European integration and stressed they wanted relations with Russia on a ‘new, equal and good-neighbourly footing that recognises and takes into account Ukraine’s European choice’. Following this, on Sunday, Russia recalled its ambassador in Ukraine for consultations.

So far violence in Kiev’s Independence Square has claimed over 100 lives but with a change of guard there is a glimmer of hope for the 46 million people sandwiched between Russia and the European Union (EU).

What triggered the protest in November was Mr Yanukovych trading off an EU association and free-trade agreement with a Russian offer of gas and financial assistance of $15 billion. With the country’s finances in a mess, Mr Yanukovych opted for tangible financial help and political insurance from Russia rather than promises from the EU, whose economic worries are far from over.

But the West sees this as Russia never coming to terms with the sovereignty of Ukraine. Differing loyalties and affinities are playing their part in adding fuel to the fire of protest.

That had changed the tone of the protest to more than a fight about whose side to take — Russia’s or the EU’s — on economic issues. Though there were no voices of secessionism, the talks of political reforms — mostly limiting the powers of the president and holding of early elections — are central to the demands.

Washington, meanwhile, is watching the developments from the sidelines. United States President Barack Obama said he would keep pushing Russian President Vladimir Putin to side with the “will of the people in both nations”.

But given Mr Putin’s predilections and compulsions, it is unlikely that he will heed this advice in a hurry. In Europe there are security worries from a possible spillover of the violence. For now it looks like Russia’s likely loss is the EU’s gain.

 

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