The continuing drama in Ukraine over whether it will turn to the West and the European Union, or to the East by retaining its traditional relationship with Russia, has gone far enough.
Violence and claims of torture in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, are increasing. There is talk of civil war and a possible division of the country. When Ukraine’s elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, took sick leave last week, there were reports that he was planning to resign, as some opponents of his government are demanding.
The strife is based largely on Ukraine’s relatively low level of economic development. That failure is underlined every winter by the price neighboring Russia charges for the natural gas it provides to heat Ukrainian homes and businesses.
Some Ukrainians believe the only answer is for their country to move toward membership in the European Union. Others insist on maintaining Ukraine’s traditional relationship with Russia. Hence the conflict.
Ukrainian politics also reflect religious, regional, and linguistic differences among its 46 million people. Mr. Yanukovych won election in 2010 elections as the candidate of Russia-oriented Ukrainian voters.
The debate, which has evolved into a contest in the streets, has been sharpened by the kind of East-West rivalry that everyone wanted to believe had died with the Cold War’s end in 1990. European Union countries and the United States are backing the Ukrainian opposition against the Yanukovych government. Russia, not surprisingly, is supporting the government.
It seems increasingly possible that the East and West will end up tearing Ukraine apart in their drive to add it to each bloc’s sphere of influence. Secretary of State John Kerry and E.U. foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton now need to go to Moscow and persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin that it is to no one’s advantage for Ukraine to remain in turmoil — or worse, to split up — and to agree to stop tugging at its limbs.