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Published: Friday, 2/21/2014


Ukraine ablaze

Ukraine is a poor, divided country in flames. Russia pulls on one arm and the United States on the other, and the European Union tugs at a leg. Its predicament should lead to a simple declaration: Enough, already.

Demonstrators protesting government policies in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev have turned the city’s Independence Square into a ring of fire. Opponents of President Viktor Yanukovych’s rule also are protesting in other cities. More than 70 people are dead and hundreds wounded as a result of the government’s use of force to try to end the Kiev demonstrations and the protesters’ violent response.

The causes are deeper than the decision by Mr. Yanukovych that set off the disturbances: his choice to reinforce Ukraine in its traditional role close to Russia, rather than pursuing membership in the European Union more actively. The real causes are fractures between the country’s Ukrainian-speakers and Russian-speakers, old east-west divisions, poverty and high unemployment, and corruption that stifles foreign investment and economic development.

The foreign players in this explosive, destructive internal game have often acted irresponsibly. The European Union, egged on by the United States, would like to see Ukraine successfully wrested away from Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to retain his country’s old, imperial hold on Ukraine, a buffer state between it and Central Europe.

Secretary of State John Kerry said this week that the United States may join the EU in seeking sanctions against Ukrainian leaders. Meanwhile, Ukraine is being destroyed, along with its capital, its infrastructure, and the legitimacy of its government (Mr. Yanukovych was elected in reasonably fair elections in 2010).

President Obama and EU foreign minister Catherine Ashton now need to ask Mr. Putin whether he really wants to see Ukraine in flames, and then agree on a way to quell the violence. That would be genuine statesmanship, not dancing around a disaster.

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