Writing the first draft of history is always difficult, especially when the opening act curtain has not officially fallen. Yet developments in Ukraine have now reached a critical turning point, with certain consequences likely to follow.
Historians will long debate the chain of events that provoked the February 18, 2014 confrontation. What we know is that the simmering demands of the opposition — over Ukraine’s thwarted path to Europe, the failure to re-instate the 2004 Constitution and President Victor Yanukovich’s insincere negotiations – all boiled over in a violent clash with the Ukrainian security services. The fight for Ukraine’s future was being resolved in the streets of Kiev – in live pictures transmitting around the globe.
Two symbols undoubtedly will emerge from the events of the last few days: a heroic Maidan and a bloody Yanukovich. Half the population will not accept the results, but it is also unlikely that Ukrainian opposition can impose its will on the country. So even if the Maidan were somehow to hold its ground and gain the upper hand — and it was still resisting at the time of this writing — a political consensus would still have to be found.
Unlike past attempts to clear the Maidan (also known as Independence Square), Yanukovich did not back down. Perhaps his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi this month provided him with extra backbone. In any case, from Yanukovich’s perspective, his political survival could depend on ending the open revolt in the center of the nation’s capital.
Yanukovich in unlikely to be magnanimous in victory. The amnesty for protesters negotiated just before the violence ignited may go unobserved. Political compromise with the opposition is also likely off the table, since trust was destroyed on the bloody streets of Kiev. So Yanukovich most likely would have to go it alone. He can rely on his political base in Donetsk, the support of Ukraine’s oligarchs and Russia’s previously promised $15-billion financial assistance package to keep his divided country afloat.