May 24, 2015


History haunts Ukraine

The promise of a truce in Ukraine is shaky and imperfect, but protesters should embrace it in an effort to prevent further bloodshed.

President Viktor Yanukovych says he will establish a new caretaker government, followed by a presidential election in December. The deal leaves him in power for now, but he should resign immediately. The president has too much blood on his hands to carry on, or play any role in an interim government.

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The new government, if indeed there is a new one, should immediately lift prosecutions on political opponents, restore press freedoms and issue a general amnesty. A regime that persecutes its critics and tramples on basic rights will not earn the trust of the people and certainly not of the protesters.

The accord was immediately in peril, however, after Russia refused to endorse it, while protesters said they would not go home until the slippery Mr. Yanukovych resigned.

Ukraine should ignore threats from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who views his neighbour as a vassal state that belongs in his own Eurasian Union, both for economic and strategic reasons. Mr. Putin also shuns the liberal-democratic principles a large part of the country wishes to embrace. It will take considerable courage to resist Russia's malevolent influence, since Ukraine depends on Russia for its oil and gas, as well as financial support.

The European Union, the United States and Canada must counter this pressure with their own offers of support, much the way they did when Ukraine received its independence in 1991, but with more economic heft. That won't be easy as long as Mr. Putin is determined to revive a Russian empire, but the alternative could be prolonged civil strife.

The sooner Mr. Yanukovych resigns, the easier it will be to create the conditions that will allow Ukrainians to decide democratically their own future. The fact is Ukraine has historical links to both Europe and Russia. It should not have to choose between an alliance with one or the other, but be free to pursue its interests in both spheres.

Again, the only obstacle to such a path is the Russian president, whose attempts to mould Ukraine into an authoritarian regime could end up destroying the country.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2014 A16

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