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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Kiev Is Burning -- By Walter Russell Mead, The American Interest

The tinderbox that is Ukraine has exploded: the latest violence in Kiev has cost 13 lives so far, and the number is likely to rise. Downtown Kiev is aflame and there are no signs of a quick end to the most serious crisis in the troubled country yet.


Ukraine today suffers from most of the maladies of post-Soviet life. The old system broke down, and a stable and prosperous new system has been unable to emerge. Unprincipled oligarchs dominate political life and state institutions are weak. Divided between a Russian-speaking eastern half and a Ukrainian-speaking (and often westward looking) westward half, Ukraine isn’t sure what it’s identity is going to be.

Meanwhile, most Russian nationalists consider Ukrainian independence and absurdity, and one of President Putin’s central goals is to reunite Ukraine with Russia. This is a battle he cannot afford to lose, and he is playing every card in his hand for all it is worth — at best to bring Ukraine back to the embrace of mother Russia or at least to prevent it from joining with the West.

The EU and the United States have failed to develop a coherent strategy for Ukraine. As the situation in Kiev escalates, the question now is how bad things would have to get to prompt a serious Ukrainian policy from the West, which thus far has been mostly content to utter beautiful phrases. The U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine is doing his best,  pegging responsibility solely on the Ukrainian government for this latest round of violence. Yanukovych and his thugs are probably not all that worried by the tough talk, however. As world leaders are sure to have taken away from Assad’s experience in Syria, this administration is fond of bluster without follow-up.

We shall see.

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