But early elections – combined with a coalition interim government – are the only way now to tamp down what is boiling hatred, aggression and lawless impunity that have overtaken the streets of Kyiv and many other cities in Ukraine.
Public trust in President Viktor Yanukovych, parliament, the courts and police has reached such a critically low point that more murders seem likely. In addition to at least 75 deaths since Feb. 18 alone, including those of 13 police officers, Ukraine is falling into a spiral of hatred, vengeance and bloodlust.
Because political leaders are not trusted, people are willing to die to change their government. They’d like to do it at the ballot box but a violent change is becoming more acceptable for many of them.
Because police are not trusted, people set up roving bands of “self-defense” patrols to take law into their own hands. Since both sides are often armed and wearing masks, regular criminals and rioters are exploiting the chaos to steal and to kill. We’re perilously close to a full-blown breakdown of society.
Early on Feb. 19, journalist Vyacheslav Veremiy with Vesti newspaper was gunned down as he took an overnight taxi ride home from work. He was shot right in the city center on Velyka Zhytomyrska Street near the five-star InterContinental Hotel. The dozens of other dead victims all have their own stories.
The nation’s oligarchs, who care more about their mostly ill-gotten wealth than the nation, should realize they will have no fortunes to protect if the nation fails. They need to put pressure on Yanukovych to call early presidential and parliamentary elections now.
America followed up this week with visa bans against 20 top Ukrainian officials identified as part of a chain-of-command in ordering the violence against anti-government EuroMaidan demonstrators, a string of violence that began on Nov. 30. More sanctions must follow, and U.S. President Barack Obama’s warnings on Feb. 19 of more consequences ahead were welcome news.
The Feb. 20 bloodbath took place as the foreign ministers of three European Union nations – France, Germany and Poland – met with Yanukovych. The EU foreign ministers took the welcome step of agreeing to slap financial and visa sanctions against unspecified Ukraine leaders.
Russia took its typically obstructionist approach, with Prime Minister Dmytro Medvedev calling Yanukovych a wimp for not ordering the police to more ruthlessly put down the growing revolt. Ukraine is not Belarus, it’s not Russia and it’s certainly not North Korea. So the West need not fear that Ukraine will retreat into isolationism.
Too many of Ukraine’s 45 million people want a civilized and prosperous existence. This yearning is, fortunately, also shared by a slice of Ukraine’s top economic and political elite – including the billionaires with London penthouse apartments and luxurious European getaways. The West has more influence on these oligarchs and their bank accounts than they think. The West must simply unite and apply hard sanctions.
Yanukovych was indeed elected for a five-year presidential term in 2010. But in democratic societies, politicians are not allowed to get away with any crime until the next election. As an act of good faith, Yanukovych should allow an independent investigation of suspicions that he ordered police to fire on the crowds and hired “titushky,” the slang term for government-hired thugs, to commit violence and create chaos. The same should apply to the opposition and protest leaders, who are not blameless. Chaos and destruction are not governing strategies for any who claim to love Ukraine, as the militant Pravy Sector and other radical EuroMaidan groups do.