3 Dec 2013

A proxy cold war, played out on Ukraine’s streets

Kiev today resembles a film set for a revolutionary movie, still looking for a suitable ending.

Outside the parliament, the crowd (tens of thousands of them) that have set up in Independence Square came here early this morning to provide an intimidating human backdrop to the parliamentarians sitting inside.

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While they were chanting “Resign! Resign!” and “Long live Ukraine!”, around the corner, on the other side of parliament, a much smaller crowd of pro-government demonstrators had amassed in front of a mainly empty stage where, now and again, a lugubrious folk singer would deliver romantic ballads about Ukraine.

In between the crowds, a phalanx of scary-looking riot police who, after last Saturday’s violence, had cleared been ordered by their superiors to be on best behaviour.


Inside the parliament building itself, one deputy after another got up to make their case for one side or the other. When Prime Minister Azarov delivered his diatribe against the demonstrators in Russian, several dozen deputies from the opposition party banged their tables and shouted “Speak Ukrainian! Speak Ukrainian!” for about 20 minutes.

The mood in the chamber was charged and at times rowdy. And most of the people that we spoke to throughout the day had blithely assumed that the no-confidence vote would be passed and the government be forced to resign. In the end, they were to be disappointed. 03_ukraine4_w The prime minister, who had earlier described the demonstration as a coup d’etat, and his cabinet cling on to power. As for President Yanukovich, the man at the centre of this storm, he has packed his bags and disappeared on an official visit to China, where he is hoping that the cash-rich Chinese government will give his country many billions of dollars to fix the roads in Ukraine.

Whether this is an example of supreme denial or ignorance, or both, fixing the roads will not solve this stalemate. What’s happening in Ukraine is a fascinating proxy cold war between Europe and Russia, between two different sets of values, and between a country bitterly divided by both.

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