Ukraine Violence Comes After Contrasting Messages From U.S., Russia

By Patrick Goodenough | February 18, 2014 | 7:32 PM EST

Anti-government protesters clash with riot police outside Ukraine's parliament in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

( – Tuesday’s bloodshed in Ukraine’s capital Kiev comes days after Ukraine’s leaders received two contrasting messages from U.S. and Russian government figures, one appealing for a non-violent resolution to the political crisis, the other suggesting the government has no choice but to use force against protestors.

Clashes between riot police and anti-government protestors erupted when police moved against an opposition camp at Kiev’s Independence Square, the vocal point of the three month-old protests, where an estimated 20,000 people were gathered. The reported death toll rose to 18, including seven policemen and 11 protestors.

“The situation in Ukraine is unpredictable and could change quickly,” the U.S. Embassy warned in a message advising American citizens to avoid protests and gatherings and remain indoors.

“The location and nature of demonstrations and methods employed by the police can change quickly and without warning,” it said. “Protest sites have drawn large crowds, and protesters have blocked roads in Kiev and other cities and may do so again.”

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was due to address the nation, officials told local media early Wednesday.

Vice President Joe Biden spoke to Yanukovich by phone, urging him to “pull back government forces and to exercise maximum restraint,” the White House said.

“The Vice President made clear that the United States condemns violence by any side, but that the government bears special responsibility to de-escalate the situation.”

It was an abrupt announcement by Yanukovich last November that he was reversing course on closer ties with the European Union that triggered the turmoil.

Europe’s second-largest country, formerly part of the Soviet Union, is deeply divided over whether its future lies with Russia or the West. Yanukovich’s acceptance of a $15 billion bailout offer from Moscow fueled fears among the opposition that the country was moving away from the E.U. and towards President Vladimir Putin’s customs union, an ambitious plan for an economic union expanding beyond its current membership of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

On February 6, the Ukraine edition of the Russian daily Kommersant published an interview with Sergei Glazyev, an advisor to Putin, who suggested it was time for Yanukovich to use force against what Glazyev called an attempt to violently topple his government.

“The authorities are not fulfilling their duty to defend the state, negotiating with putschists as if they are law-abiding citizens,” he said.

“As for starting to use force [against the protestors], in a situation where the authorities face an attempted coup d’etat, they simply have no other course of action,” he said. “Otherwise, the country will be plunged into chaos.”

Glazyev also accused the U.S. of “unilaterally and crudely interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs,” charging that the U.S. was funding and arming the Ukrainian “opposition and rebels,” including training armed fighters in the grounds of the U.S. Embassy.

And in response to a question about whether Russia would actively intervene if the crisis worsened, Glazyev submitted that Russia may be obliged to do so.

America’s interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs was a violation of a 1994 document guaranteeing Ukraine’s security after Kiev surrendered its Soviet-era nuclear arsenal, he said.

Under that 1994 agreement, he said, “Russia and the U.S. are guarantors of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and, frankly, they are obliged to intervene when conflict situations of this kind arise.”

Glazyev’s interview coincided with a visit to Ukraine by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland.

Speaking to reporters in Kiev, Nuland said the key message she was relaying to the Ukraine government and opposition related to the need to defend human rights and to resolve the crisis peacefully.

“Our message was very clear: The very first, most important issue here is de-escalating the tensions on the street, giving Ukrainians who are agitating for justice, agitating for human dignity, agitating for fair treatment by their government, confidence that the government will defend and support the human rights of its people first and foremost,” she said. “And that this situation can be settled non-violently. There is no place for violence.”

Nuland did not comment on Glazyev’s comments on the need for the government to crack down, but did call his allegations relating to the U.S. training and arming the opposition “complete fantasy.”

“He could be a science fiction writer,” she said. “The United States is absolutely transparent about what our policy is here in Ukraine. Ask any Ukrainians that we met with, that our ambassador meets with, what our relationship is about. It’s about support for a Ukrainian plan back to human dignity, back to political reform, back to economic health.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow