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After deadly night in Ukraine, Europe weighs response

Officials across Europe condemn yesterday’s violence in Ukraine, and are set to consider sanctions against the Ukrainian government.

An aerial view showing Independence Square during ongoing clashes between anti-government protesters and Interior Ministry members and riot police in central Kiev on Wednesday.
REUTERS/Olga Yakimovich

PARIS – A night of deadly violence in Kiev yesterday has been accompanied by an escalation in hostile rhetoric between the West and the East – dampening hopes of a peaceful way out of Ukraine’s three-month-long political standoff.

More than two dozen were killed and hundreds injured in the deadliest clashes to shake Ukraine since independence, which last night turned the country’s capital into “a battle zone,” the Christian Science Monitor reported from Kiev.

Police and antigovernment protesters clashed throughout the day, as the protesters attempted to march on government offices and riot police later attempted to clear Kiev’s Independence Square, the central stage for the opposition movement since November.

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl Bildt went on Twitter to condemn the political situation, faulting Mr. Yanukovych. “Only person who can now stop catastrophe in Ukraine is President Yanukovich,” he tweeted. “His vacillation and violence responsible for situation.”

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“We must be clear: Ultimate responsibility for deaths and violence is with President Yanukovich. He has blood on his hands,” he added.

In a speech to the Polish parliament today, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said that “moral judgment here is black-and-white, there are no gray areas,” according to Bloomberg. “Responsibility for the violence in Kiev rests with the government, not the opposition.” Representatives from Germany, France, and Denmark issued similar statements, adds the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin placed blame squarely on the West. “What is happening is a direct result of the policy of permissiveness on behalf of Western politicians and European agencies, who from the start of the crisis have deliberately overlooked the aggressive actions of Ukraine’s radical groups,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement. This policy amounted to “encouraging [these groups] to escalate the conflict and provoke the legitimate authorities,” the statement said.

Most observers believe that a solution to the simmering violence, which began in November after President Viktor Yanukovych backed away from an association agreement with the European Union, can only lie in finding middle ground between the West and Russia. Ukraine scuttled the agreement in large part under Russia’s pressure, which threatened Ukraine with repercussions if it sought closer ties with Europe.

Germany had stood out as one player poised to bridge the divide, acting tough on Ukrainian authorities at the same time that it reduced tensions between the West and Russia, as the Monitor reported earlier in the month.

If bringing Russia to the West’s side seems increasingly out of reach, fresh violence has led to a growing consensus in Europe that the situation must be solved. That might mean that Europe, which has been seen as reluctant to push the situation in Ukraine, might be on the brink of acting. The EU’s 28 foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting on Thursday to discuss Ukraine, and are expected to weigh sanctions against the government, reports Reuters.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that targeted sanctions are a real possibility now, according to the AP. “Whoever is responsible for decisions that lead to bloodshed in the center of Kiev or elsewhere in Ukraine will need to consider that Europe’s previous reluctance for personal sanctions must be rethought,” he said.