The battle for Ukraine has resumed, more violently than ever. Riot police, assisted by “young men in jeans wearing medical masks and carrying pipes and baseball bats,” have broken through barricades in Kiev’s Independence Square. Demonstrators armed with rocks and Molotov cocktails are fighting back and preliminary reports are that at least nine people (seven demonstrators, two police officers) have been killed. Clouds of black smoke are said to be rising over the parliament building, the result of tires set alight by anti-government protesters.
So much for attempts to negotiate a peaceful end to the two-month showdown. President Viktor F. Yanukovych, after wavering a bit, appears to have been emboldened to take violent action, no doubt encouraged by Moscow’s decision to resume its subsidies to his government, worth a total of $15 billion, by buying another $2 billion in Ukrainian bonds.
And where is the West in all this? While all this was going on in Kiev, two opposition leaders, Arseny P. Yatsenyuk and Vitali Klitschko, were meeting in Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The reception they received is nice, but it’s no substitute for an economic aid package to convince Ukrainians that they can get a better deal out of the EU than out of Russia. Both the EU and the U.S. are said to have been working on such a package but behind-the scenes negotiations have produced scant results–which is perhaps why Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland was heard cursing on an illicitly taped conversation, “F— the EU.”
But it is not just the EU that is failing to show leadership. So too with the U.S., with a president distracted by numerous crises at home and abroad, ranging from the birthing pangs of his health-care plan to the latest slaughter in Syria. Amid all these other problems, it is hard for Ukraine to get the attention it deserves. But don’t forget, this is a country of almost 45 million people, which was once the second-largest republic in the Soviet Union and today remains the biggest prize on the borderland between Russia and the West–between Putinism and freedom. The U.S. and its European allies have a major stake in making sure that Ukraine does not once again revert to de facto Russian control, but to avert that fate will require more political leadership starting in Washington.