The fabled fight back against “terrorists” ground to a halt amidst popular peaceful protest yesterday. Armoured vehicles had to stop and some were “captured” by unarmed civilians who disagreed with the Kiev government. Flying fast military jets overhead is a not a great way to win back the trust and support of the population.
At the peace talks today the West needs to be realistic. The current Ukrainian government cannot police the whole country or command the loyalty and support of all for the present political arrangements. The Ukrainian government should not fire on its own unarmed people, and has to accept that many of those who disagree with it are peaceful protesters, and these people support the armed personnel who occupy some of the key official buildings. The country has to be won back by words and by votes, not by bullets.
The danger now is the creation of various unofficial armed militias and a further break down in law and order and central government control. If Ukraine minus the Crimea is to be saved as a state it now needs a leader who can emerge, win the election, and unite the country behind a suitable system of government. The Russians have a point when they recommend a more federal state with more rights to independent decision taking in the Russian speaking parts of the country. The current regime does not have the trust of the Russian speakers, and needs to address this issue. If they do not want a federal solution, they have to show what can work better.
The West pressed too far without the means or intent to back up the western looking regime who took over. These things are best done by democratic elected politicians leading change and understanding the different viewpoints in their own country. The Ukrainian regime is showing just how easy it is to lose unity and a feeling of belonging to a state. At the peace conference the UK should make clear it does not want the interim Ukrainian government provoking the Russian speakers and their friends in Russia more or resorting to force in a way which promotes a civil war, just as it is opposed to Russian troops intervening from across the border.