Spreading fire

Spreading fire

The danger of civil war looms over Ukraine with government forces and rebels locked in heavy fighting for dominance over towns in the east of the country. The government is seeking to wrest control over towns the rebels captured last month. Violence has not only intensified but it is also spreading and with presidential polls due later this month, tensions can be expected to escalate.

The crisis in Ukraine has evolved over several phases since it erupted late last year. While its immediate trigger was President Viktor Yanukovich’s signing of a gas agreement with Russia, rejecting an earlier deal with the European Union (EU), the roots of the conflict can be traced to NATO’s aggressive eastward expansion over the past two decades.

As part of this expansion, NATO has been eyeing Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, and hoping to bring it within its fold. When pro-West Ukrainians protested the pro-Russia Yanukovich’s decision to dump the EU deal, the West saw opportunity, an excuse, to intervene. It stepped in and backed the protestors, even inciting them to oust Yanukovich.

The regime change in Kiev led to unrest in Crimea. Its predominantly ethnic Russian population voted in a referendum to join Russia. Crimea’s accession to Russia in turn encouraged ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine to assert themselves. They are fighting now to break loose of Kiev’s control.

The conflict in Ukraine is not a domestic problem. Several international actors are orchestrating it. If the EU and the US crafted Yanukovich’s ouster to put in place a pro-West regime in Kiev, Crimea’s secession was implemented by the Russians. Russia and the West are backing opposite sides in the ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Ethnic Russians, who are in a majority in eastern Ukraine, feel besieged under the new government in Kiev.

Among other things, it has repealed legislation giving regional rights to minority languages. Understandably, Ukraine’s linguistic minorities, such as the Russian speakers in the east of the country as well Romanian and Hungarian speakers in the south-west, are anxious over their future under this government. But these groups are not the only ones who need to worry.

All of Europe must take note that Svoboda, which now dominates the Ukrainian parliament, is a neo-fascist party, several of whose members were Nazi collaborators. The West’s blind backing of such a regime is not just short-sighted, it could be dangerous. It must rethink this support.

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