Why Ukraine is going up in flames

2014-02-21 08:04
Anti-government protesters clash with riot police in Kiev's Independence Square, the epicentre of the country's current unrest, Kiev, Ukraine. (Efrem Lukatsky, AP)

Anti-government protesters clash with riot police in Kiev's Independence Square, the epicentre of the country's current unrest, Kiev, Ukraine. (Efrem Lukatsky, AP)

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Kiev - Following are main facts about the crisis in Ukraine where three-month-long mass pro-EU protests have turned into a bloodbath in recent days.

How violence erupted

Fierce clashes between protesters and security forces flared up on Tuesday morning as crowds marched towards the parliament where lawmakers were expected to convene to discuss constitutional amendments.

Protesters hurled stones and Molotov cocktails at police - who fired rubber bullets and used stun grenades - and then stormed the ruling Party of Regions headquarters.

In the evening, riot police stormed and partly occupied the barricaded protest camp in Kiev's Independence Square, or Maiden.

After halting the offensive for most of Wednesday police were routed in the morning hours of Thursday, despite a truce being declared overnight.

Police said they were targeted by sniper fire and opened up with live ammunition on protesters, leaving some 60 people dead, according to the opposition.

What caused current crisis

Mass protests gripped Kiev in late November after President Viktor Yanukovych suspended talks on an association agreement with the European Union in favour of closer economic ties with Russia.

Protests intensified after a violent crackdown by riot police that left dozens wounded. In December hundreds of thousands took to the streets to demand Yanukovych's resignation.

As fruitless talks between the opposition leaders and Yanukovych continued without a breakthrough, radical groups among the protesters - such as far-right Pravy Sektor and anarchist Spilna Sprava - gained momentum and occupied several public buildings.

What the Europeans are doing

Together with the United States, the EU has offered to mediate a solution to the crisis and sent several senior diplomats to Kiev, including the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and a trio of foreign ministers from France, Poland and Germany as violence spiralled on Thursday.

The efforts have met with criticism from Russia and accusations of meddling in Ukraine's internal affairs.

After some hesitation, on Thursday Italian foreign minister Emma Bonino said the EU had agreed to impose travel bans and asset freezes on Ukrainians with "blood on their hands". Who would be targeted by the sanctions was yet to be decided.

The United States has imposed travel bans on several Ukrainian officials.

As the opposition appealed for help, the EU and the United States have said they were preparing - together with the International Monetary Fund - financial aid for Ukraine as bankruptcy loomed over the country.

What is Russia's position

Russia has long denied any involvement in the Ukrainian crisis, but on Thursday said it was dispatching to Kiev an envoy to mediate between the authorities and opposition.

Moscow fiercely opposes any attempts by Ukraine for a rapprochement with the EU - which in turn accuses Moscow of economically blackmailing the ex-Soviet republic.

Following Kiev's refusal to sign a Brussels-proposed treaty on trade and political association with the EU, the Kremlin promised Kiev a $15bn bailout and a reduction in gas prices worth several billion dollars. The opposition accused the government of selling out to Moscow.

In late December Moscow granted $3bn in aid to Kiev but then suspended assistance until the crisis is resolved.

Read more on:    eu  |  viktor yanukovych  |  ukraine  |  ukraine protests
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