The death toll has at least temporarily stopped rising in Kiev, where protesters who enjoy broad public support have signed an accord with President Viktor Yanukovych’s embattled administration that calls for early elections in December, a reversion to the 2004 constitution that curtails executive power, and a transitional government in the meantime.
Just a few days after reaching a previous truce with activists angry at the government for aligning itself with Vladimir Putin and Russia rather than the European Union and the West, the regime decided to begin using live ammunition mid-week, sparking an escalation that saw protesters raid and seize official armories, which in turn fed concern from the international community that the situation might soon descend into a regional civil war.
VISUAL CONTEXT: Sentiment in Ukraine on Russia and the E.U.:
Parliament sprang into action Friday as the death toll neared 100, indicating the president had lost majority support when it voted to pardon former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, his political rival and a figure the international community has sympathized with for some time. But while the flurry of changes should help reduce anger in the western swaths of the country wary of Russian influence, the lack of support from the Kremlin for the truce suggested Putin might still have another trick up his sleeve. Six years after using the global spectacle that was the Shanghai Olympic Games to relatively quietly impose his will on Georgia with the South Ossetia War, the Russian president has not directly intervened with force in Ukraine so much as dangled the threat of economic pain, which was after all the very thing that inspired Yanukovych to align himself with Moscow rather than Brussels at the close of last year, sparking the protests in the first place.
But there is little reason to believe Russia has the leverage at this juncture to scuttle the truce, which brings us to the question of how a resurgent activist culture, coupled with pro-Western political winds, might wear on Putin. As Julia Ioffe notes at The New Republic, he tends to “tighten the screws” on his own people when political insurrection pops up in Ukraine, and given that he views the country as essentially a part of Russia that has, thanks to an accident of history and Western meddling, gained its own borders, it’s almost surprising we haven’t seen a more visible reaction so far. Likely, playing host to the world’s finest athletes (and avoiding a home-grown terrorist attack) have occupied much of the Russian leader’s time. Almost certainly, however, Putin is now squarely focused on Kiev, and trying to determine what might be done to both discourage his own opposition from following suit and signal to the temporarily elated one on the other side of the border that they don’t get the last word.