The eyes of the world are on Ukraine after tensions escalated sharply in Kiev on Tuesday, with the bloodiest fighting of the recent conflict leaving more than two dozen people dead. The Czech foreign minister has described the situation as a threat to the whole of Europe and says the EU may have to consider sanctions against Ukraine’s leaders if they don’t halt the violence.
Protests began in Ukraine in late November when President Viktor Yanukovych rejected an association and trade deal with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia.
Tensions reached a new high on Tuesday when violence erupted outside the parliament in Kiev after opposition attempts to curtail the president’s powers were blocked.
Bloody street battles have raged between the security forces and protesters and at least 26 were reported dead, and hundreds injured, at lunchtime on Wednesday.
The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called on Ukraine’s government and president to immediately halt the violent attacks on demonstrators and journalists by police and criminal gangs protected by them. Prague has also urged genuine dialogue with the opposition.
Foreign Minister Lubomír Zaorálek has described the situation as a tragedy and a genuine threat to the whole of Europe. He had this to say on Czech Television.
“What has happened just shows that Yanukovych and the entire governing establishment have failed to do what they should have done in the last three months and found a constitutional, political way to resolve the situation… The approach of the security forces against people from the Maidan civic association, and their use of violence to clear part of the area they’ve occupied, is what has brought about this dramatic situation.”
For his part, Czech Prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka suggested it was possible a compromise could yet be reached by both sides in the conflict.
“At this moment, I can state that the Czech Republic is calling for efforts to be made to find a peaceful, non-violent solution. We are deeply sorry about the lives that have been lost during the clashes between demonstrators and the security forces in Ukraine. We believe that there is still the possibility of negotiations and agreement, in order to prevent an escalation in violence and violent clashes.”
In the wake of the fresh bloodshed, a number of European Union states have indicated support for sanctions against Ukraine’s leadership.
Mr. Zaorálek says steps that may need to be considered are visa restrictions on those known to have ordered or taken part in the brutality and the freezing of bank accounts.
“I think what’s really important is what happens next and what role Yanukovych plays. The fact Angela Merkel and other European politicians haven’t been able to get through to him by phone indicates he’s considering following the path of violent repression of the opposition. If he does so, Ukraine’s political establishment will diverge from the EU and it will cease to be its partner.”
The European Union’s position should become clear soon, with “targeted measures” due to be discussed at an emergency meeting on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Czech President Miloš Zeman has indicated he will cancel an invitation to Mr. Yanukovych to visit Prague in April if the current situation continues.