An unlikely combination of Christian piests, a Europan song contest winner and Catherine Ashton forced the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovichs forces to abstain from their planned assault on pro-Western demonstrators in Kiev and the President to reconsider.
KIEV. The whole world watched on the night of 10 December into the following morning and day, as Ukraine protesters continued to withstand attempts made by the internal and special forces to dismantle and crush the tent-city and the surrounding barricades that had been established by protesters on the main square of Kiev, the Maidan Nezalezhnosti, aka Independence Square, almost three weeks ago. As temperatures fell below -10 Celsius, water became a potent weapon as parts of the square and adjoining roads froze and turned into treacherous skating rinks.
Over 3000 troops of internal, special forces, and militia spread out over the square from the Trade Unions building up Institutskaya St, toward the Presidents administration, and down Kreschatik toward City Hall, dividing the area into three major sections and sealing off access from the rest of city.
Although overall the operation was peaceful, as its main purpose was to dismantle the barricades and remove obstructions to city traffic, there were arrests made along the way as well as some violence. Catherine Ashton, the European Unions chief of foreign policy, who was in Kiev for negotiations, was among the protesters that night.
As the assault began roughly at 1:20 AM, opposition leaders, priests, and musicians took to the stage and spoke, prayed, and sang in turns. The hero of the day was undoubtedly Ruslana, the 2004 winner of the Eurovision Song Contest, who kept the special and internal forces at bay as she called upon all women to approach the stage and urged the forces to remain non-violent as she broke into song. Like a latter-day Scheherazade she wooed and subdued the potentially treacherous armed forces with song until morning broke, and as the bells from the nearby Mikhailovsky monastery resounded in the background in support, followed by other city churches ringing their bells, as they had once done during the onslaught of pagan hordes centuries ago.
For over two weeks now all of Kiev has anticipated the impending assault and crackdown, in fear and trepidation, after the violent crackdown that occurred on the night of November 29, when young protesters were violently beaten on the square, with many of them running to the nearby Mikhailovsky monastery, where they sought and were granted shelter by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
The parents of these protesters were furious that such unprecedented violence had occurred against their children, and this resulted in their subsequently going out into the streets themselves, urging the rest of Kiev and other cities citizens to follow suit. All of which culminated in the peaceful demonstration on 8 December, with a record crowd of over a million peaceful protesters.
Over the past few weeks, analysts and media all over Europe and Russia have been hinting that the future of Europe is being decided in Ukraine. The demonstrations were initially sparked when President Viktor Yanukovichs suddenly reneged on the association agreement with the European Union (EU) in favor of Putins offers in exchange for joining Russias Customs Union (CU).
As the protests escalated over this move away from the EU toward the CU, Yanukovich continued to anger the citizens by traveling to China in the hope of getting it interested in further investment in Ukraine (rumor has it that he has already leased over 5 percent of Ukraines arable land to China as well as signed multiple investment agreements for the joint development of Crimea). However, China appeared to be more interested in a EU friendly Ukraine than not.
On his way back, Yanukovich stopped by Sochi for an unplanned, secret visit with Putin, where some sources say he promised to join the CU in exchange for over $5BN up front and a reduction in gas price down to $200 (as per Edward Lucas via Twitter). This angered the protesters even further, resulting in such a huge turnout on 8 December.
Thus, with Ukraines coffers reportedly empty, the wheels of fortune have been spinning as Yanukovich juggles three paths of alignment to choose from, China, Russia, or the EU. Just yesterday, Timothy Garton Ash, in an article for Ukraine Business, claimed that the probability of the Yanukovych regime following the Belarus model had risen up to 25-30 pct. overnight. But as the results of last nights and todays continuing protesters stand-off show, this might not happen after all, as it has been reported that during this morning session of the Rada [the Ukrainian parliament], PM Azarov stated that Ukraine will not enter Russias Customs Union. He also said that Ukraine will sign the EU association agreement of 20 billion Euro.
Meanwhile, back at the Maidan, there are over 30,000 demonstrators on the square rebuilding their tent city and handing out roses to the remaining special forces guarding the Presidents administration building on Bankova St., while the fate of Europe is being decided.
Update Thursday 12:30: EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton says that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich has agreed to sign the deal with the EU, the BBC reports . Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Baroness Ashton gave no indication when she expected the deal to be finalized.
Russian President Putin said on Thursday that he would not impose a Russian-dominated customs union on Ukraine.
Baroness Ashton also reported that President Yanukovich had assured her that anyone arrested during the demonstrations in Kiev would be released.