Fires in Kiev: Could Growing Death Toll Lead to EU Sanctions?

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Protests in Kiev have continued, escalating with 18 deaths on Tuesday, seven of them policemen, and with the use of fire by protestors attempting to block off the advancements of law enforcement officials. According to BBC, at 6 p.m. GMT there was a police broadcast over loudspeakers that let protestors know that “an anti-terror operation” was about to begin. Armored vehicles soon followed, as did stun grenades and water cannons, while police attempted to take down protest barricades.

In response, protestors aimed fireworks and gas bombs, lighting fires in order to prevent police breaches. “The European Union will respond to the deterioration on the ground including via targeted measures,” said the statement made on behalf of the European Council by its president. “Our Ministers in the Foreign Affairs Council will at their meeting tomorrow examine targeted measures, such as financial sanctions and visa restrictions against those responsible for violence and use of excessive force.”

The European Commission’s president, Jose Manuel Barroso, echoed the threat of sanctions in his Wednesday condemnation of the violence. “It was with shock and utter dismay that we have been watching developments over the last 24 hours in Ukraine,” said Barroso.

Power is gained not on the streets or squares, but at the polls. I have repeatedly told them — the elections will be soon,” said Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in a press release, emphasizing that changes should “happen legally, under the Constitution of Ukraine.”

The Ukrainian constitution is just one of a number of issues in dispute between protestors and the current government, with protestors demanding that January 16 changes to the constitution be repealed and that the government return to the constitution of 2004 — a legislative effort that was recently blocked.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense made an announcement Wednesday, stating that due to “the worsening socio-political situation in the country” it would be increasing protection around “military arsenals, base, depots and other military facilities.” The release made note of rumors that the activity had a different agenda, saying that “information about the redeployment of units and the Armed Forces of Ukraine for power dispersal of protesters in Kiev is not true.” The Ministry of Internal Affairs made its own public statement insisting that firearms were not involved in the violent injuries occurring in Kiev.

Vitali Klitschko, leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR), made public statements of his own, blaming government and the police for deaths and “terror against peaceful civilians”; he continued to demand that the Yanukovych government resign. UDAR also asked in an statement that diplomats and others from international organizations monitor treatment of protestors at hospitals. “This is necessary because police arrest heavily wounded people in hospitals, which poses a threat to their lives and contradicts all norms of human morality,” the organization said.

According to the BBC’s Daniel Sandford, the issue has spread beyond disagreement over Ukraine’s relationship with Russia — one of the issues that sparked the unrest — and has become more concerning. “What makes this crisis so serious is the quiet support that many in western Ukraine, particularly in Lviv, are giving to the violence. It means that a split between eastern Ukraine and western Ukraine is being openly discussed, even though few people say they want that,” said Sandford.

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