On Tuesday night, 25 people were killed in Kiev as opposition parties clashed violently with police, following a broken bargain between government officials and street dissidents. The scene was pure chaos; flaming tires littered Independence Square, riot police pummeled protestors with shields and batons, and hundreds were injured. So just what caused everything to snap?
First, a bit of context. Ukraine is straddled between Europe and Russia, and while the country has been independent from the former Soviet Union since 1991, Russia still packs a formidable cultural and political presence within Ukraine’s borders. Many within the country want to shake themselves of its influence once and for all, and have thus looked to the European Union–however naively–as a way “out” of endemic economic corruption and toxic political ties.
Things went sour in November when President Yanukovych rejected a deal for expedited economic integration with the European Union and instead opted for a Russian economic package. Incensed, Ukrainian dissidents took to the streets in protest of Yanukovych’s decision, his general mismanagement of the country, and the power he wields–which many protesters believe he has grossly abused–while in office.
As The Guardian’s Mary Dejevsky points out, when Parliament failed to pass concessions that served as preconditions for protesters to end their occupation of official buildings (some wanted constitutional reform to limit Yanukovych’s power, for example), things got violent once again. In other words, what may have begun as an “EU or Russia” cultural conflict has evolved into what Dejevsky calls an internal struggle against Kiev’s government. In other words, this is no longer about the EU, or Russia. This is about getting Yanukovych out of office for once and for all.