A Tale of Two Cities – Sochi and Kiev

I cannot prove it. But here is what I believe to be true.

We all know that there have been protests in Kiev for months. For months opponents of Putin-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych have taken to the streets, insisting that his government shift away from Russia and toward Europe. This then raises a question: Why did the opposition suddenly up the ante this week? Why did it choose this particular moment to mount an attack on the authorities so fierce that it finally drew the attention not only of the Europeans, who had been shilly-shallying, but of the Americans, who had been pretending there was no problem?

I am convinced that it was to make certain that the Olympics in Sochi did not pass unmarred, did not allow Putin to close the games on a note of unmitigated triumph. I suspect, in other words, that the escalation of the last week was orchestrated by the Ukrainian opposition to remind the world that while Putin’s fantasy was Sochi, his reality was Kiev.

As I write, the outcome of this week’s standoff in Ukraine remains uncertain. An agreement was struck to end the violence and to hold early presidential and parliamentary elections. Yanukovych, meanwhile, is said to have fled his large and elaborate palace.  But whether the government, the opposition, or even Putin will actually adhere to the agreement is undetermined. Moreover while the American president warned of dire consequences in the event the standoff is not favorably resolved, his track record of issuing such warnings and then being ready, willing and able to back them up, is not reassuring. (See under Syria.)

What the deaths this week in Kiev have again made clear is how loathe are leaders to take on other leaders. Had the people of Ukraine not resisted their government, for sure their country would have regressed to the days of the Soviet empire, firm again in the claws of the Russian bear. For the truth of it is that until this week’s massacre, Obama, Hollande, Cameron, Merkel and their like stood by and, in effect, did nothing while Kiev simmered.

I will have more to say about leaders as Bystanders in a future blog. For the moment it’s clear that if Ukraine does manage to escape Putin’s iron grip it will not be because of leaders but because of followers, because of ordinary people who dare to speak truth to power.

 

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