Violence in Kiev spoils prospects for peace effort in Ukraine

KIEVA spasm of street violence has driven home how hard it is going to be for Ukrainian President President Petro Poroshenko to rally national support behind an internationally-brokered deal to bring peace to the east of his country.

The violence outside parliament on Monday was triggered by the government’s “decentralisation” plans – a key part of the deal agreed in Minsk, Belarus in February – that would give special status and greater autonomy to separatist-held areas of the east.

Three guardsmen died of wounds from grenade shrapnel and scores were injured in the clashes which the government blamed on ultra-nationalist radicals.

The main nationalist party, Svoboda, has denied government charges that its activists were responsible for the grenade attack and has blamed police for being unprepared.

Poroshenko himself says the deadly attack was probably the work of a freelance ‘provocateur’ out to stir up trouble.

That violent elements could lay hands on weapons is no surprise. After 18 months of military conflict in the east in which several thousands of people have been killed, Ukraine is awash with guns, ammunition and explosives.

But the violence, the worst in Kiev since the bloody turmoil of the ‘euromaidan’ protests in early 2014, has thrown a focus on where Ukraine goes from here in trying to re-establish its sovereignty in the east.

The outburst of street anger also took the edge off celebrations over a big financial deal, hailed by Kiev as a ‘win-win’, for restructuring billions of dollars of Ukrainian foreign debt.

In reality, the prospects for Poroshenko to sell the deal have been narrowing for some time, analysts say.

Cracks have opened up in the pro-Western coalition and more street demonstrations are now a distinct possibility. Poroshenko may now choose to slow down on granting concessions to the separatists which his critics say threaten to weaken Ukrainian sovereignty.

Popular resentment over the Minsk II agreement, negotiated by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France, has been growing for some time.

Many fear the government’s plans will only entrench the independent status of the rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk areas with Russia maintaining its military influence in the region and control of the border.

“The accords (Minsk agreements) are full of ambiguities, baited hooks and traps. They give each side multiple pretexts for claiming violation by the other. They do not provide a firm basis for a settlement,” said James Sherr, Associate Fellow of London-based Chatham House.

“He (Poroshenko) knows that if he accepts Russia’s terms, the country will not. People have sacrificed too much. They will see it as a betrayal. Poroshenko will put his legitimacy at risk if he bows to all this pressure, and he knows it,” said Sherr.

The demonstration was led by Svoboda, a party which has been subdued since losing representation in parliament, and members of the anti-Russian Radical party, a feisty member of the coalition until Tuesday when its leader, Oleh Lyashko, walked out in protest at the vote. The clashes turned ugly after Poroshenko’s government managed to secure the required vote for an initial reading of constitutional amendments that will give increased powers of autonomy to Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

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