Protect Ukraine’s sovereignty

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Protect Ukraine’s sovereignty

Ukraine is on the brink of coming apart in the struggle between the people in the western part of the country who look toward Europe and those in the east who identify with Russia. The opposition - backed by the public’s demand for democracy, closer European ties and independence from Russia - seized control of the capital, Kiev, and ousted the Moscow-backed president, Viktor Yanukovych. In return for billions of dollars in aid from his Russian benefactors, Yanukovych scrapped an agreement that would have led to closer ties with the European Union. The move triggered protests that ended in deadly clashes, and 80 people have been killed so far as a result of police confrontation.

The government and opposition briefly agreed to a truce last week and early presidential elections. The agreement did not last a day after the opposition demanded the immediate resignation of the president. After the resurgent opposition took over parliament and major government offices, Yanukovych went into hiding and fled to the Russian border. Upon being released from jail, Yulia Tymoshenko - an iconic former prime minister who led the 2004 democracy movement known as the Orange Revolution and is close to European leaders - announced she will run for president.

The dramatic change in the course of events infuriated Russian President Vladimir Putin, who called ambassador to Ukraine back to Russia and suspended his promised $15 billion bailout loan. U.S. and European leaders stepped in, sending a strong warning to Moscow against intervening militarily as the Soviet Union did in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. The crisis looks like it could last and possibly build to an all-out civil conflict.

Ukraine is a large and populous country located between Europe and Russia. It is a nation with an ancient gap between its eastern and western regions, which have long been divided by language, religious belief and ideological leaning. This is why some are predicting the country could break up in the much the same way as Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Both the European Union and Russia have significant interests in Ukraine, and the ongoing internal clash could lead to a wider conflict.

Putin so far looks like he holds the key. Russia is Ukraine’s primary energy provider and pledged $15 billion to save the debt-ridden country. Both the West and Russia must not make any deal that would jeopardize Ukrainian sovereignty. Instead, they must try to help the country rebuild itself through the democratic process.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 24, Page 34

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