A pivotal and complex time lies ahead for Ukraine

If you take a flight from UK you can be in Kiev in just over three hours - a city sporting the same stores, the same brands and adverts as any other European capital.

Apart from the brutally cold temperature, minus 16 at the moment, you’d struggle to tell this city apart from the many other beautiful, historic ones.

But there is something different about Kiev because on its streets is an uprising so violent and defiant some fear it could tip this country into civil war.

Europe’s largest country on the verge of tearing itself apart with bloody consequence because so many of it’s people feel there is nothing left to lose.

Anti-government protesters gather at Independence Square in Kiev. Credit: Reuters

Today is likely the moment this country chooses between compromise or conflict. The opposition are calling it Judgement Day.

Can the politicians in the Rada find enough common ground to convince the people there is a way forward which sees an end to the violence?

Or will the need to protect power and position win out making the three deaths so far the first rather than the last?

Complicating it all is the fact that so many groups have a dog in this fight. The president, the politicians, the protesters, Ukraine’s powerful oligarch’s and then the competing interests of Russia and the European Union.

Can the politicians in the Rada find enough common ground to convince the people there is a way forward which sees an end to the violence? Credit: Reuters

These protests began two months ago when President Victor Yanukovych pulled out of signing an economic pact with Europe and turned to the old master Russia instead.

For those who now occupy Maidan Square that was an unforgivable move away from a free future for the country.

But make no mistake, their objections are not so much about money but what greater EU co-operation would offer.

The chance of greater democracy, a more transparent political system, a move away from the corruption that leaves this country superficially progressive, but in reality blighted by a lack of development in infra-structure and communications.

An anti-government protester carries a tyre at a barricade at the site of clashes with riot police. Credit: Reuters

There is one thing that terrifies most people here and that is the prospect of turning into their neighbour Belarus, tied to Russian purse strings and heading to a future they don’t want for Ukraine.

That is why in signing with the Russians rather than the Europeans President Yanukovych may have signed away his ability to lead his people yet increased his need to control them.

Russia has tipped up with the cash for Yanukovych - and with that comes the right to call the tune.

A restless state offers little appeal to Vladimir Putin - and much of how these negotiations turn out will depend on how much one President can control the other.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich (L) gives a wink to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. Credit: Reuters

There are a great many demands that will be palatable to neither man - the protestors want the dismissal of the current Government, early, honest elections, a repeal of laws seen as anti-democratic and the release of protesters held over recent days.

Will the President’s need for power force him capitulate or will this end up being a fudge? That’s not really a risk that either side can take.

The opposition do not have the slavish support of the people - it is an uneasy relationship and a dangerous one.

Violent protests between police and protesters have caused widespread unrest in Ukraine. Credit: Reuters

For all former boxer Vitali Klitschko, former Economy Minister Arseny Yatsenuk and right winger Oleh Tyahnibok would like to believe they can unite the protesters behind them they haven’t so far.

Those on the barricades and in the square are a growing but disparate force. They have come a long way and are now too angry to allow political fudges to detract from their fight.

Vitaly Klitschko is now a prominent politician in Ukraine but has failed to unit protesters so far. Credit: Reuters

And of course for all the protesters can protest and the politicians debate there is another force at play in this country - and that is money.

It is widely known and equally widely accepted that Ukraine’s richest men have the real power in politics.

They won’t be in Parliament today but they will be represented by every politician in there - they are after all their paymasters.

Perhaps in the end it will be the pressure they bring to bear in the background that will finally break this deadlock - civil war is not good business and that matters to Ukraine’s oligarch’s more than anything else.

This country has been through difficult days before but few have been so complex or so pivotal.

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