Clashes between the Euromaidan protesters and the riot police have reached a new boiling point on January, 22. In the morning of that day, the riot police with the assistance of internal troops that are subordinated to the Ministry of Interior pushed back the radical protesters from Grushevskogo Street, restoring their previous dislocation. This skirmish resulted in the death of five protesters and hundreds more injured. In 23 years of Ukrainian independence, these were the first casualties stemming from demonstrations.
According to estimates, the government controls around 8 000 fully equipped enforcers in Kyiv, not mentioning numerous “titushky” – street hooligans sponsored by the government to organize provocations. Besides, the enforcers can be backed up by water cannons and heavy military vehicles, few of which were already seen near the Parliament building. All of this confirms the fact that the government has substantial human and technical resources to disperse the protesters and to raze the Euromaidan to the ground, destroying the major platform of protests. Under the controversial anti-protest laws adopted earlier last week, such actions from the side of the government would be legal.
A radical dispersion would naturally ensue a fervent reaction of the West. But the EU has been reiterating their concerns and condemnations so many times that these diplomatic statements lost all their meaning. Even personal economic sanctions against Yanukovych and his affiliates might not prove to be an effective lever to counter President’s irresistible thirst for power. The Belarussian President Lukashenka is still sanctioned by the West, but this fact does not seem to impede his regime. Moreover, having such a powerful ally as Russia, Yanukovych would be safeguarded from any foreign intervention which would be undoubtedly vetoed by Putin on international arena.
Considering all these factors, a forceful dispersion of the Euromaidan as an unsanctioned gathering of people seems to be logical for the current oppressive government. However, in the current situation when people are reaching the extreme and continuing their struggle in spite of the high risk of being killed, the elimination of their only immobile protesting platform is out of question.
At the moment, the Euromaidan is a very convenient form of protests for the government – it is highly controllable, since the opposition tries to mitigate radicalism of protesters and views the barricaded square as something sacred which must be primarily protected. Thus, the Euromaidan amasses large quantities of protesters and channels their energy into passive activities, like dancing, praying, shouting slogans or singing anthems.
What is more dangerous for the government is the possibility that all these people lose such a convenient protesting platform and channel their accumulated aggression into clashes with the riot police. Moreover, there will be no more official coordination of these people, so many of them will eventually join alternative web-based protesting platforms, many of which are infamous for their radicalism. This could potentially lead to a full-scale guerilla confrontation between the citizens and the government.
A confrontation of a larger scale would not be limited just to clashes with the police and internal forces. Instead, it would directly affect MPs, officials and other supporters of the Yanukovych’s regime. Protesters already boycott businesses connected to the current government; and if they concede their beloved protesting ground, a limited economic boycott can turn into sabotage.
Now, Yanukovych wins time by engaging into senseless talks with the opposition and waits until protesting fervor simmers down. Current spike of violence on Grushevskogo Street seems to be a temporary backlash of the society and a way to vent personal emotions. Substantial police forces allow Yanukovych to defend himself and governmental buildings. Besides, President’s power is legitimized not only by the devoted state apparatus, but also by a large share of the electorate in the Eastern Ukraine and the Kremlin.
Yanukovych seems to be waiting for the protesting spirit of people to wear off and for them to retreat to the Euromaidan. This situation mirrors the one at the beginning of December when hundreds of thousands of people were ready to assault the Administration of President, but were stopped by the calls of the opposition leaders. And this time, the government has legal grounds to disperse the protest if the strategy backfires.