(Article changed on January 24, 2014 at 10:48)
First published in the National Interest as "Defending Ukraine's Tough New Protest Law," on January 22, 2014. The views expressed here do not reflect the views of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. State Department.
The White House statement on Ukraine, issued by NSC spokesperson Caitlin Hayden on November 19th, seriously misreads the situation. The most recent violence is not merely a consequence of the government's failure to "acknowledge the legitimate grievances of the people." It is an integral part of the strategy of extremist nationalist groups, which receive both moral and intellectual support from the opposition parties Svoboda and Batkivshchyna.
Acting in concert, these three parties have shut down the country's political life by physically blocking access to the speaker's podium for weeks. Most recently, to prevent the passage of the 2014 budget, they barricaded the speaker in his own office. When the deputy speaker escaped by climbing out the window, they seized deputies' electronic voting cards, physically injuring several fellow member of parliament in the process. Only when the deputy speaker ruled that voting could continue by a show of hands, and the budget passed, did the opposition condemn what had taken place in parliament that day as "illegal."
Such is the context within which the latest violence has erupted. The three parties that have cultivated this nihilism -- Svoboda, Batkivshchyna, and Udar -- can hardly be surprised at the result. At every turn they encouraged a rabid, uncompromising hostility toward the all government authority. Their outrage at how these political amendments were passed also hardly seems justified. After all, if they had their way, the parliament would not function at all.
The current impasse, however, was not created by the Ukrainian government which, it should be recalled, tried several times over the past two months to convene a roundtable with the opposition. With but one brief exception, these were all boycotted by the opposition. Now the opposition hopes to capitalize on the chaos it has created, but faces the uncomfortable realization that it may no longer control the forces it has unleashed. At this point, sad to say, basic order has deteriorated to such an extent that the very survival of the Ukrainian political system demands the restoration of law and order in the capital. Tragically, this might now only be possible through the imposition of a curfew.
Despite this turn of events, the Ukrainian opposition, with the noted exception of the communists who seem to have learned something from history, cling to the view that president Yanukovych must be removed at any cost. They are very much mistaken.
Whether they recognize it or not, all political parties, even those in opposition, have a vested interest in respecting constitutional procedures, the role of the police, and the authority of the courts. Ukrainian politicians of all stripes would do well to recall the biblical warning that "He who troubles his own house will inherit wind."