Forget for the moment about the tugging between Russia and Europe over the fate of the Ukraine, where months of street protests continue despite major concessions by the government. The immediate issue is the future of Ukrainian democracy and the continued misrule of President Viktor Yanukovych, who has repeatedly demonstrated that he is a self-serving autocrat. The hoped-for outcome is that he will follow the nation's prime minister out of office, and soon.
Mr. Yanukovych triggered the protests last November when he withdrew from a trade agreement with the European Union and accepted a large loan from Russia's President Vladimir Putin, sweetened with lower energy prices for the Ukraine, which is dependent on Russian oil and gas.
Mr. Yanukovych's unexpected decision set off alarms among Ukrainians already concerned about his Putin-like high-handed political tactics - such as jailing opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko on trumped-up charges - and the rapid enrichment of his family members through rampant corruption. Those trends cast a big shadow over the legitimacy of the presidential elections scheduled for February 2015.
That, in turn, poses a threat of international isolation for the Ukraine by Europe and the United States, damaging important economic ties.
The alarms are reportedly shared by the Ukraine's wealthiest individuals, "oligarchs" on the Russian model who profited enormously from the privatization of government enterprises after the fall of communism. They are reportedly worried that the Yanukovych faction is trying to neutralize them.
The richest of the oligarchs, Rinat Akhmetov, who recently paid a record $225 million for a London apartment, recently issued a statement calling for a peaceful resolution of the crisis, reports the Guardian newspaper.
This is generally viewed as a signal that Mr. Yanukovych's support among that key group is slipping.
In an effort to remain in power, Mr. Yanukovych has made major concessions to the opposition including the repeal of laws against demonstrations that he earlier rammed through parliament.
But the Ukraine's president faces a trap of his own making. His abuse of the law in persecuting his former rival Tymoshenko and the corruption of his rule lay him open to prosecution and ruin if his opponents achieve power. So he has a strong personal incentive to hang on to office.
Russia's President Putin has a stake in Mr. Yanukovych's survival as well. He recently warned the European Union to stop meddling in Ukrainian politics after the EU sent a mediator to Kiev to try to settle the dispute.
Better that Mr. Putin butt out.
The Ukraine is a European nation - actually the largest - and it naturally looks to the West for greater freedom and more prosperity.
That's why the demonstrations continue in Kiev and elsewhere. Ukranian national reconciliation will begin only with the departure of Mr. Yanukovych.
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