Frustrated, frightened Ukrainians debate what U.S. must do
KIEV, Ukraine — In the Contemporary Art Center, 3-foot-tall pages of sheet music are set in barbed wire. Bullet holes form the notes for Mozart's “Requiem.”
This is art inspired by the 3½-month uprising in Kiev's Independence Square, known as the Maidan. Elizabeth Bielska, the center's artistic director, describes it as “the flame of love, dedicated to Maidan artists.”
Bielska, 26, worked in the protesters' kitchen, feeding “the guys who fought for our dignity.”
Now, many who fought in the streets to oust Victor Yanukovich as president are frustrated or frightened by Russia's subsequent occupation of Ukraine's Crimea region.
Much of the talk heard here is about what the United States must do.
“The Maidan was our war,” Bielska explained, but “the United States, Great Britain and Russia, they are the guardians of our borders.”
What she refers to — as many Ukrainians do — is the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. In it, Ukraine agreed to give up nuclear weapons left on its soil when the Soviet Union collapsed; in exchange, Russia, the United States and Britain promised not to use force against Ukraine.
That agreement obligates the West to reverse Russia's seizure of the Crimea, many here insist.
“Russia has not shown (the agreement) any respect, and the other two parties are pretending that they do respect it,” said Alexander Bogomolov, president of the Association of Middle East Studies in Ukraine and an expert on Crimea.
“If agreements like this are not upheld, what will happen to subsequent agreements?”
He believes that ignoring Ukraine's plight “undermines even the current U.S. policies toward Iran” and “stimulates other countries to acquire weapons,” because “if Ukraine had not gone for disarmament … if it had a tiny nuclear weapon, this situation would be totally different.”
Russia tightened its grip on Tuesday. It banned all flights into Crimea's capital, Semferopol, that do not originate in Moscow.
The Russia-leaning Crimean parliament voted to declare independence from Ukraine, if a public referendum endorses that position, and then apply to join the Russian Federation.
In response, Ukraine's parliament threatened to dissolve the Crimean assembly unless it cancels the Sunday referendum.
Meanwhile, Yanukovich, who fled to Moscow as street battles unhinged his regime, dismissed Ukraine's interim government as “a gang of fascists” and promised to return to power.
That seems unlikely. His attempt to ally Ukraine with Russia, instead of the European Union and the West, prompted the protests that led to his downfall.
In Kiev, retired army Gen. Mykola Malomuzh, who headed Ukraine's external intelligence service from 2005 to 2010, said Yanukovich should be tried in Kiev for “crimes against humanity.”
“Yanukovich is no more than a puppet of the Russian government,” he said.
Malomuzh said he wished the Budapest Memorandum's terms were more clearly defined to guarantee Western assistance.
Boris Yeghiazaryan, a painter who joined the Maidan protests, believes Russia's occupation of Crimea directly challenges the West, and other Baltic nations “fear the same could happen to them.”
He wants “strong sanctions” imposed on Russian President Vladimir Putin “and his oligarchs. ... If you very quickly target Putin's inner circle, they will fall together.”
But Bogomolov, the Crimea expert, believes sanctions alone won't deter Putin from trying “to change the regime in Kiev ... and make Ukraine subordinate to Moscow.”
The “easiest and cheapest way” to force Russia to back down, he said, “is for the United States to take a serious position on the issue, which will include a military deployment.”
“This really doesn't call for boots on the ground,” he said. “It would be quite sufficient to have a U.S. Navy presence in the area … that would be enough to project power.”
Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at email@example.com.