The Western world felt safe in the illusion that nothing would happen in Ukraine until the end of the Sochi Olympic Games. But it woke up on Wednesday to terrifying images of the bloody battlefield of central Kiev, literally ablaze.
After a three-month-long face-off between a pro-European opposition, which hasn't weakened despite the cold winter temperatures, and a government backed by Moscow that is deliberately allowing the situation to worsen, violence seems to have now reached a point of no-return.
The death of at least 25 people since Tuesday — with most of the victims among the protesters, and at least nine among the riot police — and hundreds of others wounded have led both camps to radicalize their positions. Today in Kiev, no one trusts anyone anymore.
The situation in the capital as well as in several outlying regions of Ukraine, is now highly unstable and increasingly perilous. A former Soviet Republic, Ukraine has among its 45 million-strong population many with a military background, trained for combat — not to mention stockpiles of weapons in circulation.
The leaders of the opposition are divided over what course of action to follow, and are beginning to lose their grip on what is turning into a movement for insurrection. As for President Viktor Yanukovych — whose behavior doesn't cease to surprize — he chose to ignore Tuesday's phone calls from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso.
During a previous phone conversation in late January, after the first deaths since the beginning of the crisis, Barroso had threatened the Ukrainian president with sanctions if the repression continued. Of course, time has now come for the European Union to put its money where its mouth is. Targeted, personalized sanctions against those responsible for the crackdown and their assets deposited in European capitals — namely Vienna, London and Cyprus — are now vital.
The problem is that, although vital, these sanctions might turn out be too little too late. The crisis is increasingly spiralling out of control, for the Ukrainians and for the EU. Nobody, neither in Brussels nor Moscow, is now in a position to predict the outcome. But if we want to help Ukrainians find the path to dialogue, it is crucial that the European Union finally speaks with one firm voice.
The cacophony of reactions from the European capitals following last night's events is a disgrace. The question is not to make promises we cannot keep. It is to use all the means of pressure at our disposal to reaffirm, with power and unity, the core values of the Union. Indeed, those are the very same values for which thousands of Ukrainians have been fighting for the past three months.