Ukrainian security forces launched an operation on Sunday to clear pro-Russian separatists from a police headquarters in the eastern city of Slaviansk, with Kiev reporting dead on both sides as it combats what it calls an act of aggression by Moscow.
Ukraine faces a rash of rebellions in the east which it says are inspired and directed by the Kremlin. But action to dislodge the armed militants risks tipping the stand-off into a new, dangerous phase as Moscow has warned it will protect the region's Russian-speakers if they come under attack.
One Ukrainian state security officer was killed and five wounded on the government side in what interior minister Arsen Avakov called Sunday's "anti-terrorist" operation.
A few days ago, we reported a poll which showed most people there still want to be Ukrainian. But that can change in a heartbeat if the government decides to fire on its own people in the manner that Yanukovych did. Also, the poll did not make any distinction between federalization and annexation with Russia. Also, the poll referred to the "rallies," meaning that people could want union with Russia but disagree with the tactics being used.
Ultimately, the power in any society belongs to the people. The reason, besides Russian aid, that Assad is still in power in Syria is because many people there see the alternatives -- Al-Qaeda and the ISIS -- as worse. We may not be Cliven Bundy's biggest fans, but the power still belongs to the people; if the government had ordered its law enforcement to shoot to kill, then there would have been an uproar bigger than David Koresh and Ruby Ridge.
If anybody wishes to doubt my thesis that public attitudes can change in a heartbeat, consider the case of Qaddafi. Most people were willing to see him stay in power until he ordered the massive slaughter of his own people, organized death squads, ordered mass arrests, and committed other brutalities. After that, most people turned on him and even the Russians and Chinese didn't veto a UN resolution authorizing the use of force there.
This is why the Ukrainian government has an obligation to show restraint. If the government wants to maintain power, the people have to support them willingly, not through the use of force. One reason that we were able to maintain our way of life despite the Great Depression was that we were able to forge a new social contract in the New Deal in which everybody benefited. And if we don't continue to protect that social contract, then the people will continue to become radicalized and the bonds of the contract will be broken.
It will not do the Ukrainian government any good to blame Russia for its problems. All we have for evidence that Russian troops are secretly in Ukraine stirring up trouble is anonymous sources within the State Department conducting a whisper campaign dutifully reported by the corporate media. Putin does not need to intervene, given that numerous members of the security services and police won't accept Kiev's authority. If the State Department has evidence implicating Russia, then they have an obligation to make it public and show the physical evidence that they say implicates Putin behind this mess. Otherwise, people will just see it as similar to George W. Bush's provocations before Iraq.