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‘Still time to negotiate with protesters in Eastern Ukraine’

Published time: April 08, 2014 03:36
Pro-Russian protesters gather outside the regional administrative building, with automobile tyres seen in the foreground, in the eastern city of Kharkiv April 7, 2014. (Reuters)

If the hastily-formed government in Kiev had addressed the concerns of Russian speakers in the east of Ukraine, then the current crisis may have been avoided. However, it’s not too late to start talks, political analyst Alexander Mercouris told RT.

RT: Let’s start by talking press freedoms in Ukraine, because an OSCE representative has hit out by what has been described as an infringement of those freedoms. Do you think we are going to hear much about this in the West?

Alexander Mercouris: No, we’re not going to hear much about it in the West. The simple fact is when Ukrainian or Western journalists are barred from Russia, it becomes a huge issue. We saw that with the Luke Harding affair, for example, when he didn’t sort out his visa properly. But when it happens to Russians in Ukraine, the Western media and Western governments become far less concerned – and one has to say, frankly, there is a double standard involved.

RT: We have heard about protests swelling up in the southeast of the country. Now Kiev has threatened “a harsh response.” What exactly do you think they mean by that?

AM: We will just have to wait and see. If they are going to use a harsh response, that sounds like they are going to use force. That would mean bringing in Interior Ministry troops, police, possibly riot police, although the former riot police has been disbanded. Even dare one say it - the army - because some of these people in Donetsk are apparently armed, at least in some form. The danger with that is, if you start using force against these protesters, then that will start countervailing force from the protesters and then outsiders might get drawn in.

RT: In the southeast, the unrest is increasing and a lot of people are saying that the interim leaders could have prevented a lot of this if they’d just paid a little bit more attention to the concerns of Russian speakers. Why do you think they did not do that?

AM: Because if you look at the government that was formed after Yanukovich was overthrown, it was absolutely a government of the victors. This was a point made incidentally by the Russian Foreign Ministry. Basically the people who were involved in the protests against Yanukovich formed a government, a coalition government that included themselves, so they had no room to bring in easterners and they left them out and that is what the problem is.

RT: As we have seen now with a few local government buildings stormed, the protesters are taking action into their own hands. Kiev is responding with fairly aggressive rhetoric. How far do you think they will go on this?

AM: I do not know. There is of course another factor, which is that the Russian government has said if there is force used against eastern Ukrainians, then Putin has authorization to bring in the Russian army. He already made that clear and the Federation Council has passed it. I think there will be enormous pressure on the Ukrainians, from Europe especially, to try and keep this thing moderate, because nobody outside Ukraine wants this crisis to escalate. My guess is there is more likely to be negotiations rather than force, but it is a very volatile situation and we will have to wait and see.

RT: Do you think the protesters - who seem to be very hands-on, to put it mildly at the moment - will be willing to negotiate? Should Kiev, as you say, be forced to back down and go for negotiations?

AM: Yes, I think they probably would be, but their demands are very clear and the longer Kiev takes to actually address those demands, the more their demands will escalate. And there will come a point, a tipping point, beyond which negotiations are no longer possible. I do not think we are there yet, but we are coming close.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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