Anti-government protesters clash with riot police at Independence Square in Kiev February 19, 2014. Ukrainian riot police fought protesters occupying the central Kiev square early on Wednesday after the bloodiest day since the former Soviet republic, caught in a geopolitical struggle between Russia and the West, won its independence. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko (REUTERS - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) Anti-government protesters clash with riot police at Independence Square in Kiev on Feb. 19. Credit: Reuters

With the violence escalating in Ukraine, international leaders are stepping up their pressure on President Viktor Yanukovich. But why, when the situation was getting calmer, did the government shoot dozens of protesters?

Metro spoke with Anton Shekhovtsov, a Ukrainian academic specializing in political extremism.


Who’s to blame for the violence and deaths in Kiev?

Two parties are responsible: Viktor Yanukovich and his government, and Russia. Yanukovich wouldn’t have been able to attack the protesters without Russian support. It’s because he wanted a $2 billion loan from Russia. He went to Sochi, where he met with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. Now he’s back and he’s cracking down on the protesters.

But why would Russia want to support such an unpopular president?

Russia isn’t really interested in Yanukovich. It’s interested in the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine. Russia is establishing its Eurasian Union, and without at least parts of Ukraine, it wouldn’t work. That’s why Russia was so opposed to Ukraine signing the partnership agreement with the EU: It wanted Ukraine in the Eurasian Union.

Will protesters head home now that the situation has become so dangerous?

No, they’ll stand their ground. This is a fight for Ukrainian independence. We’ve had independence since 1991, but only formally. Now people want real independence. The protests aren’t just about Ukraine signing an EU agreement; it’s really about independence. And that’s why Putin is so afraid. He knows that if Russian Ukrainians defeat their government, Russians could want to do the same thing.

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