Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, is facing the possibility of a travel ban and the freezing of his assets after he ordered armed riot police to clear central Kiev of demonstrators.
An estimated 25 people have already been killed, including a journalist, Vyacheslav Veremiy, who colleagues say was dragged out of a car, beaten and shot in the chest by uniformed officers.
Pictures of hundreds of injured demonstrators, and some police officers, have been flying around social media, and the death toll is likely to rise.
“Those who are responsible in these hours for more bloodshed must know that the restraint Europe has shown regarding personal sanctions will surely be reconsidered,” Germany’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said yesterday (18 February).
Poland’s prime minister, Donald Tusk, today joined his call, saying that he would be pressing European Union leaders to impose sanctions.
“I will today hold talks with the leaders of the biggest EU countries and institutions, and persuade them to impose sanctions – personal and financial,” Tusk told a specially convened meeting of the Polish parliament.
Yanukovych’s order has already led to the events on Kiev’s Maidan Bezalezhnosti – Independence Square – being dubbed Europe’s Tiananmen Square, a reference to the bloody suppression by the Chinese authorities of protests in 1989.
The protests, which began on 21 November when Yanukovych pulled out of agreements with the EU at the last minute, have over the past three months spread from Kiev across the country. There were reports yesterday of government buildings outside Kiev being torched, but the authorities’ efforts to suppress demonstrations has been concentrated in Kiev.
Tusk’s comments mark a significant intervention in Europe’s debate about how to respond to Ukraine’s long-running crisis. Up until now both he and Poland’s President Bronisław Komorowski have been reluctant to voice their views.
Steinmeier wsa already among a group of European foreign ministers advocating sanctions against Ukrainian officials during the months of violence.
Carl Bildt, Sweden’s foreign minister, pinned the blame firmly on Yanukovych. “We must be clear: ultimate responsibility for deaths and violence is with President Yanukovych. He has blood on his hands,” he tweeted.
Bildt has been a leading voice in the past on the possibility of sanctions, but, ahead of a meeting of EU foreign ministers on 10 February, he said “we are primarily in the carrots business, not in the sticks business”.
EU sanctions typically involve the freezing of personal assets held in the EU and a ban on travel to the EU. The only European leader currently subject to such sanctions is Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has been president of Belarus since 1994.
European politicians, including France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, have so far largely restricted themselves to calls for restraint and a political compromise.
In a statement released yesterday afternoon, before the violence peaked in intensity, Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said that “the leadership of Ukraine to address the root causes of the crisis”.
“A solution should include the formation of a new inclusive government, progress on constitutional reform and the preparation for transparent and democratic presidential elections,” she said.
Yanukovych yesterday failed to responds to phone calls from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, officials said.
He did, however, speak with Joe Biden, the vice-president of the United States.
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