Most people have read about the clashes that occurred during Lviv's Victory Day ceremonies on May 9, so I won't dwell on the actual events, but concentrate on the reactions from several key actors who have a stake in the geo-political fate of Ukraine.
The stage for the conflict was set back on December 16, when Vladimir Putin infuriated all war veterans by saying that Russia would have won the "Great Patriotic War" even if Ukraine had not been a part of the Soviet Union. However, most war veterans didn't swallow the bait and both the UPA/OUN and Red Army veterans peacefully marched together in all Victory Day ceremonies across Ukraine.
Anticipating trouble, the Lviv City and Regional Councils decided to ban the use of red "Soviet" flags, and the pro-Kremlin organizations such as "Rodina" and others from holding any rallies. Clashes occurred never-the-less, choreographed and designed by Moscow, directed from Kyiv and largely orchestrated by pro-Russian "Rodina" party thugs. They were shown the "red carpet" (pun fully intended) by Berkut, Interior Ministry and local police, who made sure that these Russian "provocateurs" made it safely into Lviv by the busloads from Odesa and the Crimea. Despite the illegal rally by "Rodina", all the smoke bombs and even a shooting evident on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gp8e-m4Akg8), initially, only five criminal cases were opened into all the Lviv incidents, said Interior Minister Anatoliy Mohyliov. These are three criminal cases into malicious hooliganism, one case of robbery, and one into the organization of mass disturbances of public order. Later, that was revised when nine people were detained for disorderly conduct. Finally, a criminal case was opened into the above alleged shooting, as a result of which a Svoboda member was wounded in the leg.
All week commentators have been speculating on why the Party of Regions introduced this red flag legislation. They range from a symbolic gesture to indulge Russia, and an overt manoeuvre to weaken Ukraine's pro-European stance, to a deflection of public attention from the growing chronic economic failures to the growing international criticism of the legal repressions of key opposition figures. Yet most agree that the main goal of these obvious provocations was to discredit totally and marginalize the Svoboda party, both domestically and internationally, as a legitimate political voice in Ukraine, branding them as nationalist fascists, extremists and neo-Nazi collaborators.
The Mayor of Lviv was unambiguous. "Why did representatives of Russian fascists unfold a red flag on the Hill of Glory yesterday? Why did the law enforcement bodies assume a passive position? Is this a lack of professionalism or did they deliberately play into the provocateurs' hands? Why were their buses allowed to drive up the Hill of Glory and why did police bludgeon Lviv residents [while] protecting the provocateurs? All these things were carefully planned," Andriy Sadovy stressed at a news briefing in Lviv [May 10].
Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov immediately called for a ban on the Svoboda party, referring to the trampling of a wreath from a Russian diplomat, while ignoring the fact that Russian marchers trampled the red and black OUN /UPA flag in the streets of Donetsk.
Ukrainian Communist leader Petro Symonenko believes that May 9th points to the need of federalization. Coincidently, federalization is one of the five points of "closer integration" with Ukraine, as urged by the Russian National Security& Defence Council in December 2008 (See Russia's Master Plan for Ukraine http://bit.ly/kcFZ7Z).
Symonenko also insists on shifting the finals of Euro 2012 from Lviv to Odesa or Dnipropetrovsk, due to the "shameful" events of May 9.
Yulia Tymoshenko accused the government of seeking to start "a full-scale program of splitting Ukraine into parts... They want the Ukrainians to fight rather than oppose the real mafia - represented today by the incumbent authorities," she said.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's reaction was immediate as well, labelling them as mass neo-Nazi actions in Estonia, Georgia and Ukraine. Ironically he added: "I feel as bad about it as you do. It's unpleasant and painful to look at, it is evidence of the immaturity of basic political principles in those countries." Estonia's Foreign Minister said allegations into mass neo-Nazi actions in Estonia "have nothing to do with reality." Ukraine's reply was more muted.
But Ukraine has even bigger worries than the V day clashes. The Party of Regions are in deep economic trouble and have backed themselves into a corner with two unpleasant choices - they face a sovereign debt default (as Russia did in 1988 just before the collapse of the USSR) after a suspension of $1.6 billion in IMF loan credits or they can face another popular street revolt due to IMF-dictated utility increases and unpopular pension reforms. Ukraine's non-performing bank loan levels (NPL) are very high - over 30% which point to default. The Yanukovych regime may not even survive until the next election in 2012.
Walter Derzko is a Senior Fellow at the Strategic Innovation Lab (sLab), and a lecturer in the MA program in Strategic Foresight and Innovation, Ontario College of Art& Design (OCAD) University in Toronto.