President Barack Obama urged Ukraine’s armed forces Wednesday to stay out of protests amid a political crisis in that country, reports Reuters. The president warned there would be consequences for those who “step over the line.” The comments came from Mexico, where Obama is attending a summit with other North American leaders.
The message is reminiscent of the “red line” the president drew regarding Syria’s use of chemical weapons. The crossing of that line carried no consequences, though Syria did enter into an agreement to stop using chemical weapons.
"We hold the Ukrainian government primarily responsible for making sure that it is dealing with peaceful protesters in an appropriate way, that the Ukrainian people are able to assemble and speak freely about their interests without fear of repression," the president said.
This is Obama’s toughest language yet regarding the crisis. It comes after 26 protesters were killed Tuesday in Kiev. Shortly after the speech, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said he had reached a truce with leaders of the opposition.
At the same time, Fox News reported that Yanukovych had fired his military chief and announced the military could take part in a national operation to restore order.
The protests began in November after Yanukovych began to distance himself from the European Union and accepted, instead, a $15-billion bailout from Russia. The political fallout has been intense, as protesters fear a future alliance with Russia.
"We must fight this bloody, criminal leadership; we must fight for our country, our Ukraine,” protestor, Vasyl Oleksenko, was quoted as saying on Fox News.
The truce Yanukovych spoke of, though, quickly fell apart, as CNN reports that 20 more protesters were killed in Kiev on Thursday.
Such escalation and spreading of violence is in keeping with what most analysts expect. Amid reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin told Yanukovych via phone that it is up to the Ukrainian government to end the bloodshed, analysts say there is little that outside influence can do, particularly if the military gets involved.
"My own hunch is this is going to continue to escalate," said Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass.