Is Ukraine's 'decisive battle' still ahead?

Protesters wield makeshift shields and wear motorcycle helmets in preparation for confrontation with riot police in Kiev on January 29, 2014 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Protesters in Kiev are ready for further confrontations with Ukrainian riot police

With Ukraine teetering on the "brink of civil war", as former President Leonid Kravchuk described it, commentators in Kiev wonder about the motivation behind the latest conciliatory steps by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and whether they will be enough to prevent further bloodshed.

On 28 January, the Ukrainian parliament annulled an anti-protesting law the opposition found too repressive and Prime Minister Mykola Azarov stepped down and was replaced by Serhiy Arbuzov. In the words of BBC correspondent David Stern, has Mr Yanukovych "blinked first"?

Not quite, writes commentator Myroslav Marynovych in Den. Mr Yanukovych and the Party of Regions have changed their tactics to "make small concessions to save the most important thing, their power".

Lesya Voloshka, writing for the Ukrayina Moloda, believes that there is still much progress to be made: "This is only the beginning, and there is still a long way to go to the resolution of the crisis. The next point on the agenda - political reform - is extremely important. No agreements will work under President Yanukovych without a return to the parliamentary-presidential model of governance."

Yet others disagree that recent events signify only a slight change. An editorial on the Ukrainian website Glavcom contends the ruling party has been so damaged that it is increasing tolerance towards the opposition "and [dares] to make critical statements against the authorities, something that no one would have expected of them a month ago".

Meanwhile, observers in Russia wonder what the future holds for their western neighbor.

In the Russian business daily Kommersant, Sergei Strokan writes that the government of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych conceded yesterday more than in the past two months:

President Yanukovych's opponents regarded the concessions with cautious optimism, referring to them as 'not victory yet, but a step towards victory'. Nevertheless, although the protests are not over, Ukraine has for the first time during the current crisis got an actual chance for a peaceful settlement with the participation of the country's leading political forces.

Anti-opposition political analyst Konstantin Matviyenko writes in Russian pro-government Izvestiya, however, that these changes are not signs of the ruling party's concession to opposition but a way of reducing tension: "It is more likely that talks will prove more purposeful under these circumstances. At present concessions and agreements between the political sides are of little value, as the conflict now is between the authorities and the people."

Sergei Frolov of Russia┬┤s left-wing Trud argues that change cannot occur by the actions of the Ukrainian government alone:

The situation is stalemate again... Can the current Ukrainian authorities settle the political crisis? No, they cannot do this without participation of major players - the EU, Russia, the US and maybe China. To be able to do it Yanukovych needs at least a minimum of authority, but it has been used up.

Ukraine is "at a crossroads", writes Yevgeny Shestakov in Russia's official Rossiyskaya Gazeta, and the stakes couldn't be higher:

It is a choice not between Russia and Europe, West or East. Ukraine is choosing between National Socialism of the Ukrainian type and civilised values, between the ideology of [the nationalist] UNA-UNSO and [1940s War II-era Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan] Bandera with their pathological anti-Semitism, hatred towards Russians, desire to build a country only for Ukrainians, and universal human values.

Back in Ukraine, Sonya Koshkina, editor of the website Leviy Bereg, writes that nothing has been conclusively resolved:

Both sides chalked up a victory. The opposition did so on the grounds that it has allegedly managed to 'break' the authorities. The authorities did so on the grounds that they have allegedly met civil society halfway for the sake of global peace. In fact they both managed tactical advantages, as well as gaining time for a breather and to regroup.

"The decisive battle still lies ahead," she writes.

(From information provided by BBC Monitoring. Hannah Sieff contributed to this report.)

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