Europe

Ukraine water fight video exposes government breakdown

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Media captionThe row between Arsen Avakov and Mikheil Saakashvili become very heated

Divisions within Ukraine's post-revolutionary government burst into the open last week, after a video was made public of a profanity-filled row between Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and Odessa governor Mikheil Saakashvili.

During the row at a government meeting, Mr Avakov hurled a water glass at Mr Saakashvili.

Some people jokingly called it the Ukrainian "Watergate." But the ramifications of the fight could be very serious.

In addition to the glassware, the men threw substantial - though uncorroborated - accusations of corruption against each other.

The incident also raised questions of how much longer the country's ruling coalition can feasibly hold together, given the deep antipathy some of its members obviously feel for one another.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk joined Mr Avakov in venting his hostility towards Mr Saakashvili.

And Mr Saakashvili, the former president of Georgia, by all appearances more than returned the sentiment.

Stakes high

The cracks now on full display have brought back memories, and fears, of the failure of Ukraine's other post-uprising government, after the Orange Revolution.

Then, infighting between President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko stymied the government's reform agenda and ultimately delivered their opponent, Viktor Yanukovych, to power.

All has not yet deteriorated completely. But there are also significant differences between today's circumstances and what has come before.

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Image caption Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko were allies but their relationship turned sour

The country is fighting what many see as a war for Ukraine's survival against Russian-supported separatists in the east.

At the same time, concerns are rising that people could again take to the streets, frustrated over a stagnant economy, lack of reform and pervasive corruption.

Many Ukrainians, average citizens as well as politicians, fear a third "Maidan" could immediately turn violent.

No less than US Vice President Joe Biden pointed out the seriousness of the situation, and appealed to Ukrainian political leaders to forget their differences and focus on what was right for the country.

"The stakes couldn't be higher," he told Ukraine's parliament earlier this month in an historic, and emotional, speech.

"This may be your last chance - don't waste it."

Not ready to back down

The message has yet to take hold, however.

In addition to the altercation at the government meeting, a fight recently broke out in parliament after a legislator tried to physically carry Prime Minister Yatsenyuk from the rostrum.

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Media captionUkrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk was lifted off his feet

Deputies also failed to approve a crucial government budget and tax code needed to secure further funding from the International Monetary Fund to keep Ukraine's economy afloat.

So far, President Petro Poroshenko, thrust into the role of peacemaker, has tried to maintain a balance between the warring factions, doling out equal criticism to either side.

However, some feel Mr Poroshenko will ultimately have to make a decisive move - either to carry out some high-profile dismissals, or to reach a grand bargain compromise among his warring subordinates.

Or he could threaten all involved to such a degree that they would think twice before they engage in a potentially destabilising action.

But there are doubts that this too in the end would accomplish anything.

Given the emotions and antagonism exhibited by Mr Saakashvili, Mr Avakov and Mr Yatsenyuk last week, no man seems ready at the moment to back down, short of the destruction of his opponent.

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