The Orange Revolution

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But analysts in the U.S. are worried that Putin may have overplayed his hand. If he were seen to be encouraging the east in its secessionist plans, the protests could turn violent. As the Ukraine Supreme Court weighs its decision, there will be opportunities for Russia to stir up separatism. Whether that happens will depend on Putin's ability to reconcile traditional Russian interests and fears with the reality of modern Europe, says Michael Emerson of the Center for European Policy in Brussels. "The more Putin pushes realpolitik," he says, "the more Ukrainians will want to go in the other direction."

Those who want Ukraine to one day join the European Union watched last week's events with special interest. The country has been caught in a kind of catch-22, says Andrew Wilson, a lecturer at University College London and author of The Ukrainians: Unexpected Nation. "Brussels has been reluctant to give an invitation until Ukraine internalizes European values in politics and business, and Ukraine has been unwilling or unable to reform until that invitation is given." The current crisis could prompt both sides to break the impasse.

In Independence Square, Taras Kuchma, a physician from Drogobych, in the west, sarcastically thanked Yanukovych and Putin for having achieved the impossible. "They finally forced the Ukrainians to unite to become a nation," he said. But that unity was not in evidence last week, and it may still turn out to be an impossible dream.

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