The repressive laws passed by the Ukrainian parliament last week, with unseemly haste and hardly any discussion, are plainly designed to give the police as many powers as the government could think of to intimidate the protesters in Kiev and clear them from Independence Square as soon as possible. The deaths of at least two protesters show what’s at stake.
Even the wearing of a bicycle helmet at a demonstration and the driving of an automobile “moving in a column of more than five vehicles” have become offences. The offence of setting up a tent in a place where there is a demonstration, without a permit from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, doubtless goes to the core of the concerns of the government of President Viktor Yanukovych – that is, the authorities want to make continuing demonstrations as difficult as possible.
John Baird, the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, was right to say on Wednesday that all “options are on the table,” and that “like-minded partners” would be consulted on the appropriate response. The suggestion appears to be that Western governments should consider sanctions against Ukraine.
The cumulative effect of this overreaching bill, intended to interfere with freedom of assembly by manifold means, is a subversion of democratic norms. Mr. Yanukovych has long equivocated between East and West, trying to conciliate Europe while deferring to President Vladimir Putin of Russia. His tilt toward Moscow is what set off the demonstrations. And right now, he is unmistakably on the side of repression.