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Could Sochi give an Olympian boost to EU-Ukraine diplomacy?

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Murad Sezer/Reuters

(Read caption) Ukraine's Oleksandr Obolonchyk and Roman Zakharkiv speed behind a resting Sochi staff member during a men's doubles luge training session Monday at the Winter Olympics.

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News that hasn’t hit the headlines – yet

The world is fixated on the winter Olympics in Russia. No one is more enthralled than the country's president and de facto Olympian host, Vladimir Putin.

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That’s why Kyryl Savin, an expert on Ukraine at the Heinrich-Böll Foundation in Kiev, says it’s the perfect time for Europe to seek a diplomatic solution in the tumultuous Eastern European country. Ukraine is in its 12th week of political unrest that began when Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych shunned an association agreement with the EU at the end of November.

“For the next few weeks, Putin will be busy with the Olympic games," says Mr. Savin. "It’s the window of opportunity for Europe to negotiate with Yanukovych and with the opposition to find a solution.”

The EU appears to agree, or at least is acting out of mounting frustration over the prolonged political stalemate.

Europe's 28 foreign ministers issued a statement Monday urging “a new and inclusive government, constitutional reform bringing more balance of powers, and preparations for free and fair presidential elections.” They also condemned a generalized situation of instability in Ukraine, including “cases of missing persons, torture, and intimidation” and “continuous cases of deliberate targeting of organizers and participants of peaceful protests as well as of journalists.”

Their message comes as the EU raises the stakes of the conflict. The EU had been criticized for not wielding enough sticks in their diplomacy with Mr. Yanukovych, who spurned the EU under financial threat from Russia, sending tens of thousands of protesters to the streets of Ukrainian capital, Kiev.

In the days leading up the launch of the games, however, the EU changed its tone: European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said “the future of Ukraine belongs with the European Union."

And EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton leaked to the press that the EU and US are trying to cobble together an aid package to help bring the crisis to an end.

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Russian leaders have said the West is seeking to blackmail Kiev, and when the Olympic Games are over Russia might threaten Ukraine with sanctions if it complies with EU dictates. Savin, the analyst in Kiev, says that finding a solution soon is crucial to stem spiraling violence, and even the risk of civil war.


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