FOREIGN Minister Miroslav Lajčák and other EU foreign ministers were meeting to impose sanctions on people who are, in their words, responsible for escalating the violence underway in Kiev’s Independence Square as the world looked on in horror. As clashes continue, Slovak officials have begun preparations to deal with further instability in the country’s eastern neighbour – with the possibility of Ukrainian refugees seeking to cross into Slovakia should the violence swell even further.

Dozens of people were killed as the violence peaked on February 20 after a short-lived truce sealed overnight between government and opposition leaders failed to last until the break of morning. That followed two days of previous clashes, which themselves occurred after a brief period of calm. Police tried to clear Independence Square, the centre of the protests, but protesters constructed barriers and bonfires as a means to block advancing security forces.

Demonstrators attacked police with stones, petrol bombs and other improvised devices on February 18. The police responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and stun and smoke grenades.

Ukrainian authorities reported 26 people dead, among them protesters, police, but also a journalist, and hundreds injured, as of February 19, according to The Kyiv Post. Fighting resumed on February 20 and by the time The Slovak Spectator went to print, some estimates of the death toll surpassed 60 victims. Thousands of people remained amassed on Independence Square, The Kyiv Post reported.

Destination for refugees?

Observers who spoke to The Slovak Spectator earlier suggested that in event of any further escalation of conflicts, or if military rule or a dictatorship is imposed in Ukraine, Slovakia could see an inflow of refugees.

Officials are monitoring the situation on the eastern border with Ukraine, said the Police Presidium spokeswoman Denisa Baloghová. The police are also in contact with other services of the police corps and are cooperating with the police proxy in Ukraine.

“We have a sufficient number of forces and tools available, and should the need arise we will take adequate measures,” Baloghová said, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

The Slovak government’s Security Council remains on standby and Lajčák was in Brussels as this issue went to press.

“So far, no movement of migrants or an increased number of visa applications of Ukrainian citizens has occurred,” the February 19 official government statement reads. “If necessary, Slovakia is ready to respond.”

Prime Minister Robert Fico said earlier in the day that the government is concerned about the recent wave of violence that has erupted on the streets of Kiev. The cabinet condemned all forms of violence and called for an immediate end to the clashes, TASR reported.

EU takes action

Lajčák flew to Brussels on February 20 to a meeting of EU foreign ministers, who were expected to decide on what action the EU should take against the Ukrainian authorities.

One day before that, Lajčák voiced Slovakia’s stance, saying that the EU should take targeted measures against the individuals responsible for the violence in Ukraine. They could freeze the bank accounts of those who are suspected of earning their money illegally, or put the names of those responsible for killing protesters on the visa black list, Lajčák said.

“Let’s ban them from the EU countries; I cannot imagine we could do anything less than this,” Lajčák said, as quoted by the SITA newswire.

“We are not talking about sanctions but rather about punishing the people who bear responsibility,” SITA quoted Lajčák as saying.

EU foreign ministers will create a list of people they deem responsible for the shocking violence begin freezing their bank accounts and ban them from entering EU countries, TASR reported. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and many of his top aides are expected to be included on the list.

Lajčák blamed Yanukovych for his reluctance to engage in a real discussion with part of his nation.

“It is unacceptable that a political disagreement gets solved in a way that leaves dozens of dead behind,” Lajčák said.

Slovakia, as a neighbouring state of Ukraine, has an interest in making sure the country is not isolated. Ukraine should develop in a positive, democratic way, with the spirit of European democratic values, the Foreign Ministry wrote in a February 18 statement. The ministry called on all involved parties to exercise restraint, adding that it expects the ruling power to respect citizens’ right to gather in public.

Political messages

Most of Slovakia’s leading politicians offered their condolences to the bereaved and expressed their shock over the violence in Kiev. President Ivan Gašparovič wrote in his official statement that he was “deeply concerned” and called for a political solution of the crisis.

Vice-chairman of the opposition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) party Ivan Štefanec proposed summoning a special session of the parliamentary committee for European affairs, adding that Lajčák and the Ukrainian ambassador should attend.

“It is high time to send a serious signal also to the Slovak government; we cannot be satisfied with it only issuing stances on Ukraine,” he said, as quoted by TASR adding that the government must be active in this respect.

Representatives of other opposition parties, including Nova, Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) and Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO), spoke in similar tone, stressing that it is in Slovakia’s interest that the crisis in Ukraine is resolved.