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A country that needs to look both east and west

The violence that has erupted Ukraine is distressing and shocking, but the dispute and division that have led to it, although complicated, should not be dismissed as remote.

Kiev is not some far-off outpost on the outer reaches of Europe. Not only is it one of Europe's largest and greatest capital cities, it also faces many questions about identity and future direction that would be recognised across Europe, including in Scotland.

The violence that has this week led to the deaths of 21 protesters has been condemned by political leaders around the world. The White House says it is outraged by security forces firing on the people, and anyone in doubt about the scale of the killings should remember that more people have died this week in Kiev than in the August 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union.

In condemning the violence, the United States has also called for a political resolution but a solution will not be quick and there will have to be close attention to the sensitivities and divisions in what is a relatively new state. The very name of the country, Ukraina, can mean borderland and, like other regions on the borders, it faces many internal divisions.

The most striking is between the east of the country and the west, a division that has fuelled much of the unrest. The west, which includes the beautiful Carpathian mountains, has traditionally been economically neglected, while the east is more industrially developed.

It is partly because of this, and the fact the Ukrainians of the east, many of whom speak Russian, fear losing this investment that they have looked much more to Moscow than the EU. It also helps explain President Yanukovych's rejection of the trade deal with the EU.

Clearly, it is Moscow that has a strong and direct influence over events in Kiev, but the finger cannot point only east. The EU has been trying to increase its influence in the region too, using the trade deal as a tasty carrot. But why should Ukraine be forced to choose? Why should it be forced to throw its lot in with either Russia or the EU? The reality is that the best future prospects for Ukraine lie in being friends, allies and trading partners with both.

It is likely President Putin does not see it that way and that matters because he is, beyond question, the most powerful figure in the region and the man most likely to influence what happens next. Ominously, Russia has said that what Ukraine needs is strong government.

But Putin must also know the Ukrainians and Russians do not consider themselves foreigners in the traditional sense. For Putin, Ukraine is home and that increases the pressure on him to help find a solution.

What will not help is the fact that corruption is so rife in Ukraine. Allegations are made on both sides of the dispute. In addition, people are weary of a succession of ineffectual and inept governments. This dispute started with a trade deal but it has become about much more than that. It is about a desire for a new government, change and renewal, and that is as understandable in the complicated country of Ukraine as it is anywhere else.

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