On February 17, a government amnesty for hundreds of demonstrators came into effect after protesters left government buildings around the country, including Kiev city hall. Just days earlier, on February 14, the government freed the last of 234 prisoners jailed for offenses related to the protests.
But Ivan Lozowy, a Kiev-based political analyst, says these steps did little to ease the crisis. "The prisoners who were freed still have criminal cases open against each of them, none of the criminal cases have been closed. On the other hand, not a single criminal case has been opened against, for example, the riot police who had used excessive force [prior to February 18] and even killed people," Lozowy says. "So, there was a general sense of dissatisfaction growing over the past two-and-a-half months [of the protests], which resulted in the march on the government quarter yesterday."
Lozowy also says protesters were angered by Moscow's announcement on February 17 that it would release $2 billion in held-up aid to Kiev. The money is the second tranche of the $15 billion of aid Russia offered Ukraine after Yanukovych shunned an Association Agreement with the EU in November and which Moscow had postponed delivering amid the protests.
"It is widely believed among the protesters that the government and President Yanukovych had promised Russia they would clear up the Maidan in exchange for getting the next tranche of the multibillion-dollar loan they had negotiated in December," Lozowy says.
Can the two sides still find a negotiated solution?
It is increasingly hard to see how, because both sides appear already to have spent most of their bargaining chips. Yanukovych said in January he was ready to dismiss his entire government. But his former ministers have remained in place since the opposition said it demanded the president himself resign to make way for early elections.
Eugeniusz Smolar, a foreign-policy expert in Warsaw, says both sides now appear to view street power as the best option. "We are at the moment in a situation where a democratically elected president uses undemocratic means and anti-human means, by shooting people, to hold onto power," Smolar says. "And where at the same time the opposition is using force on the street to force him out of office."
Can outside powers help?
For months, the European Union and the United States have fruitlessly urged Kiev and opposition leaders to negotiate an end to the crisis. The problem is that, while EU and U.S. officials meet with both sides, Kiev regards both Brussels and Washington as backing the opposition.
Similarly, Russia is in no position to play the role of mediator. Moscow fully supports Yanukovych and has accused politicians in both the United States and European Union of meddling in Ukraine's national affairs.