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Civil War? Coup? Fascism? Ukraine's Unrest Provokes Inflammatory Language

An antigovernment protester uses a catapult during clashes with riot police in downtown Kyiv on February 19. As the protests became increasingly heated, some of the language used in connection with them has been equally incendiary.
A civil war? A coup? A terrorist insurrection, or a fascist uprising? RFE/RL takes a look at some of the loaded language that has been used during Ukraine's political crisis.

'Civil War'

The specter of "civil war" has been bandied about by everyone from leading Ukrainian figures to top officials in EU countries and Russia.

Leonid Kravchuk, Ukraine's first post-independence president, was using the term as early as January, warning lawmakers that the country was on the "brink of civil war" as parliament debated an amnesty for detained protesters.

Following violent clashes in Kyiv on February 16, opposition leader Vitali Klitschko warned against a "scenario of force," telling a local TV station that he "didn't rule out the possibility of a civil war."

Upon arrival at a government meeting on February 19, Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec told journalists that a "civil war has started" in Ukraine.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told parliament on the same day that, "We may be witnessing the first hour of a civil war."

"At any moment," he later warned on television, "the riots and tension in eastern Ukraine, and also in western Ukraine, could turn into a battle which no one has control over."

'Terrorists,' 'Blackmailers,' and 'Doormats'

Oleksandr Lukianchenko, the mayor of eastern Ukraine's largest city, Donetsk, played the terrorist card on February 19 when he demanded the arrest of opposition leaders on "terrorism" charges. "The negotiations cannot be conducted with terrorists," he told reporters.

Despite EU calls for restraint, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on February 20 that Russia would like to see a strong government, and not "a doormat" in Ukraine, raising pressure on President Yanukovych to restore order.

And speaking during a visit to Baghdad the same day, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described U.S. visa bans against Ukrainian officials and threats of similar sanctions by the European Union as "blackmail."

'Fascist Coup'

The presence on the barricades of hard-right militants allowed Russian and Ukrainian officials as well as media to portray the Ukrainian opposition as extremists.

In describing antigovernment protesters to CNN on February 19, Russia's Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin said: "Some of them are clearly -- from the slogans we hear in the streets and from what we know about these organizations -- they are fascist-inspired radicals."

In a Twitter post on the same day, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich strongly condemned "actions by radicals and extremists" who bear primary responsibility for the "violence, bloodshed, and chaos."

Past History

In Britain, the far-left-wing Eurosceptic electoral alliance No2EU described protesters as an "unholy alliance of conservatives, fascists, and revanchist groups promoting a cult around former Nazi collaborators."

On the front page of its February 21 edition, the Russian tabloid "Komsomolskaya Pravda" featured the headline: "After Capturing Ukraine, The Banderovtsi Will Aim For Russia." Stepan Bandera was a leader of the Ukrainian nationalist movement from the early to mid-20th century, and "Banderovtsi" is often used as a derogatory term by Russians to describe Ukrainian nationalists.

In an article posted on February 7, the Bishkek-based information website equated Yanukovych's future to two former Kyrgyz presidents. The headline reads: "Yanukovych equals Bakiev and Akaev combined." Both Kurmanbek Bakiev and President Askar Akaev were ousted following antigovernment protests.

The Secession Question

As the crisis in Ukraine became increasingly violent, the possibility that the country could break up came to fore.

One potential flashpoint is Crimea, where the head of the regional parliament, Vladimir Konstantinov, told Russian radio on February 20 that the autonomous republic may secede from Ukraine if tensions escalate further.

"It may happen if the country splits," he said. "Anyway, the entire situation is heading that way."

On February 20, the "Financial Times" newspaper quoted a senior Russian government official as saying Moscow was prepared to fight a war over Crimea to protect the ethnic Russian population and its military base there.

"If Ukraine breaks apart, it will trigger a war," the unidentified official said, adding that Ukraine "will lose Crimea first [because] we will go in and protect [it], just as we did in Georgia."

RFE/RL correspondents Farangiz Najiballah and Glenn Kates as well as RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service contributed to this report