The world has been watching Ukraine's capital, Kiev, since November, when the government abandoned an EU deal to instead push the country closer to Russia, its historic ally. The decision was met with heated protests.
Kiev's Independence Square, the center of the demonstrations, where protesters have set up camps, has seen sporadic violence, but this week the opposition grew impatient, when it looked as though the government led by Viktor Yanukovich was unwilling to concede to their demands to enact constitutional reforms that would limit presidential powers.
Those tensions boiled over with escalation from both sides that led to the most violent day yet, with at least 26 people left dead.
We consulted three experts for “Inside Story” about the anatomy of this protest movement and ones like it across the globe.
Inside Story: Tell us about the evolution of this protest.
Rachel Denber: It started as a peaceful protest but putting pressure on the government to establish a deeper integration with the European community. It became more radicalized after authorities used brutal force in November. This brought tens of thousands of people to the streets.
The protest then evolved into an effort to oust the president. Protesters increased their demands as violence escalated. Over time, the protest not only grew bigger but it also became much more splintered.
So what's the situation now?
A growing element within this protest movement is radicalized street fighters armed with baseball bats, pitchforks and rocks.
There is always talk that radicals from western Ukraine will come in and provide reinforcements to the street fighters, but it’s really hard to say whether that’s rumor or truth. In turn, there are also pro-government thugs who go around beating and threatening anti-government protesters, and who also fight the street fighters.
Deputy director, Human Rights Watch
I've seen announcements made by groups of people claiming they will form pro-government forces, if they have to, in order to fight the anti-government forces. I don't know whether nearby countries have contributed to the escalation of the protests. Russia claims the U.S. has egged on the protest movement and radicalized it. Western critics theorize that Russia either pushed or gave cover to Yanukovich to use force. We’ll never know the truth.
What does the future hold for Ukraine?
Government forces will continue to use excessive force, beating innocent people. There needs to be a permanent mission there to gather information and deploy neutral observers on the ground. Genuine threat exists. The protest will continue to intensify and, more importantly, spread.
Inside Story: The situation in Ukraine has been at a low simmer for some months. What changed? What was the catalyst for this?
Peter Ackerman: Things weren't at a low simmer at all. We shouldn't assume because there is no violence that there is tranquillity. The turmoil has been steady. We don't know who the main perpetrator of the violence is yet.
Successful nonviolent protest tactics anticipate defections from the other side. You can't get defections by shooting people. Remember, people in regimes are not always aligned with the ideas of their leaders, so nonviolence can be used as a tactic to make those people feel that there is less risk in defecting to the other side. The nonviolent conflict was just as disruptive.
After the Arab Spring, people around the world were optimistic about the power of the people. Do these protests in Ukraine, Thailand and Sarajevo call into question the effectiveness of people's power?
These protests suggest that this is the vehicle that, if used correctly, can create real democratic reform. Studies have shown that the average lifetime of a resistance movement is three years. We may have a ways to go with these movements.
In Tunisia, the movement evolved in a very short amount of time, and is still considered to be successful. In Egypt the jury is still out. There is a new constitution, but the military is a large nondemocratic force inside Egypt. The battle goes on.
International Center on Nonviolent Conflict
Once a government cracks down on a protest using violence, does it delegitimize the government?
It does delegitimize a government unless the people's power movement uses violence as well. Then it can devolve into both parties doing crimes against humanity.
In Ukraine, the violence used by protesters, in a sense, has made Yanukovich's response seem more reasonable. In contrast between violent and nonviolent, protest is a tool. When used correctly, nonviolent discipline will make Yanukovich supporters consider defecting.
How does social media play a role?
Social media is a tool, not a strategy. In 2011, people claimed Egypt was a Facebook revolution, but that is not true. Egypt had better success with their revolution with less Internet usage than Iran did with theirs. Iranians had more access to the Internet but less success with their revolution. A sign in a square may be more effective than a call to action on the Internet.
In general, social media is probably more helpful to the population rather than the authoritarian government. It is important to understand why civil resistance movements work. They involve many parts of society. Civil resistance can be protests, boycotts, etc. Nonviolent civilian protest makes it hard for authorities to maintain power because of defections. The opposition needs to plan a strategy, because planning creates cooperation between parties.
Inside Story: What's happening in Ukraine? Why is it getting so out of control?
Mark Beissinger: Part of it is that there has been a stalemate. The longer these things go on, the more likely there is to be violence.
There has also been increased radicalization on the part of protesters. Russia has been pushing for the Ukrainian government to seize control of the situation because Russia has geopolitical interests in this conflict. They don't want Ukraine to move into the European sphere of interests. Russia has been trying to keep Ukraine from aligning with the EU. Animosities on both sides have been growing.
Are people-power protests around the world effective?
In some ways, what these conflicts highlight is what occurs after protests is as critical as what occurs during protests. Steps that new governments take after power are very important. These movements are seen as great victories by people, but they are only won after they are over.
Thailand, for instance, has continued mobilization over a decade of different sides each wanting to throw over the other. This often happens in societies that are deeply divided regionally: You get successions of revolutions.
Is a government delegitimized once it cracks down on protests?
Often it is. It depends on how much support the government has. In Russia, the government has cracked down on protests and largely gotten away with it. The loss of support for a government depends in part on how large the protest is.
Crackdowns incite more protests and create divisions within government on the appropriateness of the use of force. The endgame for most protests that want to overthrow the government is to get defections from the government, especially military or police defections. When there are ties between the police and military and the protesters, that can also create divisions within the government.
Access to media also plays a role. Visualization of crackdowns can go far to get defectors.
What's the role of social media?
Social media is the medium of choice for many protest movements. Social media is useful in getting large crowds to participate. It also plays a big role in bringing to light acts of government repression. Social media has been embedded in the fabric of protest movements in the last 10 years because of lots of growth in social media usage in the middle classes.
This panel was assembled for the broadcast of “Inside Story.”
For future hard-hitting conversations, find Al Jazeera America on your TV.