Despite covering this issue in my declaration of Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych (had to check the spelling 4 times) as December’s Villain of the Month, I’ve wanted to write a full article on the protests in Ukraine. And my timing couldn’t have been any better than now. Over the past couple of weeks, the protests have taken a much more violent tone. Even though I briefly discussed the issue at hand in the post mentioned above, let me start over for those of you too that are still not up to date.
Here lies Ukraine; a former Soviet satellite state that is known for its vast agricultural and mining resources, its beautiful women, and for being the country where the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred.Perhaps there is correlation between the amount of radiation in the air and the gorgeous women of Ukraine.I’ll do some research on that topic later. For now, the most important thing you might have noticed from this map is that if Eurasia is split into Europe and Russia, then Ukraine would be somewhere in the middle.
Ukraine’s geographical location forms the basis of the issue at hand. Now lets dive deeper. As I stated, Ukraine was a former Soviet state. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it became an independent nation. As Russia started to regain its global influence under Vladimir Putin’s leadership, Ukraine has been the cause for a geopolitical tug of war between the European Union (EU) and Russia, the two dominant forces in the region. That battle also exists in Ukrainian politics. The two main parties can be simplified as being pro-European and pro-Russian. Unsurprisingly, the pro-European party is mostly favored in the western part of the country whereas the eastern Russian speaking Ukrainians mostly support Yanukovych. Currently, the pro-Russian party, led by incumbent President Viktor Yanukovych (depicted below) is in power.
Though Ukraine is no longer a closed socialist state, it is still far from a free democracy. The political competition between the two parties have not always been confined to the ballot box. Both sides have consistently charged each other with being involved in various forms of corruption and illegal activities. In the 2004 elections, dubbed the Orange Revolution, supporters of the pro-European party declared that votes had been tampered with and flooded the streets in protest. Even though Yanukoyvch was initially the winner, a recount declared pro-European leader Victor Yushchenko to be the next president. However, In 2011, pro-Russianers retaliated when Ukrainian courts placed Yulia Tymoshenko, another leading pro-EU figure under arrest. The alleged charges were that she had abused her powers during her term as Prime Minister. The more likely reason was that she had declined to sign a trade agreement with Russia that would allow the flow of natural gas from Russia through Ukraine and into Eastern Europe. That pipeline is crucial to the flow of natural gas to Ukraine and the rest of Europe and is also a significant source of income for the Russian economy.
Over the years, under the rule of Yanukoyvch, Ukraine had started to strengthen its ties with the European Union. Initially the EU refused to enter into diplomatic agreements with Ukraine until the rule of law was improved. However, in the past couple of years, the Yanukoyvch government made attempts to comply with EU standards. His efforts were about to be culminated in the signing of a free trade agreement with the EU. However, on November 21,2013, a fellow by the name of Vladimir Putin stepped in and out of nowhere, Yanukovych decided to abandon talks with the EU in the last minute and made a trade agreement with Russia instead.
Rumor has it that because Putin wanted Ukraine to remain in the Russian sphere of influence, he offered Ukraine a counter-deal where Russia would sell natural gas to Ukraine at a cheaper price and woul also commit to purchase Ukrainian government debt. Because Ukraine’s government is currently in dire need of funds to pay its already outstanding debt, Yanukovych is believed to have favored the Russian deal which would bring short term economic benefits rather than the EU deal which would take time to implement but would eventually lead to greater economic freedom and democratic rights. That’s what everyone believes. I on the other hand don’t believe that all that economic stuff really played a part. I just think that Putin just sent Ivan Drago from Rocky 4 to threaten Yanukoyvch and that was all it took, because if this man ever came knocking on your door, you do whatever he asks.
Following the announcement regarding the abandonment of talks with the EU, anti-Yankoyvch protesters took to the streets to display their outrage. Thousands upon thousands flooded to Kiev’s central square, Independence Square, to protest the government
On November 30th, police responded to the protesters by using excessive force. To keep it real, like in mosts protests, there were those that responded to the police violently too. However, the police response brought on more protesters to the streets. Opposition party members joined the protests as well. Opposition party representatives Vitali Klitschko and Yuriy Lutsenko encouraged the protesters to demand their rights. Over the following weeks, protesters dug into Independence Square as the opposition party members brought forth a vote of confidence in the Ukrainian parliament. If they received a majority, the current government would have been forced to dissolve. However, they failed to gain enough votes.
Following New Years, there was a temporary decrease in tensions as the number of protesters declined. However, on January 15, the government signed a new legislation that brought extremely harsh sentences on protesting and obstructing government buildings. For example, forming convoys of more than five cars, forming stages and installing amplifiers in public grounds, and giving provisions to tents were deemed illegal. Again, this brought upon a large wave of mass protests and again the police responded violently. This time however, three people were killed in the clashes with the police. Conflict increased as protesters dug in even further in the last couple of days. The recent pictures out of Kiev appears to be somewhat apocalyptic.
Following the violent clashes, Yanukoyvch met with opposition leaders and offered them leading positions in the government as an act of concession. Yanukovych offered Arseniy Yatsenyuk the Prime Minister role and Vitali Klitschko the Deputy Prime Minister role. However, today, the opposition leaders snubbed the deal saying that they perceived it as an attempt to divide the protest movement. The protests still continue and we’ll see what direction it takes and what the outcome will be. One last important topic to note is that the protests are not occurring in all regions of Ukraine. As I had earlier stated, the political divide in Ukraine is also geographic. As the map below displays, the protests are centered in the western part of the Ukraine where much of the population supports closer integration with the EU. Even though pictures and videos might make it seem as if all of Ukraine is united against the government, Yanukovych is still highly popular in the east where much of population speaks Russian and hails from Russian decent. Thus, if elections were to be held today, it isn’t absurd to think that Yanukoyvch would win again.
As events unfold regarding the protests, I’ll make sure to cover them in my blog as they occur. Stay tuned.
“Yanukovych has changed everything in Ukrainian jails – real criminals have been released, while representatives of the middle class and politically rebellious free-minded people have filled the prisons.”