Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What's going on in Ukraine?

Is Ukraine close to jump into chaos? What are the possible outcomes of the situation? What can be done to stop more death? Who are the main strategists behind the protests?

Here are a couple of possible ideas:

The last evolutions

Ukraine won its theoretical independence from Russia 22 years ago, but Moscow's influence never ceased to make most of the games in the country. Especially the Eastern and Southern parts of Ukraine, where most of the resources and heavy industry are concentrated, is under the influence of people with strong connections to Moscow, both in terms of business and politics. With a young generation aspiring to be part of Europe, and a political elite tributary to the old Soviet practices, the gap between reality and aspirations is huge and explains the current clashes.
The latest in the series of protests, the clashes from the last night are the last stage of 3-month protests. Organized around the main center - and according to many independent observers, the most corrupt - of power, the Parliament, the protests escalated into violences that lead to the dead of 25 people, among which policemen and possibly a journalist, and 241 injured. Vyacheslav Veremyi, the local correspondent of the pro-governmental Vesti was shot by masked men while returning home in a taxi. As in the case of many 'revolutionary movements' - such as Romania in 1989, Tunisia, Egypt - the 'whos' and 'whys' are less important right now. According to a late release by the OSCE, since the unrest started, around 165 journalists were targeted by the violences, 27 of them only in the last night.  
The outcome from Kiev created new centers of protests in the country, with demonstrations expected in the next hours in Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and Ternopil.
The main leaders of the opposition, Vitaly Klitschko and Arseny Yatsenyuk, had a discussion with the contested president, Viktor Yanukovich, without a truce on sight. This morning, the protesters, were ready for a new day of fights, while many European and international leaders called the leadership in Kiev warning with possible sanctions.

The story

There is a long historical complicated background that explains the current divisions. On December 8, a huge statue of Lenin in Kiev was toppled, but many don't know probably that there are plenty of many others Lenins all over the country, especially in the East. One of the most impressive - and frightening at the same time - is the one in the main square in Kharkiv, also considered one of the biggest squares in Europe. As everywhere, Lenin means more than an ideology - that most probably many aren't acquainted with at all, it is a clear symbol of allegiance to Moscow.
Russia never lost influence in Ukraine after the independence, mostly because it needs its resources and the strategical positioning of the country to keep away both NATO and EU. 
Since 2008, Ukraine is a candidate to NATO, despite the desperate protests of Russia, and is receiving through dedicated programs a significant support to implement civil and military reforms. 
Ukraine is included as part of the European Neighbourhood Policy and in the last years several deals for free trade and political associations were signed. The signature of an Association Agreement with the EU was delayed, probably following a discussion Yanukovitch had with Putin at Sochi recently, who also probably promised him a membership into the Eurasian Customs Union, with Belarus, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. Viewed from Europe, this union may look as ridiculous as it is, but from Moscow, it is an important tool to create regional bodies to counter the EU influence. The spirit of CSI/USSR is not dead and when Russian-faithfully spin doctors are accusing the European Union of being a kind of Soviet Union, they know what they wish for.


Mid-November 2013, the Euromaidan was created, using the tools of the social media and gathering mostly young educated people having enough of the confused politics and corruption. After the 'Orange Revolution', who was anything but not a revolution as the former actors, among which, the then resigned prime minister Yanukovich, in 2004, those protests are the most significant and pro-European.
As for Europe, personified by the EU, it did not too much to help, probably afraid that the complicated corruption network will channel all the energies and help to Moscow. Generously, Putin offered a $15 billion bailout to Kiev and most probably is ready to offer even more. 
Brussels played the confused card of the European Partnership, often considered as an instrument created to temper both Russia and the pro-European elites, a sine die antechamber to full membership.
It is also possible that Brussels and Euromaidan are talking a different language: when some are generously speaking about trade and negotiations, the others are covering themselves in the EU flag and talking democracy and freedom. The same misunderstanding seems to characterize the dialogue between Moscow and Brussels, the EU bureaucrats never fully understanding that Putin's Russia is hardly involved in geopolitical games that in the West Europe have been abandoned for decades. 
As for the social society, since the 'Orange revolution', it changed and developed a lot, and learnt how to wisely use social media and the Internet. 


As many other local leaders born in the former Soviet Union, Yanukovitch has an adventurous biography. With a Russian mother and a Polish-Belarusian father, and Polish-Lithuanian family background, he spent some months in prison, for robbery and assault. His first language was Russian, and often he mentioned that Russian should be offered equal status with the Ukrainian language. Former governor of Donetsk Oblast and a protege of the not less controversial Leonid Kucima from whom probably he leaned how to eliminate his enemies. Shortly after winning the elections, he sent to prison the charismatic opponent Yulia Tymoshenko, for corruption (as she was connected with Russian oligarchs outside Yanukovich's own circle of 'friends').
Too much politics and deals can make you sick and at the end of January, Yanukovich took a leave due to acute respiratory illness and high fever.

The outcome

The protests continued and the future is unclear right now. Most of the online communication is blocked, and Yanukovich continues to claim that the protesters over passed a dangerous line. EU's indefatigable negotiator Catherine Ashton is hoping to obtain a peace truce, but Ukraine, and Russia in general, is not Iran. 
There are divisions and different interests, as well as more or less sympathy towards Russia in the EU; there are also divisions between NATO allies; there are equally divisions between various layers of oligarchs, political leaderships and regional centers of powers. And Russia pretends to know it all. 

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