Ukrainian spring

December 03, 2013 - 7:34:02 am

The former Soviet Republic has to pay a high cost for ignoring the European Union and grabbing the pivot to Russia.

Ukraine has erupted like a volcano, letting out pent-up rage against the regime of President Viktor Yanukovych. The temptation to believe that the riots have only to do with the government’s refusal to get closer to the European Union is overpowering. However, Ukraine’s going back on the promise of signing a trade deal with the 28-nation bloc was only a precipitating factor for the unrest. The predisposing factors were aplenty. 

Yanukovych came to power in 2010 after winning presidential elections in the country which is deeply divided along pro-Russia and anti-Russia faults. The fissures run so deep that when the Yanukovych government tried to increase the role of Russian as one of the official languages, there was bedlam in Parliament.   Russian President Vladimir Putin, as is his wont, has stood behind Yanukovych. Amid unrest in the former Soviet Republic, Russian President Vladimir Putin threw his weight behind the Ukrainian leader saying that he was a legitimate ruler. Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said yesterday that there was a plan to overthrow the government.  Putin’s also made it clear that outside forces were behind the movement against Yanukovych. The Russian leader’s statement has echoes of him supporting Syrian President Bashar Al Assad in spite of the more-than-two-year-old revolt ripping apart the Middle East nation. 

The trail of Ukraine’s troubles can be traced to the time when former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was thrown into jail after a legal process that smacked of selective justice. The Orange Revolution leader, however, was not ready to be put down. She kept protesting inside prison against poor conditions of incarceration as the West started seizing on the opportunity of making noises against the authoritarian regime of Yanukovych, who was thrown out of power by the revolution led by her in 2004. 

Yanukovych was constantly under pressure from the West for releasing Tymoshenko, also called the ‘gas princess.’ She was sentenced for purported irregularities in a gas deal she signed with Russia.  The volatile political situation in Ukraine worsened when the proposed trade deal that Yanukovych was supposed to sign with the European Union did not materialise after Russia arm-twisted him to agree to a customs union. 

The culmination of a tug-of-war between the West and Russia over Ukraine has put the focus on Kiev’s fraught loyalties. Faced with a hegemonic Russia in his backyard and a persuasive European bloc holding out the lure of a membership into its coveted club, Ukraine relented — but to the benefit of Russia.  Yanukovych faces a disgruntled population out to vent its frustration at the loss of opportunity to pivot to the West. Any bad peace is better than a good war, Yanukovych said yesterday. However, he has to realise that the cost Ukraine has to pay for leaning towards Russia may be disproportionately high•
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