Ukraine liberates itself

Hard to tell precisely what is going on in Ukraine or predict what the outcome will be, but it seems clear enough that President Yanukovich is out after he fled from Kiev yesterday, leaving the city and the presidential palace in opposition hands.  Security forces loyal to the president have given control of the capital to security forces backing the opposition.  The parliament has removed its speaker, a Yanukovich ally, declared the president unable to perform his duties, freed opposition leader Yulia Tymshenko and called elections for May 25, more than six months earlier than provided for in yesterday’s European Union-brokered agreement.

The situation is still perilous.  It could easily degenerate into civil war, if security forces in the eastern portion of the country remain loyal to Yanukovich, who is describing the events as a coup.  Moscow could make life difficult for any successor government, either by tightening its purse strings or shutting off supplies of natural gas.  The European Union and the United States, both of which will be pleased to see the back of Yanukovich, are unlikely to ante up as quickly as President Putin will turn the screws, or as much as Moscow has offered.  The situation in Crimea, which is mostly Russian-speaking and transferred to Ukraine only in 1954, could become problematic.  Putin could try to hive off the eastern provinces and Crimea.  That after all is what he did to the Russian-speaking portions of Georgia when he got the chance, making Abkhazia and South Ossetia into supposedly independent Russian satellites. Not to mention the Trans-Dniester portion of Moldova.

There are deep divisions not only between the ex-president and the opposition, but also within the opposition, which includes right-wing nationalists as well as pro-European liberals.  Once the contest with Yanukovich is out of the way, the unity of the opposition can be expected to break down.  That is only natural.  The question will be whether they work out their disagreements with each other and with pro-Russian Ukrainians in peaceful or violent ways.  There are no guarantees on that score, especially as the security forces appear to be choosing sides.  What looks today like the happy triumph of relatively peaceful protests over a brutal proto-dictatorship, which killed demonstrators by the score, could look different in a few months.

But for the moment it is certainly tempting to celebrate.  It isn’t only the Russian hockey team that has had a bad week or so.  Putin’s effort to force all of Ukraine back into Moscow’s sphere of influence looks likely to fail.  Its citizens have reasserted their right to choose a European, as opposed to a Russian, future.  Its parliament has tried to lay a legal basis for the shift in direction and future decisions on the country’s future.  Friends in Brussels and Washington will remain sympathetic if Ukraine chooses a liberal, democratic future.

Some will wonder, if a new election can settle the issues in Ukraine, why can’t that happen also in Syria?  The simple answer is that it can, but only when Bashar al Assad joins Yanukovich in Moscow.  The notion that a free and fair election can be held any time soon in a country that has never had a competitive election and where ballots are marked with a thumbprint drenched in blood from a pinprick is delusional.  Elections will some day play a key role in Syria, but for the moment we’ll have to content ourselves with alleviating the humanitarian suffering, using the UN Security Council resolution that passed today.

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3 thoughts on “Ukraine liberates itself”

  1. One encouraging sign: the meeting of local and provincial officials in the East, according to one reporter, spoke entirely of holding the country together, and not – yet, at least – of looking to Russia for help. But they’re going to need some help from the other side here – the Parliament in Kiev could have waited a little longer to annul the language law that treats Russian as an official language on a level with Ukrainian. Even though I’m not sure I can always tell them apart (Ukrainian sounds like Russian with Slovak – or Polish? – characteristics), Russians in the past have insisted that learning Ukrainian is too much to expect of them. (Yulya Tymoshenko managed it, though, but she had an incentive, if she wanted to portray herself as the embodiment of traditional – i.e., virtuous, virginal, saintly – Ukraine.)

    I’m delighted she’s out of prison. But may she please not run for President.

  2. I am not entirely sure what would Ukraine do in Europe and what would Europe do with Ukraine. Europe does not and should not want it because it could not handle it. I can understand that Europe is (barely) willing to accept Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo, Albania due to its own security reasons. Better to integrate them and improve the standard of living, the laws and general states of the societies of those countries than to have failed states prone to corruption and terrorism of left, right and religious type on its borders. EU is fighting fight problems left with Greece cooking up their books prior to EU ascension, corruption and general lack of experience on how to run a democratic country and plural society in the former communist countries now in EU. It is a 50 decades job. Every serious analysis would yield a result that Ukraine in EU would pose a security risk to EU, one high enough to end it.

    1. All the EU is currently offering is an Eastern Partnership. Yulya Tymosheko was over-excited when she told the crowd that came out to greet her in Kiev that “Ukraine will soon be in the EU.” What those calling for EU membership want are what they see as Western standards of honesty in government and the courts, which would help to improve living standards, as they believe has been the case in former Soviet-bloc countries.

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