Ukraine and the European dream
Is there a continuity between the current demonstrations and the Orange Revolution of 2004?
The current demonstrations have extended much longer than those of 2004, though the grievances and concerns of those who have taken the streets are similar in many ways. In 2004, allegations of fraudulent elections were the rallying cry for the demonstrators. Unfortunately, elections are still a weak spot in Ukraine’s democracy. There were 5 parliamentary elections this past week in districts where the October 2012 winner could not be determined because of irregularities. This past week’s elections also had many irregularities according to vote monitors, including large-scale vote buying. Aside from elections, the people on the Maidan are calling for the rule of law, an end to politically motivated persecutions, steps towards integration with Europe, again mirroring many of the issues that drove the Orange Revolution.
The agreement signed by President Yanukovich with Russia makes Putin’s country Ukraine’s first creditor. Doesn’t this represent a setback with regard to the negotiations with the EU? As of today, how likely is Ukraine’s association to the EU?
It is hard to say what Ukraine’s EU prospects are now. European leaders continue to welcome Ukraine into the European fold despite recent setbacks and it’s clear that a large proportion of the Ukrainian population is also in favor of moving towards Europe. The real question is, whose interests is President Yanukovich looking out for? He and his family and close friends have apparently prospered over the past few years, amassing property, companies, and cash through shady deals and corruption. Yet at the same time, the Ukrainian people have struggled with corruption at every turn in daily life, the authorities have used thugs to provoke violence and crackdowns, and the Ukrainian media sphere has been increasingly plagued by censorship, assaults on journalists, and widespread corruption. The status quo in Ukraine is great for a select few and not so great for all the rest.
Is Ukraine transforming itself in a “police State”, as Vitaly Klitschko, the opposition leader, fears?
The violence by the authorities against journalists and demonstrators and the use of hired thugs – titushki – by the security forces is certainly alarming. The impunity for this violence only adds to the alarm. Every country has a right and responsibility to maintain security and order, but leaders can choose order through force and oppression or order through democracy and hearing out and acting on citizens’ legitimate concerns. I don’t think we know exactly what direction President Yanukovich and Ukraine are moving just yet, though the violence over the past few weeks are cause for concern. There must be a complete rejection of violence and force against peaceful demonstrators in order for the authorities to maintain any legitimacy.
How is the current situation in Ukraine influencing the relationships between the EU and Russia?
The EU is clearly alarmed by Russia’s bullying of Ukraine and I think it is pushing EU leaders to reconsider their approach to Russia. The EU has engaged Russia on human rights for several years now through regular EU-Russia human rights consultations, but these haven’t proven their worth or had a palpable impact. The EU and Russia have been negotiating easing restrictions on visas between the two areas, but the EU recently said that Russia’s homophobic law is a stumbling block for visa liberalization. It should be. Human rights, including Russia’s efforts to influence the situation in Ukraine and support anti-democratic moves, should be a key concern in EU-Russia relations and the EU should take these seriously when it deals with Russia.
Did the agreement signed last week with Russia actually save Ukraine from the shutdown, as Azarov claims? Does Ukraine have the strength and the resources to become emancipated from Russia?
Since we don’t know the full extent of the deals with Russia, it’s hard to speculate about what both countries have promised each other. It seems likely that President Yanukovich gave up something that the Russians saw as valuable. This would only strengthen the ties between the corrupt leaders of Russia and the corrupt leaders of Ukraine, making it harder for Ukraine to choose its own path. The Ukrainian people and many civil society, business, and political leaders clearly have a desire to become free of Russian meddling. The $15 billion dollar loan may alleviate some short term pains but it seems unlikely to do much more than maintain Ukraine’s reliance on Russia. Real freedom from Russia could be accomplished by real domestic reforms by leaders elected through clean elections who are concerned with the wellbeing of the entire nation rather than their parochial interests.