February 17, 2014
What’s going on in Ukraine?
Ukrainians have been protesting since November 21st. It took many analysts by surprise and as it has unfolded, it has revealed underlying complexities regarding who is involved, what they want and how far they’re willing to go.
It all sparked when President Victor Yanukovych, decided to reject a deal with the EU that would have provided more integration for Ukraine with the European Union and instead, accepted a deal with Russia. But it’s important to remember that this issue just “sparked” the action. People have had a growing discontentment and simmering anger towards the vast corruption in Ukrainian politics for a while. This recent action was the tipping point.
Now the protesters have demands. And Yanukovych’s government has demands. As Milan Lelich, political observer for Focus Magazine (an independent Ukrainian publication) told me, it’s like two boxers in a clinch. No one’s winning and nothing’s moving forward. But it can’t stay that way indefinitely.
Ukrainians are still in the streets, they are occupying government buildings and they have blocked off the entrances to the city center of Kiev. It has, at times turned violent and deadly. This past week seemed to be more about negotiations – but mostly meaningless negotiations at that.
What are the demands of the protestors:
In an interview with Commandant Stephan Kubiv, the general in charge of the headquarters of the protests at the Trade Union building, I was told that the demands of the opposition forces are simple and clear:
- We want a vote on the return of the 2004 constitution.
- We want the release of all prisoners – those taken during the protests.
- We want the criminal records of those arrested to be expunged. (So that they cannot be re-arrested at any time.)
- We want a full reload of the government.
While Commandant Kubiv’s statements were flavored in the words of a diplomat or politician, it seemed clear that at the end, nothing but the removal of Yanucovych as president and a full government reboot would satisfy those who are involved in the opposition.
Where does it go from here?
Milan Lelich, of Focus Magazine suggested three possible scenarios:
- Things will remain as they are, accented by small conflicts and pseudo negotiations until the new presidential elections in March of 2015.
- Yanacovych and Russia’s Putin negotiate a deal (a way) to get rid of the protesters with Putin doing the dirty work behind the scenes. If you can “create” a national crisis to justify police action, then the government could appear more justified in taking action against the “fascists” and “nazis” who are protesting the government. (Side note: these words are still thrown around with huge emotional charges. It’s one of the reason Ukrainian police feel free to attack protesters – they view themselves as “heroes” against fascism. But don’t ask any of them to exactly define the words….)
- The oligarchs, those who hold enormous political influence in Ukraine, could change sides and decide to support the revolution which would lead to less bloodshed and the formation of a new government.
Milan acknowledges that not everyone is supportive of the revolution. But he states that those who lean more towards Russia are also those who are very passive when it comes to government involvement. In other words – it doesn’t matter if the protesters represent fewer than half the population – they are the ones who want change the most and are willing to go after change.
Will things turn more violent again? Olexander Mykhelson, political observer for the Ukrainian Weekly feels that the winds have gone from the sails of the revolution. The support of those that were willing to fight has deteriorated. But Milan Lelich disagrees. He believes that things will turn violent before the end – and feels that the police and government forces have forced them to that point – and it will happen. Protesters are also paying attention to what will happen when the Sochi Olympic games are over and Putin can turn his full attention towards the Ukrainian matter.
Yesterday, February 16, it was reported that protesters would leave City Hall (one of the buildings they were occupying) in exchange for amnesty for those imprisoned during the revolution. But voices inside the occupied Trade Union building (another occupied building in central Kiev) say that all prisoners were not released and that if they were, they remained under house arrest – without their criminal records being cleared.
When I asked about this issue this afternoon, I was told that the decision to vacate City Hall was the decision of the Svoboda group (a hard right group of activists), but clearly, none of the other demands of the protesters have been met. Today, according to sources inside the Trade Union headquarters, the resistance movement is far from over – and many of them fear that there is no turning back now anyway. Either they win and get a free, fair and open government, or they lose and because of their involvement in civil unrest, their lives, as they once knew them will be over.
The Foreign Connection:
Rarely do internal politics arise within a nation that we don’t consider which other nations have some vested interested in that situation. In this case, the players are the European Union, the US and Russia. It is in the interests of the EU and the US to bring Ukraine into the fold of Western nations. But Russia’s Putin isn’t going to let go of Ukraine (a former Soviet block nation) easily – and if he does, he will certainly make it as hard as possible on the “runaway” nation from an economical standpoint. (Western Ukraine, in particular has strong economic ties to Russia, which would certainly evaporate if Ukraine ran into the waiting arms of Europe.)
If you listen carefully, you will hear from Russia that they are “available to help” Ukraine if they would like help. But former president of Poland, Lech Walesea puts is like this: “There are two Putins…the first one knows that it’s important to solve all issues in a peaceful, democrat way….And there’s his evil twin, who still hopes that one day he will show the whole world who is on top. He hopes his day of triumph will come, but until then, he has to sit tight.” (2/17/14 – Newsmax)
Putin is interested in power and influence. Just take a quick look over the region and you’ll see Putin’s fingers in every issue that matters: Syria, Iran, Turkey, Ukraine and a new billion dollar aid offer to Egypt. He is desperate to rebuild Russia’s influence (i.e. control) in the region. He also accuses the EU and CIA of playing games in his backyard, helping to fuel the unrest.
I asked Sviatosalv Yurash, director of the international press for Ukrainian opposition if he thought the CIA was involved in any covert operations fomenting unrest in the Ukraine. His answer was simple, “I hope so.”