On Sunday, February 23, the Ukrainian parliament formally ousted vilified President Viktor Yanukovych. This marked the climax of months of violent protest in the former Soviet bloc satellite.
What began in November as peaceful protests to President Yanukovych’s regime plunged into near chaos last week. Pictures originating from Ukraine show protesters and police forces alike beaten, brutalized and blooded. After much international outcry and denouncement from Western powers, Yanukovych fled Kiev amid gunfire and fierce violence.
In December 2013, Ukraine was offered admittance into the European Union and refused. Instead, then-President Yanukovych accepted a deal from Russia and Putin which would give the Ukrainian government $ 15 billion in bailout funding. This sparked the passions of citizens in Ukraine, which is seeking to separate itself from an ostensible Russian yolk and move closer to the rest of Europe.
Despite much support for the rebel cause, the Ukrainian population is widely divided on the direction of the country’s future. The eastern half of the state, which holds close ties to Russia, believes Yanukovych is the legitimate president and wishes to see a close relationship between the Ukrainian government and Putin’s Russia. This is important to consider, as it will be nearly impossible to reconcile these differences without civil war or widespread political violence.
Initially, it seemed that the protests were caused mainly by Yanukovych’s rejection to enter the European Union. After a further analysis of the country’s recent political history, it’s easy to see that this revolution was anything but spontaneous.
In 2010, after losing a presidential election to Yanukovych, Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and revolutionary leader in 2004, was imprisoned by the Yanukovych government. Her imprisonment was contested by thousands of protesters. This contributed to the protesters painting Yanukovych as a criminal and thug, not fit to rule their country.
The current tumult in Ukraine comes on the heels of the Arab Spring. Beginning in
Tunisia in 2010, several countries in the Middle East and North Africa have sought to overthrow authoritarian regimes. It’s hard to determine the impact of these revolutions, but many have plunged their countries into worse political situations.
In Egypt, free elections have been consistently protested and rulers such as Mubarak and Morsi have been imprisoned, tried and convicted. The future of the nation now rests in the military and with interim president
After peaceful revolutions in Syria, the country descended into civil war and has been the subject of American and Russian foreign policy for over a year. Civilians continue to die in this brutal conflict which serves as a pivotal battleground for
hegemony in the region. Iran through Hezbollah and al-Qaeda via the al-Nusra Front have sought to gain power in Syria.
Social media (i.e. Twitter and Facebook) has once again proven essential to the protesters in the Ukraine. As in Egypt and Tunisia, social media platforms served as organizational mechanisms to mobilize rallies. Protesters also used social media to gain interest in their causes. Images documenting the brutality faced by opposition groups garnered global interest in revolts.
The more interesting aspect in the Ukrainian revolution pertains to the state’s geographic location. The Ukraine, unlike Egypt, Syria and Libya, is in Europe. The problems in this nation stem from Cold War problems, not Islamic fervor. Its proximity to Russia also represents a strategic problem for the United States. Obviously, the U.S. does not want another nation to fall under the influence of Putin. Most of the rhetoric from Washington praises the rebels for seeking democracy and the parliament for preserving it. President Obama denounced the use of violence on both sides.
“It would be a grave mistake for Russian troops to intervene in the Ukraine,” National Security Advisor Susan Rice said Sunday morning on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” A Russian intervention would most likely cause a significant amount of
bloodshed and could potentially reinstitute Yanukovych as ruler.
There are many potential outcomes to the current political situation in Ukraine. A return to normalcy, Russian-influenced rule, civil war or two states are all possible results. However, most importantly, to echo the words of Susan Rice, the future of Ukraine should be
determined by Ukrainians, not by Russian or U.S. interests.
Contact JP Letourneau at [email protected]