Unrest in Ukraine

At the end of November, an estimated 100,000 demonstrators rallied at Kiev Square in the Ukraine to protest President Viktor F. Yanukovich’s decision to reject long-planned trade agreements with the European Union.

Four years in the making, the trade agreements would have brought Ukraine within the EU’s trade bloc, a crucial step in obtaining EU membership. Such an agreement would have fostered Western political and economic sensibilities as well as making the International Monetary Fund available to the Ukraine. The EU is also in talks with Georgia and Moldova as part of its “Eastern Partnership” plan, a mission to bring in former Soviet Union countries into the EU, although Ukraine was seen as the most significant of all three.

For the moment, the agreements remain in purgatory and will most likely not come to pass. President Yanukovich continues to unsuccessfully assuage the EU and his constituents with grandiose talk of possible future trade agreements with the EU, but the public remains doubtful.

Other tenets of the agreement include the release of jailed Ukranian former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. According to the BBC, Tymoshenko was imprisoned in 2011 for seven years after being contentiously convicted of abusing power over a gas deal with Russia.

For now, Russia seems eager to fill in the gap the EU’s departure left behind. Fearing an Eastern spread of Western Civilization, Russian president Vladimir Putin has been urging Ukraine officials to reject trade agreements with the EU and instead consider a trade bloc with Eurasian countries.

Russia’s influence was a key factor in the Ukranian government’s decision to freeze the EU agreement, for both political and economic reasons. Much of Yanukovich’s voter base hails from the pro-Russia part of the country, an important consideration for the up-coming 2015 election, and the Ukraine may fear further trade restrictions from Russia such as its curb of gas in 2009.

Since the dissolution of the USSR, Ukraine has had an unsteady relationship with democracy as wide-scale corruption remained a prevalent force in the country until 2004 when the Orange Revolution took place. The largest peaceful mass protest in the Ukraine of its kind until that time, the protesters secured the overturning of the results of a rigged presidential election. Their efforts established internationally monitored vote that ushered in a new reformist government.

Current protests are the largest in the country since the Orange Revolution, and continue to be supported on a mass scale, including three former presidents of the Ukraine.

Emily Bajet

Sources: NY Times 1, 2, BBC 1, 2, CIA
Photo: The Guardian