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The Euromaidan Protests
By Fay Funk
Buried amidst stories about Justin Bieber and the Grammys this week, in small print off to the side of every news website I read was a major story. There are massive protests happening in Ukraine. I was unaware of them until earlier this week, and I’m almost certainly not the only person. So here it is: the Ukraine is on the brink of a revolution.
The protests and demonstrations in the Ukraine right now are being called Euromaidan. The civil unrest began in late November of 2013 when Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych suspended the signing of a free trade agreement with the European Union. The agreement would have allowed for the integration of the Ukraine into the economic powerhouse that is the European Union, a move that would have been highly beneficial to the teetering financial stability of the Ukraine.
The suspension of the agreement was likely due to intense pressure from Russia, though both President Yanukovych and Vladimir Putin both deny the allegations. Russia has it’s own proto-EU trade alliance with Belarus and Kazakhstan known as the Customs Union and it hopes to strengthen ties with the Ukraine by integrating them into the Customs Union as well. On December 17 Russia purchased 15 billion euros of of government bonds from the Ukraine, and offered a deal that significantly reduced the price of gas in the Ukraine, from $400 per 1000 cubic meters to $268.50 per 1000 cubic meters. This happened amidst the protests regarding the about-face on the EU agreement, and is part of a long history of Russian pressure and rewards to the Ukraine. In light of recent protests however, the deal is on hold.
The sudden change in position on the EU agreement resulted in mass demonstrations and political unrest in the Ukraine. Government buildings and Independence Square in Kiev were occupied by protesters as numbers swelled to 700,000 in late November. Numerous clashes with police resulted in many injuries to protesters and at least 5 deaths. On January 16, the government enacted anti-protest laws that included large fines and jail time for anyone participating in Euromaidan protests.
Opposition leaders in the Ukraine have been calling for the resignation of President Yanukovych. Vitali Klitschko, a former heavyweight boxing champioin and leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform in the Ukraine, is demanding early presidential elections and will likely run for president himself. He was offered the position of Deputy Prime Minister by Yanukovych but turned it down, choosing to lead protests against the current government. Yulia Tymoshenko, former president of the Ukraine, has gone on hunger strike in support of the protests. Tymoshenko is under house arrest after facing criminal charges during her presidency, a move that was likely politically motivated. Part of the EU agreement called for her release for medical care in Germany. Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the far-right party Svoboda and Areniy Yatsenyuk, leader of the Parliament of Fatherhood, have also come out in opposition to the Yanukovych government.
On Jan. 28 Prime Minister Mykola Azarov resigned to avoid a no-confidence vote from the Ukrainian Parliament. It was an attempt to diffuse the tension surrounding the current state of the Yanukovych administration. Ukraine’s Parliament also voted to repeal the anti-protest laws put in place earlier in January. The protests have continued however, with the opposition leaders still calling for the resignation of President Yanukovych.
It is unclear if the events of Euromaidan are a protest or a revolution. I would call it a revolution, as the opposition leaders do. The conflict runs deep. Ukraine, a former Communist-bloc country, is attempting to integrate with the European Union, a pillar of western democracy and capitalism. The EU agreement represents more than just a trade alliance. It represents a massive economic and cultural shift. Young people in Ukraine are much more pro-EU than older generations, who prefer the Customs Union with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. Ukraine is a wealthy and important country inspite of its recent financial hardships. It is not surprising to me that Russia has been putting pressure on the Ukraine to join the Customs Union instead of the European Union. Having the Ukraine as a member of the Customs Union would be a big boost to Russia’s economic and political influence.
Whether protest or revolution, what’s happening Ukraine are the most important events in the world right now. They are not being reported on nearly as heavily as they should be. What should be front page news is instead a second or third-level story, if it’s reported on at all. It is not an easy story to understand. There is a great deal of history, numerous players and complicated political maneuvering all happening at the same time. Nothing involving the European Union is ever simple. But the complications should not preclude Euromaidan from being the most important and interesting story today. We in the United States should be expected to pay attention. We choose not to. It’s not the first time either. We choose to ignore important world events all the time. And until Justin Bieber decides to buy a penthouse in Kiev, we will probably continue to ignore Ukraine.
#Ukraine #EU #EuropeanUnion