Feature

Ukraine: Yanked back toward Mother Russia

Ukraine is once again torn between its pro-European and pro-Russian halves.

Is a new Orange Revolution beginning? asked Konrad Schuller in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany). Ukraine is once again torn between its pro-European and pro-Russian halves, with the pro-European forces out on the streets waving banners and chanting, “We are Europe!” They were shocked into action last week, when the pro-Russian government of President Viktor Yanukovych abruptly canceled a trade and integration pact with the European Union, saying it would hurt the country by damaging trade ties with Russia. That lurch toward Russia brought some 100,000 Ukrainians into a central square in Kiev in scenes reminiscent of 2004, when protests against Yanukovych’s vote rigging sparked the Orange Revolution. In an address read by her daughter, jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko told the crowds, “By mystical coincidence, Yanukovych has again brought us to the squares. We need to complete what we didn’t finish in the Orange Revolution.”

They are unlikely to succeed, said Cathrin Kahlweit in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (Germany). The Russians have threatened to destroy Ukraine’s economy if the Ukrainians move closer to the EU—and they have the power to do it. Russian President Vladimir Putin made it clear that Ukraine would pay more for Russian gas and would lose hundreds of thousands of industrial jobs that depend on Russian trade. He even threatened severe restrictions on Ukrainian imports. “Anyone who can add knows that the Brussels offer doesn’t come close to replacing the losses to Ukraine that a break with Moscow would cause.”

So we’ve been sold out to Moscow, said Ivan Farion in Vysoky Zamok (Ukraine). The European dream that sustained us these many months, it turns out, “was just an illusion.” Yanukovych’s Party of Regions abandoned its campaign promises to embrace association with Europe and instead “dragged us to a showing of The Soviet Union 2.” Honestly, we should have seen this coming. Yanukovych’s power base is in the Russian-speaking regions that border and trade with Russia. But Europe shares part of the blame for Ukraine’s abrupt caving to Russia, said Jedrzej Bielecki in Rzeczpospolita (Poland). The EU complicated the trade talks by demanding that Yanukovych release his archenemy Tymoshenko from prison, where she has fallen gravely ill. Advocating for Tymoshenko may have been the moral thing to do, but it amounted to “meddling in a conflict among Ukraine’s political elite”—and it certainly insulted Yanukovych.

The question now is whether the opposition can unite against him, said Maria Semenchenko inDen(Ukraine). It has been fragmented and fractious for years. I was at the rally this weekend in Maidan Square, and it was just depressing to hear opposition leaders trot out “the same old slogans they use for all occasions.” Fortunately, there is hope in the sheer numbers of people on the street. If we can keep the momentum going, we can force early elections for president and parliament—before the Russians have time to throw money at Yanukovych’s base. “We have to show Europe the will of the Ukrainian people.”

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