Judgment for Ukraine
We may have thought the Cold War ended in 1989 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the current unrest in Ukraine is a somber reminder that there still is a tense rivalry between the east and the west and that not every government embraces the democratic principles we may tend to take for granted.
The United States and the European Union both would like Ukraine to choose to ally itself, economically and politically, with the west. Russia, however, understandably is determined to preserve and promote its long-standing economic dominance in the former Soviet satellite.
Although the persistent protests in Kiev and other Ukrainian cities may appear to be largely over economic priorities, there are also disturbing vestiges of the old — that is, decidedly undemocratic — Soviet style of politics in the behavior of the nation’s political leadership.
The government led by President Viktor Yanukovich has imposed Draconian laws designed to discourage political protests and has spurned a pending agreement that could lead to Ukrainian membership in the European Union. His preference is to bolster his nation’s ties to Moscow.
One of the principal demands of the protesters is that the present regime free Yulia Tymoshenko, the founder of the political party known, in English, as Fatherland and the inspiration for 2004’s “Orange Revolution” that at least temporarily brought new political freedoms and a long overdue sense of optimism to Ukraine.
The Yanukovich government imprisoned Tymoshenko in 2011 but her party has nevertheless nominated her for president in next year’s elections, even though she may still be in custody.
In her absence, her party is being led by Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a lawyer and economist who served (briefly) as head of the national bank and minister of economics and foreign affairs. However, he is regarded by political observers as lacking Tymoshenko’s charisma.
The party’s list of demands includes the release of Tymoshenko and all others jailed for political offenses, the resignation of the current government and rewriting the constitution, but it also wants Ukraine to sign the proposed agreement with the European Union that could not only lead to membership in the EU but, in time, diminish the nation’s trade ties to Russia.
“Three things unite us,” opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said recently. “The first is disagreement with the current economic situation; the second is that we see European integration as the only future for Ukraine; and the third is the struggle against the current authoritarian regime.”
The “struggle against the current authoritarian regime” may be third on Klitschko’s list, but it would appear to be the key to achieving the first two objectives.
On Saturday another opposition leader, Yatsenyuk, declined an invitation from President Yanukovich to become Ukraine’s prime minister while still another — former international heavyweight boxing champion Klitschko — refused to accept the position of deputy prime minister in charge of humanitarian issues.
“This was a poisoned offer by Yanukovich to divide our protest movement,” Klitschko declared. “We will keep on negotiating and continue to demand early elections.”
If both offers were designed to persuade the protesters to cease their demonstrations, the tactic was a total failure, at least for now.
But Yanukovich has called a special session of parliament for tomorrow and said it could discuss repealing anti-protest laws that have infuriated the political opposition.
“Tuesday is judgment day,” Yatsenyuk told protesters on Independence Square. “We do not believe any single word. We believe only actions and results.”
Washington will be watching closely, but there’s really nothing it can do, at least in clear sight, but to hope for the best.