Ukraine at Another Crossroads Part I
Almost ten years after the Orange Revolution, Ukraine is at a new crossroads. Since 21 November 2013, the Independence Square in the center of the capital Kiev has been controlled by protesters. The masses are protesting against President Yanukovych’s decision not to conclude an agreement on closer political and economic cooperation with the European Union (EU).
- How is the power struggle going on in Ukraine?
- Where do the contradictions go in the country?
- What role do historical conditions play?
- How does the outside world react to the drama in Ukraine?
The situation in the city and the country is reminiscent of what happened towards the end of 2004. At that time, the same Yanukovych was accused of winning the presidential election by cheating. After several weeks of extensive protests, which was referred to as the Orange Revolution, the Supreme Court decided that a re-election should be held between the two leading candidates to become the country’s new president.
On December 26, 2004, Viktor Yanukovych lost to one of the heroes of the Orange Revolution, Viktor Yushchenko , by a wide margin – Yanukovych won 44 to 52 percent for Yushchenko. The people of the Orange Revolution won – apparently, but the country’s political, social and economic problems remained unresolved.
2: Old and new conflicts in Ukraine
In 2010, Yanukovych, who again ran as a presidential candidate, defeated Yulia Tymoshenko , the most charismatic of the leaders of the Orange Revolution. An important reason why Yanukovych managed to gain the support of almost 49 percent of Ukraine’s voters (Tymoshenko received close to 45 percent), was that many Ukrainians were dissatisfied with the results of the policies of the leaders of the Orange Revolution.
The two most important of them – Yulia Tymoshenko and Viktor Yushchenko had quarreled with each other and failed to improve the economic situation in the country. Yushchenko, who received the strongest support in western Ukraine, opted for a more nationalist and anti-Russian line. Tymoshenko, who hails from eastern Ukraine and has been a member of the Ukrainian power elite since 1996, was quickly accused of being too pro-Russian.
In addition, both Yushchenko and Tymoshenko are very strong personalities with great political ambitions and to some extent different political interests. Their alliance against Yanukovych therefore only survived until September 2005. But there were also other and economic reasons why the situation in the country worsened.
According to CHEEROUTDOOR, Ukraine was hit hard by the economic crisis of 2008. It led to the country’s economy shrinking by 14 percent in 2009. An important reason why the economy came to the brink of collapse, was that Ukraine had to pay a much higher price for the gas that the country had to import from Russia than other more Russia-friendly countries in the former Soviet Union (such as Belarus and Armenia). The price was still below the normal market price.
Towards the end of 2008, Russia accused Ukraine of stealing gas that was transported through gas pipelines over Ukrainian territory. This gas was to be passed on to European markets further west, and on 1 January 2009 Russia stopped its gas deliveries
. The shutdown hit both Ukraine and European gas customers hard.
The gas crisis was resolved on January 18, 2009. The then prime ministers Yulia Tymoshenko and Vladimir Putin then signed a new agreement on gas supplies to Ukraine. This agreement was fatal for Yulia Tymoshenko. In October 2011, she was sentenced to seven years in prison . The verdict states that she “abused her powers” when she signed the gas agreements with Putin. (Tymoshenko was fired by Yushchenko as early as September 2005, but returned as Prime Minister in 2007 and retained this post in the 2010 presidential election.)
3: Late autumn 2013: It’s getting worse
The imprisonment of Tymoshenko was one of the main issues on the agenda during talks between Ukrainian leaders and the EU at the EU summit in Vilnius on 28 and 29 November 2013. These talks were intended to lead to the signing of an agreement on closer political and economic cooperation between Ukraine and the EU. When President Yanukovych chose to stop further talks with the EU and signaled that Ukraine still did not want to enter into this agreement, a new political crisis arose in Ukraine. Around half a million protesters then took to the streets of Kiev to express their dissatisfaction. They demanded the resignation of the government, the reopening of talks with the EU and a “ban” on Ukraine’s participation in the customs union with Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus.
President Yanukovych correctly attended the EU summit, but did not enter into binding agreements with the EU. On November 30, Berkut, a special unit of the Ukrainian police, launched a bloody attack on protesters in Independence Square. Thus, the situation in Kiev and other cities in Ukraine was further aggravated, and the protests intensified.
On December 17, 2013, President Yanukovych left for Moscow and many feared that he would sign an agreement that Ukraine would enter into a customs union with Russia. However, such an agreement was not entered into. The two presidents said that Russia will reduce the price of gas from $ 400 to $ 265 per 1,000 m 3 and provide Ukraine with financial support in the form of a loan of $ 15 billion.