Ukrainians not going quietly into that good night

Another Orange Revolution?…or another Green one?

It was a minor blip on the American radar screen when Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovich, announced on 21 November – in a significant policy reversal – that Ukraine would forego economic and political agreements with the European Union in favor of closer integration with Russia.

For Ukrainians, the blip was anything but minor.  Yanukovich’s political opposition mounted a no-confidence vote in the Ukrainian parliament, which his government survived today (Tuesday 3 December).  More dramatically, thousands of protesters have thronged the streets of Kiev since the 24 November announcement from Yanukovich.  At least 100,000 flooded Independence Square on Sunday to demonstrate in opposition to Yanukovich’s policy (some estimates are as high as 350,000).  ZeroHedge has a 6-odd-minute video of the police crackdown, in which hundreds of protesters were injured; as the blogger notes, the video is eerily reminiscent of protests and police reactions in the Arab Spring nations.

Secretary of State John Kerry had been scheduled to visit Kiev this week, but that visit has been cancelled.  According to the Washington Post:

[T]he Obama administration is saying little about…the…street protests, for fear of provoking a fracture with the Kremlin.

Fear of what Russia might do is, of course, a major factor in the Obama administration’s policy decisions.  Asked why the U.S. reaction was so low-key, Kerry offered this peculiar string of words:

“Europe and Europe’s friends all declined to engage in a rather overt and, we think inappropriate, bidding war with respect to the choice that might or might not be made,” Kerry said. He did not call out Russia by name.

Sunday night in St Michael's Square, Kiev
Sunday night in St Michael’s Square, Kiev (BBC image)

John J. Xenakis’s post at Big Peace has an electoral map from 2004, reminding us that Yanukovich – Moscow’s perennial favorite in recent Ukrainian elections – was the candidate for whom voters suspected the results were rigged that year, in his run-off with Viktor Yushchenko.  Voter dissatisfaction with the suspicious outcome of the 2004 election led to the “Orange Revolution” and a fresh election, which was won by Yushchenko.

During the campaign in 2004, Viktor Yushchenko was subjected to dioxin poisoning, with gruesome health results that nearly killed him, and permanently disfigured his face.  The source of the poison has never been proven; scientists in 2009 reported that the amount and purity of the dioxin found in his body were comparable to the dioxin content of Agent Orange, and indicated that the dioxin was prepared in a lab (i.e., there is no situation in which it occurs naturally in such a purified state). 


Ukraine is hard on politicians. Viktor Yushchenko before being 2004 in 2004, and after.
Ukraine is hard on politicians. Viktor Yushchenko before being poisoned in 2004, and after. (AFP/Getty Images)

Contemporary reporting indicated that Yushchenko fell ill after a dinner with state security officials:

According to the Ukrainian newspaper Facts, the story started on September 5th, when Viktor Yushchenko had dinner with the security service director Igor Smeshko and his deputy Vladimir Satsyuk. Yushchenko asked them to “stop interfering in the political struggle.”  The opposition leader became sick several hours later, when the dinner was over.

But an official conclusion as to the source of the poison has never been reached.

Meanwhile, Yushchenko’s prime minister – Yanukovich’s opponent in the 2010 election – is in prison, serving a seven-year sentence for negotiating an unfavorable natural-gas deal with Russia in 2009.  Yanukovich hints, if he does not say outright, that Yulia Tymoshenko put him in an untenable position with Russia by concluding the bad deal, which has resulted in a debt Ukraine is unable to pay.

Of course, Russia extorted Ukraine in the 2009 negotiations, as in negotiating a similar contract in 2006, with a threat to cut off gas deliveries.  As late as October 2013, the Via Meadia blog noted that the Yanukovich government was returning the favor, dragging its heels on making payments to Gazprom, from the now-“stronger” position of having those European economic and political agreements – lately rejected – in its pocket.

Yulia Tymoshenko in politics...and in prison.
Yulia Tymoshenko in politics…and in prison.


At the heart of Ukraine’s persistent woes has been a cycle of debt from which Kiev has been unable to extricate the country, and which Moscow fosters because it keeps Ukraine vulnerable to Russian extortion.  The new agreements with the EU were supposed to afford Ukraine a path out of this destructive cycle; Yanukovich decided, under intense Russian pressure, not to sign them, and has since made the surreal (if not downright hilarious) offer to release Tymoshenko from prison if she can come up with $20 billion – apparently a veiled overture to the EU for a last-minute bailout, and perhaps a do-over.

The European nations are having none of it.  Says the Wall Street Journal:

President Viktor Yanukovych, facing the biggest political crisis in Ukraine in nearly a decade, reached out to the European Union on Monday in an apparent attempt to placate thousands of pro-Western demonstrators angry over his pivot toward Russia.

But the EU’s executive reacted coolly to the request for new talks, telling Mr. Yanukovych that the sweeping trade deal he refused to sign last week after six years of talks wasn’t open for renegotiation—and warning him against using force to disperse the crowds barricaded on Kiev’s main square.

Frankly, this is prissy, peevish, and shortsighted, and I’m getting tired of it.  Somebody act like a grown-up, please.  The most important thing right now is for Ukraine to have a lifeline, even if it’s an annoying git like Yanukovich on the other end of it.  Don’t let the door slam shut for Ukraine.  At least be there in Kiev having a dialogue with the Yanukovich government.  Be a counterweight to Putin.  Show him Ukraine has other friends.  Act like you might outbid him; make him talk you down from a perch he can’t tolerate you in.  That’s the way to pile up bargaining chips, in any international-influence situation.

While the EU waits coolly for Yanukovich to coming crawling, Putin is preparing to haul Ukraine off in a straitjacket.  If ever there was a time for smart power, this is it.  I don’t think it would be very useful for the United States to have a high-ranking presence there, but Guido Westerwelle, Laurent Fabius, William Hague, even Catherine Ashton – that’s exactly who needs to be in Kiev right now, and they wouldn’t have to do anything for the moment but smile a lot and look happy and Western, as opposed to looking like sour-faced ex-KGB officials.

Getting no help from Europe, Yanukovich has jetted off today to China in search of a loan.  It’s not just his government that’s in a desperate position.  It’s Ukraine, and the hope of Ukrainians for a future of open possibilities and a measure of freedom.  There is a very great deal at stake: one of the principal stakes is the EU’s reputation as a meaningful ally.  Ukraine, with her prime-time soap-opera mess, is hardly unique.  Most nations are sunk in “stupitude” most of the time; if the EU, in a post-American world, waits for all its potential partners to evolve to a state of high-test political perfection, it will find itself surrounded, in short order, and shrinking shortly after that.

Europeans and their neighbors watched earlier this year as the EU strong-armed Cyprus into the embrace of Moscow, through just such a campaign of sanctimony and shortsightedness.  Now it’s Ukraine’s turn.  Lectures from the EU, spy-novel poisonings, prime ministers held as political prisoners, extortion and threats from Russia.  Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians chanting in the streets, heedless of the phalanges of riot police and the harsh, 20 and 30-degree December weather.  The palpable fear hanging over a people that their shaky independence is being subverted out from under them by an old and familiar source of despotism.  In a post-American world, this is it: this is what politics and leadership look like.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard online. She also writes for the new blog Liberty Unyielding.

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13 thoughts on “Ukrainians not going quietly into that good night”

  1. As long as Ukraine policy is viewed as a geopolitical zero sum game between the EU and Russia, there will be no solution. And, it actually could get ugly even though we are taking about Europe in late 2013, not 1939.

    The majorities in both Ukraine and Russia wish to be part of Europe. This is the starting point for a policy of integration. Not isolating Russia as if she were Stalin’s USSR.

    The stupid fact that Brussels put the Eastern European Initiative dossier on Ukraine in the hands of the Swedes (the losers at Poltava) and Poles (now acting like modern day bureaucratic equivalents of von Rundstedt and Guderian) says much. And, the fact that they are backing a fascist party in Western Ukraine whose precursor formed battalions to fight alongside the SS is despicable.

    The EU is clueless on East Slavic affairs and views its Eastern policy through the prism of perceived Western civilization superiority. It is a recipe for catastrophic failure.

    Russia for all its faults is not the child of a lesser God.

    Expect pro-Russian protests on the streets soon.

    1. And of course the easter part of Ukraine is very Russian oriented and the historic, linguistic and cultural ties are of the longest duration and intimacy. What’s more the charms of the EU, at the moment especially, are perhaps somewhat overrated. I’m hardly inclined to blame Germany, whose productive and hard working citizens are being asked to bear the burden of their less industrious fellow Europeans and their (historically) very corrupt governments.

  2. Europe is in no condition to take on another economic basket case, but the West shouldn’t be conceding Ukraine to the Russian orbit, either. Ukraine does have resources, which were highly coveted by Nazi Germany. They should be able to grow their way out of their troubles. Leave it to this Administration to chicken in Kiev.

  3. To be clear, in reference to my above comment, I agree completely with OC’s perspective and her suggestions. For all of the EU’s many (and in some cases extreme) faults, Ukraine would, on balance seem much better off concluding the agreement in question and freeing itself from the Russian yoke. I’m merely suggesting that this later option cannot and will not be an panacea and if that’s what the western Ukrainians protesting in the streets are expecting (and at least some, a minority but probably not an infinitesimal one, are) they will be in for a huge disappointment.

  4. When we talk about the Ukraine, it’s good to remember that there are two, possibly three, “Ukraines” that we are referring to.

    Crimea, the rest of the south and east, are Russian or thoroughly Russified.

    The Center is currently Russian leaning overall but the younger generation looks West due to the Ukraine’s poor future economic prospects.

    Lvov and the Oblasts surrounding it are pretty much Polish leaning. And, always have been.

    All wish to part of the EU. But the first two want close ties to Russia, or a Russia in the EU, as well. Few consider themselves under a Russian yoke!

    Btw Messing around with this situation without a clear objective as to what the end state is supposed to be, will open up territorial issues all the way from the Oder to the Volga. I don’t believe the current crop of “detached from reality” bEUreaucraps is up to that.

    On a positive note, if the right formula can be found among the farsighted in both the Eastern and Western camps, it will usher in a period of integration from Dublin to Vladivostok. Ukraine is the fulcrum, I hope they use it well.

  5. cavalier — I hear you on all counts. Indeed, I expressed sympathy at the time for the hard-working Germans who had no interest in bailing out bad fiscal decisions by Cyprus’s string of far-left psycho governments — or getting embroiled at all in yet another spin-off from Greece’s fiscal meltdown (which is essentially what the Cyprus fiscal debacle has been).

    As with Cyprus, however, Ukraine has every prospect of bailing herself out, if she has the right political protection. Cyprus needed to be drilling faster (still does), but was bogged down in the security alarms created by intimidation from Turkey. What is the EU for, if not to adjust that condition for Cyprus?

    Ukraine has plenty of resources and advantages, and would do very well as a bridge between Russia and Europe, benefitting both sides and herself all at the same time.

    The EU should have NO interest in turning Ukraine AGAINST Russia. That’s not what this is about. What the EU should want is to foster political independence for Ukraine so that she is always in balance on a tense, stable line, rather than being dragged in one direction or the other.

    That will sometimes mean dealing with a Ukraine that’s annoying. It will mean outlasting Russian suspicion and intimidation, and continuing to be there in Kiev, wreathed in smiles, making the next suggestion and negotiating the next deal, until Russia figures out that this isn’t about surrounding her and putting her in a spot. (Start funny, and invite Russian investors into Nabucco.)

    What IS it about? We’re 100 years on from the old “Russia breaking for the Balkans” days. The emerging threat to Europe is from south and east of Ukraine (and it’s more than just “Turkey,” but it very much includes Islamism in Turkey).

    It’s also a threat to Russia — and Russia perceives Europe to be weak, to be getting overrun with Islamism, and to represent potential vulnerability on the Russian flank. What Europeans should want is to cultivate a friendly belt of comparative solidarity, running across central and southeastern Europe and into Russia.

    Three things matter greatly: geography, intellectual freedom, and economic dynamism. Keep those factors favorable, and the West (including Russia and the other Slavic-heritage nations) will be strong, relative to the threat. Russia herself won’t be the driving force behind intellectual freedom and economic dynamism, because that’s just not her heritage. I’m certain Russia can improve in these areas, but it’s got to be the UK and Germany pushing on the freedom and economics fronts.

    Unfortunately, Europe has been busy attacking her own body parts for the last 20 years, trying to stamp out intellectual freedom and economic dynamism wherever they keep rearing their unsightly heads. European politicians, meanwhile, haven’t looked at any map bigger than one of the old border between East and West Germany since 1945. They spell geography U-S-A these days, at a time when America’s leadership sees geography as a graphic depiction of where in Ohio the Democrats need to plant bags of ballots in supermarket parking lots, in case the vote doesn’t go their way.

    Any given confrontation can be about whatever stupid obstacles the players can’t seem to get over, or it can be about a long-term vision. Putin’s Russia has the only long-term vision at play in the current Ukraine situation. It’s a vision that would go badly for Europe, but the answer isn’t to have a hissy fit for Moscow’s benefit; it’s to have a better vision, and stay on course with it.

    What the EU should want is a kind of dynamic stability that protects good relations and mutual opportunity between Europe and Russia: a set of circumstances so positive that no one is motivated to look hard for alternatives. Get in there and hug Ukraine, already, and hold out a hand to Russia at the same time. And smile.

  6. I’ll risk a prediction

    The chances are now over 50% that Putin will be making Yanukovych an offer he can’t refuse at their upcoming meeting.

    Ukraine will opt for the Eurasian Union in return for a generous economic package from Moscow.

    The Western Ukrainian Polish-leaning Nazis in Lvov and the six surrounding oblasts will then probably go their own way. How peaceful the dissolution will or won’t be is hard to say.

    A Velvet Divorce ala Czechoslovakia is probably the best outcome for all concerned at this point. No one in the EU is taking the initiative to compromise with Russia on this issue. And, the EU isn’t putting its money (whatever is left) where its mouth is in order to tilt the balance.

    It was always going to take more than intelligence services cloaked in NGO’s to pull this off.

  7. According to press reports, Victoria Nuland and the US ambassador Geoffrey, Pyatt, were in the same room with Nazi ultra-nationalist Svoboda Party leader Oleh Tyahnybok at a meeting of the Ukrainian opposition leaders coalition in Kiev.

    No qualms about dealing with fascists here.. As long as they’re “our” anti-Russian and anti-East Ukrainian fascists it seems.

    This Ukraine business is supposed to be about liberty and the rule of law. Yeah, right.

    Bad move, very bad move.

  8. Nothing the Obama administration does is representative of a concern for liberty and the rule of law, jgets.

    That’s not the same thing as saying that the West can’t oppose an effective Russian subjugation of Ukraine in the name of liberty and the rule of law.

    What it means is that Team Obama is not to be trusted, and has no one’s best interests at heart.

    I have no illusions about what’s likely to happen in Ukraine. The West is being huffy, shortsighted, and feckless. Russia is therefore going to be able to Finlandize Ukraine. This will not be because it was always going to be inevitable, and it will certainly not be because it’s better for Ukraine. It will suck for Ukraine.

    The true problem underlying this whole situation is that liberty and the rule of law have sunk to such a compromised state in the West. Those hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian protesters know — they are 100% correct — that there is a better condition to desperately hope for than being put under Moscow’s yoke. But the feckless Lotos Eaters to their west no longer have that same visceral longing and hope. They’ve been busy selling off their legacy of liberty and the rule of law for at least the last 30 years (and in some ways for the last 100).

    Now America is doing the same thing. But that doesn’t mean there’s not still a difference between the West and Russia. In the West, even today with the stupidities of the Brussels idea, you don’t get put under an economic yoke of oligarchic cronyism. In terms of intellectual expression, you can be a “transgressive” moron in the West when you’re 25 and not be put in jail; you can be an investigative journalist telling uncomfortable truths at 40 and not be assassinated.

    The Russian way, even in its non-Communist guise, is not something to aspire to. The good in Russia won’t come out, nor can the problematic be overcome, by Moscow gaining power unopposed. Russia needs context and pushback from other nations with more freedom and transparency. That empowers her people. And if you were to say the West needs context and pushback, I’d agree with that too. Even at her best, and we are assuredly not experiencing the West’s best right now, she needs the dynamic tension of pushback from other regions and cultures.

    I get that people of ethnic or religious solidarity with Slavic, Orthodox Russia see the world realigning in such a way that Russia is starting to look like a leadership answer. Brussels looks self-centered, carelessly cruel to the weak, and inert before the threat of Islamism. America just looks psychotic right now. I get that.

    But the Western idea of liberty and the rule of law is still the better idea. Things don’t HAVE to be as they are. We have the conditions we have because of human decisions, and those decisions can change. My role is to bring a focus to what things could and should be. The day will come when we have an opportunity to make some important decisions again, and I’m going to remain focused on what we should prioritize when we get to that day. It will never be better to insist on less of liberty and the rule of law, rather than more. Only sometimes is it necessary to accept less of them. In the case of Ukraine, it isn’t necessary. It’s just likely to happen, because the West is in a state of stupefaction, a junkie selling off its own heritage for one more hit.

    1. Didn’t see the above while I was posting the Misha thing below Optcon.

      Will get back to you after I finish playing Allies vs Axis WWII “special ops” in the house with my youngest 🙂

      Gotta go, if I don’t get up he says he’s gonna make the scenario harder…they’re such good little extortionists…

      1. I find little if anything to disagree about, with what you write Optcon..

        The fact of the matter is, from a Ukrainian perspective the West offered little. No hard, tangible, economic benefits for her if she signed the agreement.

        What was on offer was hardly enticing enough to embark on such a major geopolitical shift at this time.

        Poland received tens of billions in pre-accesion aid and a clear road map to membership. Ukraine was offered crumbs. It can almost be characterized as demeaning. The EU has handled this terribly. There should have been at least one Orthodox Christian state, along with either Britain or France, on the Partnership team for Ukraine.

        I understand that the situations aren’t the same, and that the corruption and oligarchy in the Ukraine is deeply entrenched, but the EU could have put together a much better long term offer to the Ukrainians. An eventual fast track to visa-free travel, if it were seriously on the table, would have tilted the balance as well.

        As I posted a few weeks ago, exceptions to the rules and allowances must be made for Ukraine, by both the EU and Russia in order for her to bind the two together, instead of being Europe’s Apple of Discord.

        We’ll be talkin’ bout this issue much I’m afraid.

        Hope I’m wrong of course. Bigger threats out there than having ‘half-brothers” of the broader Western Family scratching each others eyes out. Those that wish to send us to eventual oblivion grow stronger… On that, you are absolutely on target.

  9. This just gets better.

    Mikheil Saakashvili, yes, Misha the tie eater, otherwise known as the ex-president of Georgia who lost 20% of his country’s territory to Russia for repeatedly poking his finger in the Tsar’s eye, is in Ukraine to consult with leaders of the Ukrainian opposition. He’s probably going to give them advice on how to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity, being that he was so instrumental in maintaining it in Georgia.

  10. ex-Polish President comes to his senses.

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