I recently wrote about Ukraine and whether it will go East, with Russia, or West, with the European Union. Since then there have been tumultuous events in which the Russian-leaning President has fled.
Ukraine just elected an interim government with Arseny Yatsenko at its head. It will serve until elections for a permanent government are held in May. Meanwhile the financial situation is desperate and Ukraine faces default. Putin’s promise to lend it 15 billion just went up in smoke.
Neither the European Union nor the United States can afford to provide such a sum and the International Monetary Fund will impose stringent conditions before it agrees to do so. Where does that leave Ukraine? It is in a very precarious situation. Yulia Timoshenko whom Viktor Yanukovich imprisoned was liberated and made an impassioned speech in Maidan Square. But Yulia is not a savior; she represents the past, not the future. She and Viktor Yuschenko came to power in 2004 in what was called the Orange Revolution but they soon started bickering instead of fulfilling their campaign promises. People grew disenchanted and the Orange Revolution fizzled. Timoshenko is no Nelson Mandela.
After Yanukovich fled Kiev, the people invaded his palatial residence and were aghast at the ostentatious display of wealth: an Ostrich farm, gold faucets, vast gardens and statues. Corruption in its most blatant form was on display. Excursions were organized. But unlike in Libya, after Khadafy’s murder, when his lavish lifestyle was revealed, there was no looting or violence.
Meanwhile in Khakiv in Eastern Ukraine, where Yanukovich is said to have first fled, people are standing guard over the largest statue of Lenin in the Ukraine. It looms over Independence Square from a gigantic pedestal. Kharkiv is a Russophile city. Russian TV reporters are here in the streets interviewing local residents. They are mostly little old babushki (grandmothers) in traditional kerchiefs and very vocal in their indignation over “those hooligans and thugs in Kiev” who are creating chaos and destroying our way of life. But even here there are signs of support for the Kiev overthrow of Yanukovich.
But if you move into Crimea the landscape changes abruptly. Crimea is a Russian enclave in Ukraine. In Sebastopol people parade with Russian flags and have even erected road blocks to prevent “those Fascists” from entering their city. In Simferopl, the capital of Crimea, violent clashes have erupted between the Europhiles and the local Russians. The Russians too blame Kiev for the turmoil. It is rumored that it is from here that Yanukovich fled to Russia where he is now holed up. He is facing charges of murder in connection with his violent reaction to the demonstrators which caused many deaths.
So the question is: Where does that leave Ukraine? This country of 46 million people is on very shaky ground with an uncertain future. There is even talk of a Crimea secession and fear of Russian military exercises nearby being a pretext for invasion. Which way will it go? Again, we don’t know.