Whither Ukraine?

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.


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  1. It will be difficult for people to comment on this as the events seem to be changing hourly. Russian movements, both in parliament and on the ground, are ominous. Personally I was shocked to read about the total corruption of the fled President, who was spending millions on a summer residence, much grander than his city palace, and which he was building in a PROTECTED forest, where building is not allowed. When he fled the workers who were building it, walked away. So now he has despoiled the forest with a semi-built monstrosity.

  2. Hi Simone,
    Thank you for a remarkable post! Your comments follow events and summarize questions better than most anything else I’ve been reading.

    The Ukraine is far way from most Americans’ minds — as is Syria, Iraq, events in Iran, and Turkey too.

    I wonder if US policy from the White House and State Department is naive as well as being ineffective?

  3. Absolutely! We make hollow statements which we cannot back up. Meanwhile Putin does what he pleases and walks over everybody with impunity!

  4. I know I’m a little late to the party on this post, and so much more has happened, but it’s interesting to compare and contrast how little the US was willing to get involved at first. Now that we have an enemy, though, and Russia has invaded Crimea, suddenly so much has changed!

    The US is a country that seems to only want to be a hero. We can’t help people until we can “save the day” from some bad guy.

  5. I am quite dismayed by Kerry’s limp response to this aggression. It is quite clear that Russia will not retreat and yet we act as if everything can still be saved. Nothing is further from the truth.

  6. We should first stop grandstanding. Unfortunately we no longer have the moral high ground. But we should impose the harshest economic measures since the economies of the world are so interrelated: Boycotts, trade sanctions, expulsion form the G8? Freezing assets. Persuade the Europeans to do more. This will not influence the current situation but perhaps dissuade Putin from continuing. After all Latvia too has a large Russian minority. What if he is already looking that way?

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