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Not Moscow or EU, Ukraine needs internal reconciliation
February 2, 2014, 10:07 am

Ukrainian opposition leader and boxing champion Vitali Klitschko (R) joins thousands of protesters for a pro-EU opposition rally at Independence Square in Kiev in December 2013 [Getty Images]

Ukrainian opposition leader and boxing champion Vitali Klitschko (R) joins thousands of protesters for a pro-EU opposition rally at Independence Square in Kiev in December 2013 [Getty Images]

On the 28 of January 2014 the Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov offered his resignation to the Parliament. President Viktor Yanukovich later accepted the resignation of Azarov and his cabinet, said a decree on the presidential website. The parliamentary parties have 60 days to propose a new Prime Minister to the President.

This will probably have some soothing effect on the street protests but the crisis remains as deep as before. By offering his resignation the Prime Minister may however have prevented the country coming to a complete standstill, he may even have prevented the beginning of a civil war.

Withdrawing the controversial anti-protest law might also help, although legislation in existence before this new initiative was already harsh enough to allow police forces a violent crackdown. By offering executive power to the opposition leaders, the government in Kiev has implicitly conceded that the protests are out of their control.

No one doubts that President Yanukovych made a complete mess of things since he came to power in February 2010. He has certainly lost most, if not all, of his electorate in the east and the south with blatantly open corruption. In doing so he even alienated the economic elite that had backed him in 2010. However, this does not mean that his former voters are now siding with the opposition protests.

The anger of the Ukrainian people from both sides against this corrupt elite is more than understandable. The historic divide between east and west Ukraine is part of that problem, but it would be too simple to narrow the conflict down to this, as the pro-EU-forces in the country claim.

This is the eternal tragedy of genuine people’s protests- they are most often than not usurped by forces with a different agenda of their own. In Ukraine, it remains to be seen how well the ordinary protesters (not their leaders) are informed about the real neoliberal project that awaits them from the present EU.

The opposition leaders accuse President Yanukovych of dictatorial tendencies, wanting to install an authoritarian regime. They do have strong arguments to back up that claim. It is nevertheless highly controversial and ironic for them to be making these allegations. Since when they shared power between 2005 and 2010 under the previous President Yushchenko, they were more than willing to use the same methods (and apply the same harsh legislation) themselves.

It is best to remind everyone that in 2005 Yushchenko beat Yanukovych in a run-off election after the so called Orange Revolution, with massive back-up support from the US and the EU. Five years later that same Yushchenko lost against Yanukovich with an appalling 5.45 per cent of the vote, an all-time low for any incumbent President in the world. In 2012, Yushchenko did not even manage to gain one seat in the parliament for his party.

Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk, left, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, center, arrive to meet Pro-European Union activists gathered on the Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 [AP]

Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk, left, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, center, arrive to meet Pro-European Union activists gathered on the Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013 [AP]

The present leaders of the protest do not exactly have solid democratic credentials, to put it mildly. What they stand for is indeed closer ties with the EU for their own private benefit but apart from this, I believe, they will be keeping the present political system in place, with them at the wheel.

The EU (or rather the economic forces within the EU) is now openly siding with the opposition. These are the same people that have negotiated for three years with President Yanukovych and managed to obtain quite a lucrative deal that was as good as sealed until the last minute refusal of Yanukovych to ratify it.

Of course the opposition is right when stating that Russian security forces are actively engaged in the country, but the government can state with the same certainty that the US and the EU are doing exactly the same, just as they did during the Orange Revolution of 2005. What we see today is almost a rerun of that period.

The EU and the US have sparred with Russia over the crisis in Kiev at the annual security conference in Munich this week with the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov asking, “What does incitement of increasingly violent street protests have to do with promoting democracy?” even as US Secretary of State John Kerry said the Ukrainian opposition had the “full support of President Obama”.

Yes, Ukraine does need the economic impulse from the EU, just as much as it needs to maintain economic ties with Russia. That is the real tragedy. The coming days will be decisive for the conflict. Will there be a compromise or further confrontation? Hard to say.

What this country needs is internal reconciliation. With the present political elite from both sides, that is not to be expected anytime soon. The present outside interference – from the EU/US as much as from Russia – will only exacerbate things.

You never know, but for the time being, the future looks bleak for the Ukrainian people.

Lode Vanoost writes regularly for Dutch-language Belgian news site www.dewereldmorgen.be

 
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the publisher's editorial policy.

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