Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych intends on signing an open-trade agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which would supposedly bring economic stability back to the country.
Ukrainian protesters, angry about Yanukovych’s decision to favor a trade deal with Russia over the one offered to the country last month by the head of the EU committee José Barroso, took to the streets. Protestors have been in outrage ever since, crowding Liberation Square and the various surrounding streets in the country’s capital, Kiev.
Although the protests have been for the most part peaceful and with minimal damage, there have been isolated instances of riot police violence against protesters camping out in Liberation Square. The scene yesterday on the streets of Kiev, however, indicates that more violence is to come as the protesters tore down the symbolic statue of Vladimir Lenin.
Protesters have remained, despite recent outbreaks of riot police violence and harsh weather conditions, in the capital’s many symbolic squares. The number of protesters has increased after the police’s advance overnight on the opposition camps in Liberation Square.
When asked about their intent of persevering with their efforts, the protestors claimed that they would not leave until their demands were met. These demands are comprised of 3 main points. The protestors want those who were detained by the police in last week’s demonstrations to be released, that a deal with the EU be made and that the current governing party be ousted from office.
In light of recent events, President Yanukovych has decided to call a nationwide dialogue with opposition parties. His official response to the situation was that coming to a settlement on the EU Association Agreement was not out of the question and would be considered and re-evaluated.
The opposition’s response to Yanukovych’s offer of a nationwide dialogue was not a positive one. The opposition parties refused to talk with Yanukovych saying that his betrayal of the Ukrainian people and his favoring Russia over the EU is worthy of his removal from office and that they refuse to talk until he is removed.
One of the opposition’s jailed political head-figures Yulia Tymoshenko sent out a message to the opposition parties to remain strong and to continue to fight for “freedom”, the removal of Yanukovych and early elections. She also said that Ukraine would benefit from stronger ties with the EU and that she refutes any form of Russian intervention in the country whatsoever. As the political situation grows in intensity and the horizon of protesters expands, the chances of violent outbreaks increases. The tension in the capital is building by the day and the longer the situation is left without an attempted solution by both parties, the longer the capital will be paralyzed.
These “pro-EU” protests have been met with welcoming arms from both the US and EU. However, Yanukovych’s handling of the situation was criticized by the west. The violent forces used by the riot police have caused concern in the eyes of the western societies. The Ukrainian head of police resigned after the scenes of violence last night. President Yanukovych is now left with the choice between the EU and Russia.
When looking at the facts of the situation, the Ukrainian economical background and the economical situation in the EU, it becomes apparent that Yanukovych has done the best for the Ukrainian people. The main factor behind President Yanukovych’s choice to join hands with Russia rather than the European Union is Ukraine’s need for financial aid in the coming years.
Ukraine as a nation is in need of over 160 billion Euros in aid over the next 4 years. After the EU debt crisis in the past year with Greece, Spain and Portugal already receiving billions in aid each year, the money situation is tight and this leaves little room for countries like Ukraine to take a slice of the cake. The head of the EU, José Barroso, had offered Yanukovych a maximum of 610 million Euros as a one-time lump sum of aid, and guaranteed no further aid after that. Although the money would give Ukraine a good boost temporarily, come next year, the Federal Reserve would still be empty and the Ukrainian people and government would be in the same sticky situation. This is also a conditional offer. In order to obtain this aid, Ukraine’s government has to pass EU corruption protocols which, if tested it would not.
On the other hand, if Ukraine would strengthen its ties with Russia, the benefits for Ukraine, Russia and the EU would be immense. So far, Russia is Europe’s main, and possibly only, source for petroleum and natural gas. These gas lines currently run under the Baltic Sea and only start to branch out to the European mainland near Denmark. The trade deal between Russia and Ukraine would allow these gas lines to go through Ukraine and be delivered directly to the Eastern European countries and would inevitably serve as a shorter route for the petroleum delivery.
Making Ukraine the soul most important country to the EU’s reliance on Russian petrol is quite a big move and is thus resented by the major European countries. Another factor to Yanukovych’s decision to “choose” Russia over the EU is the fact that Russia is willing to help the country financially significantly more so than the EU. This is to such an extent that Vladimir Putin offered on behalf of Russia to aid Ukraine with 20-60 billion Euros in the first year. Therefore, it would only be logical for the government to choose the Russian petroleum deal over the EU’s Association Agreement.
By Omar Youssef