Ukraine Protesters Gain Traction; Police Back Down
Early Wednesday morning, riot police in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev, withdrew from two separate areas where protesters were demonstrating. This move by the police signifies progress being made on behalf of the Ukrainian opposition party, which has seen brutal crackdowns during their protests over the past month.
Many of the protesters are optimistic that this withdraw of troops represents a shift in governmental allegiance of the culture writ-large, with Yuri Lutsenko, a former Interior Minister, stating “basically only some units remain at the service of the regime.”
During the late night Tuesday, riot police entered Independence Square and started dismantling tents and barricades that had been put in place by protesters. Despite the fact that the standoff lasted for several hours with both police and citizens being injured, Ukrainian Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko stated that there would be no attempt to dissolve the protests and that the police were there to simply keep the streets clear and navigable: “I want to reassure everyone — there will be no crackdown of the Maidan. Nobody is infringing on citizens’ right to peaceful protests. However, one cannot ignore the rights and lawful interests of other citizens.”
Thus far, Kiev has seen over 300,000 protesters, the largest movement against the government since the Orange Revolution in 2004.
Protests in Ukraine started last month when current president Viktor Yanukovych surprised everyone by choosing to not sign the Association Agreement with the EU – a move which would have led Ukraine down a path to further westernization, something a majority of Ukrainian citizens support.
Instead of siding with the EU, signs show that Yanukovych is leaning toward Ukraine’s former mother-state, Russia. Earlier last month, Russia declared harsh sanctions against Ukraine if they decided to follow through with the proposed partnership with the EU. In a case of international bullying which was common when Ukraine was a Soviet satellite state, Russia banned Ukrainian imports of chocolate, increased inspections of goods exchanged between the countries to slow economic transactions, and threatened to cut Ukraine’s natural gas supplies from Russia, a good Ukraine is dependent on in order to heat their homes during the harsh winter months.
While opposition forces are upset with Yanukovych for essentially making Ukraine once again subservient to the Russian state, others view the move as essential for the continuation of the Ukrainian state. Ukrainian citizens living in the eastern portion of the state share more cultural similarities to Russians than the rest of central Europe. The eastern part of Ukraine is also dependent upon the success of the coal industry, something which would be negatively impacted by signing the Association Agreement with the EU due to stricter regulations and preference toward greener energies.
President Yanukovych and Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov share another concern – if Ukraine was to sign with the EU, it would lose millions of dollars in revenue due to decreased trade of manufactured goods and the current subsidy Ukraine receives for buying Russian gas. Thus, Azarov has asked the EU and the IMF to give Ukraine 20 billion euros to mitigate the damage that would be done if Ukraine decided to side with the EU.
As it currently stands, the most the EU has been able to offer Ukraine in terms of monetary support is 610 million euros, a figure falling well-short of the amount needed to make the deal successful. As a result, both the EU and Ukraine have spoken with the IMF about receiving a loan. The IMF is reluctant to do so at this point, however, due to the current $7 billion in debt Ukraine is slated to repay soon and Ukraine’s current debts to Russia for gas. If the EU or the IMF are not able to come up with the money, then Ukraine may find itself a satellite state of Russia once again due to economic coercion.[Image via YouTube]