Uncertainty in Ukraine

Ukrainian_government_troops_in_Donbass,_September_10,_2014What will be the fate of the ‘Borderland’ between Europe and Russia?

by Peter Bjel.

As winter descended on Europe and Russia, snow fell for the first time on more than 4,300 fresh graves in East Ukraine, yet the artillery shelling continued from both sides. The BBC reported that ceasefires were no more than a “fiction” on the ground, and NATO’s Supreme Commander in Europe warned that along with Russian tanks and air defense systems seen crossing the border to aid eastern separatists, Russia may be deploying nuclear-capable weapons to Crimea.

The turmoil erupted unexpectedly on the international stage last year, but it arose out of a predictable geopolitical climate. The same national tensions and international meddling that escalated in Ukraine continue to this day. The European-Russian divide in Ukrainian loyalty, and the response of leaders in Moscow and in Brussels, as much as in Kiev and separatist Donbass, will decide the course of things to come.

It is a cruel coincidence that Ukraine’s crisis has played out on the ten-year anniversary of what was a brief triumph for its people. In November-December 2004, a dramatic election showdown took place in the country. A nefarious and corrupt presidential candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, was caught stealing an election from the rightful contender through electoral fraud. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets, donning orange colors—the preferred color of Viktor Yushchenko, the eventual winner of the subsequent recount. There was genuine optimism that Ukraine’s rocky transition from ex-Soviet state to European returner was well on its way. Nine years later, in November 2013,

Ukraine was poised to undertake a new chapter in its history by forming an Association Agreement with the European Union. The leaders of the Orange Revolution, however, had since been eclipsed and defeated by the comeback of Yanukovych (the same), whose political background and democratic credentials remained rife with corruption and scandal. Under pressure from Vladimir Putin, Yanukovych declined to sign the Association Agreement.

Ukrainians once again turned to the streets. The epicenter of the protests was Maidan, a square in Kiev, the nation’s capital, which has a heavily pro-E.U. voter base. What began as demonstrations soon evolved into a full-scale uprising after the authorities attempted to violently suppress the protesters. It led to Yanukovych’s resignation in February 2014, the formation of a new government, and a massive Russian intervention that annexed Crimea and left Ukraine partitioned along …

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