Ukrainians caught between two draconian choices
Published: Sunday, February 2, 2014
Updated: Sunday, February 2, 2014 22:02
On the night of Nov. 21, 2013 over 2,000 protestors gathered at Maidan Nezalezhnosti square in Kiev to demonstrate against Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his administration for their cessation of negotiations with the European Union for an Association Agreement.
Three days later, the pro-EU demonstrators’ numbers ballooned to 200,000, in what has now become the country’s largest protest movement since the 2004 Orange Revolution.
In spite of an intense crackdown by Ukrainian security forces, which has resulted in the death of at least 10 protestors, President Yanukovych has recently acquiesced to various protestor demands including the forced resignation of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and the repeal of stringent anti-protest laws.
The unfortunate reality of Ukraine’s situation is that neither the EU nor Russia has the best interest of all Ukrainians in mind, and so the citizens of Ukraine must decide between the lesser of two evils.
One thing that is of utmost certainty is Yanukovych must surrender his position as Ukraine’s premier. The tactics employed by his security forces have resulted in as many as 2,000 injured protestors, in addition to the dead, and the 200 or so protestors who have been arrested are now undoubtedly subject to torture.
One such protestor, Dmytro Bulatov, had orchestrated a series of pro-EU demonstrations before suddenly disappearing. Bulatov was found in the outskirts of Kiev on Jan. 30 after being thoroughly tortured. Bulatov was unable to identify his assailants beyond having Russian accents, but whomever kidnapped Bulatov nailed the protestor’s hands to a door, severely beat him, and sliced through the left half of his face with a knife.
Yanukovych’s brutal repression is a symptom of the leader’s acknowledgement of the precarious situation his country is in. Ukraine has yet to recover from the collapse of the USSR; like in Boris Yeltsin’s Russia, a handful of oligarchs concentrated Ukraine’s public wealth into their private collections. Unlike Russia, Ukraine’s GDP and population has decreased over the last 20 years according to the USDA Economic Research Service, and Ukraine’s economy is heavily reliant on ore – making the country far more vulnerable to volatility as compared to Russia’s energy-based economy. Despite the fact that Russia relies on a massive system of pipelines through Ukraine to export its burgeoning energy production to foreign markets, Ukraine has had to purchase Russian energy at inflated prices compared to Belarus or Kazakhstan, members of the Russian-orchestrated Eurasian Customs Union.
The last two and a half decades of economic stagnation are what prompted Ukraine to abandon independent development and approach international bodies for help. Beginning in 2012, Yanukovych’s administration approached the EU and International Monetary Fund for an economic assistance loan, but found that the price of both was too steep to tolerate. The IMF demanded Ukraine follow the brutal austerity measures imposed upon states such as Greece or Spain in order to qualify for a $15 billion loan, which would undoubtedly crush the already struggling Ukrainian population. The EU offered an $800 million loan, a sum that Yanukovych justifiably labeled “humiliating,” as the cost of undergoing the reforms required by the EU was estimated at $200 billion over the next decade. Former PM Azarov asked for an equally unrealistic $27.5 billion loan, which prompted EU officials to withdraw from what they deemed, “an inappropriate bidding war.”
Russia’s Putin took advantage of these souring negotiations by offering to have the Russian national welfare fund purchase $15 billion in Ukrainian euro bonds and even mandated the state-owned energy monopoly, Gazprom, cut gas prices to Ukraine by $2 billion a year. Russia’s magnanimous offer is what enticed Yanukovych to abandon the Association Agreement, but tying Ukraine closer to Russia poses a stark danger to Ukraine’s gay population as well as a general diminishment of rights. Russia knows it cannot allow Ukraine to gravitate closer to the EU, as the Association Agreement includes a mutual security amendment that essentially absorbs the applicant into NATO, a body that Russia went to war with Georgia in 2008 to prevent the country from joining.
Like Syria, Ukraine’s future will likely involve Balkanization as the Southeastern half joins Russia and the Northwestern part ties itself to the EU. Hopefully, Ukraine can avoid the violence that results from such a process, but the secession of states is rarely a bloodless occurrence. If the EU and Russia truly care about Ukraine’s future, they’ll help prevent needless loss of life, regardless of the economic cost.