President Viktor Yanukovych has fled the scene but who can blame him? Even after he announced a truce so-called peaceful protesters attacked retreating police with volleys of petrol bombs. And when he caved-in to an EU-brokered deal to fulfill their demands, the crowd in Kiev’s Independence Square was baying for his blood and referring to opposition leaders as “traitors” for signing-up to it.
The fact is that Yanukovych is no Russian stooge. He is not ideologically in tune with Moscow and his personal relationship with President Putin is believed to be frosty. Responsible for an economy teetering on bankruptcy, he spurned a trade deal with the stingy European Union in favor of $15 billion from Moscow, together with the offer of inexpensive Russian gas. He should have turned the decision over to the people—all of them—with a nationwide referendum instead of allowing mere tens of thousands to call the shots.
The Western media, which slavishly follows the line of their respective governments on the big issues, consistently romanticizes the EU-leaning crowd as “peaceful idealists” while skating over the masked neo-Nazis, the right-wing fascists and the armed rent-a-mobs, not to mention the legions of EU-US provocateurs benignly titled diplomats or employees of think tanks and NGOs, whose fellows are currently engaged in destabilizing Venezuela.
Indeed, US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland told the National Press Club in December that her country had “invested” $5 billion in a network aimed at giving “Ukraine the future it deserves.” She was later heard tapping candidates for Ukraine’s future leadership during a phone conversation with the US ambassador to Kiev at a time when Yanukovych was still firmly in charge.
Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko whose seven-year prison sentence for abuse of powers was curtailed by a parliamentary vote, was literally wheeled onto Maidan’s stage to give an impassioned speech. While surfing news channels, I sat in disbelief as commentators characterized her reception as jubilant when viewers could see with their own eyes that the crowd was polite but largely passive.
The media’s favored revolutionary poster child has been rejected because of her unsavory baggage. In reality, those who spent three months braving feel let down by icons of the 2004 Orange Revolution and seek new faces to lead them toward Utopia.
Protesters may have got their wish but they’re in no mood for celebration. They’re mourning their dead and facing up to a very uncertain tomorrow now that Russian assistance is probably off the table, which could translate to the country defaulting on its debts. Russia’s finance minister says Ukraine should look to the IMF for a bailout, which translates to “Don’t count on us.” The chairman of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Elmar Brok, says the EU would offer financial support to any new government to pave the way for a bilateral EU-Ukrainian association agreement, but such backing is thought to be contingent on an IMF loan necessitating belt-tightening reforms that could ignite further civil unrest.
Even supposing the EU, the IMF and the US dig deep into their pockets to rescue Kiev from bankruptcy, Ukraine’s membership of the EU could take decades to progress and given public sentiment that in some areas borders on xenophobia throughout the Union, Ukrainians shouldn’t look forward to the loosening of travel restrictions to Europe any time soon.
Moscow, that’s heavily invested in the country, with which it shares strong economic, military and cultural ties, has been badly stung by current events. At stake are the home of Russia’s Black Sea fleet in Sebastopol, the specter of NATO missiles in its backyard turned eastwards—and a weakened Russian Customs Union. Moscow has recalled its ambassador to Ukraine for consultations.
What Putin does next is uppermost in the minds of Western politicians. The Obama administration has issued a warning to Russia not to react militarily. British Foreign Secretary William Hague has jumped on the bandwagon, urging Russia not to undermine Ukraine’s economic relations with other countries. Russia might hesitate to send in tanks but it could pull the plug on gas supplies, bar Ukrainian imports and render its neighbor’s industrial heartlands into wastelands.
National unity should be a priority for the new guys at the helm, but judging by their recent edicts it seems they are more intent on exacting revenge on Yanukovych, who still enjoys a substantial following in the east/southeast where crowds of pro-Russian demonstrators are clashing with small groups of pro-Western opponents. Ukraine’s acting interior minister has issued a warrant for the president’s arrest for “the mass killing of civilians.” Will protesters who killed, wounded and abducted policemen share his fate? I think not. To add insult to injury, the new powers that be are moving to strip Russian from its status as the nation’s second language, guaranteed to inflame Russian-speaking regions.
The risk of civil war resulting in the country being split into two is real although improbable. Russian military intervention to protect its interests can’t be ruled out. Bleak economic outlooks for the foreseeable future are almost certain. Residents of Kiev should enjoy their walks in the gardens of the president’s abandoned home for as long as they can because, for sure, the months ahead will be no walk in the park.
Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.