Ukraine is not out of the woods

The pro-Europe protesters in Kiev succeeded in dislodging a president for which they’ve paid an unexpected price. The Crimean Peninsula is lost to them, perhaps forever; the majority of their military personnel based there have defected to Russia—and there may be a lot worse to come. It’s an uncomfortable truth that people’s power, however well intentioned, is more often than not destructive. It’s primarily driven by the emotions of people unable to grasp the big picture. The Kiev crowds may have initially got what they wanted, but will they want what they get?

The West’s corporate media paints an optimistic picture of Ukraine’s potential future, provided “bad guy” Putin doesn’t decide to invade parts of the Russian-speaking west. But even if he sticks to his side of the border—as he has pledged to do provided ethnic Russians aren’t victimized—all in the garden is far from rosy.

Firstly, Ukraine’s population is divided. On Saturday, pro-Russian demonstrators turned out in the eastern city of Donetsk demanding regional autonomy while expressing their intention to boycott elections. Several of those interviewed said “the fascists” running Kiev don’t represent them; one said that she didn’t view Russian troops as invaders but rather protectors. It’s a similar story in Kharkiv, close to the Russian border, where there are regular clashes between pro-Europe and pro-Russian protesters.

USA Today quotes a city council representative bemoaning the impact the enmity between Kiev and Moscow is having. “Right now, most Kharkiv factories are only working two days a week. Russians aren’t ordering because they don’t want to cooperate with the enemy. But the EU wants to turn us into a banana republic.” A few stray bullets fired by Ukrainian riot police that kill or injure ethnic Russians could be an invitation to Putin’s tanks.

President Obama has dismissed Moscow’s assertion that ethnic Russians are threatened. Yet a video that’s gone viral show masked Ukrainian vigilantes running after Russian “thugs” in the city of Dnepropetrovsk before holding a knife to the throat of one of their victims and punching another in the face.

Secondly, not all Kiev residents are cheering-on the acting government. A police raid on right-wing militants in Rovno resulting in the death of their leader Aleksandr Muzychko, a prominent anti-government figure in the Maidan, has infuriated the right-wing sector that accuses the interior minister of orchestrating a planned assassination. Thousands demanding his resignation have since obstructed the entrance to the Rada (parliament) in an attempt to block lawmakers from rubber-stamping the IMF’s austerity measures.

Thirdly, it’s worth noting that life-changing decisions affecting ordinary citizens for decades hence have been hurriedly put into effect by an unelected president, prime minister and Cabinet with little authority to speak for anyone. Presidential elections are slated for May 25 but so far candidates look distinctly unpromising. Now that the populist former boxer Vitaly Klitschko has withdrawn from the race, Ukraine is left with just two: The current favorite Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire dubbed “the Chocolate King” and the controversial golden-haired icon of the Orange Revolution Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister who was convicted and jailed for abuses of power.

While polls suggest that Poroshenko will sprint to the winning post, should Yulia manage to overtake him by some quirk of fate, eastern Ukraine is certain to be aflame. She may look angelic but under her signature braid is a ruthless mind. She was caught on tape calling for the “wiping out” of Russians. Expressing the desire to shoot Putin in the head and use her connections to rise up “so that not even scorched earth would be left of Russia,” she vocalizes her desire to see eight million Ukrainian Russians nuked. This is the person on whose behalf the White House lobbied the former president to pardon! I don’t own a crystal ball but if she becomes the next president, there’ll be a bloody civil war.

Lastly, the country’s basket-case economy requires fixing. Ukraine’s interim government says it needs $35 billion just to pay its debts over the next two years. Its currency has lost a fifth of its value against the dollar in little more than a month and its foreign currency reserves are dwindling fast. Endemic corruption from the top down has led to its coffers having been plundered. Here’s where the IMF comes in after its arm has been twisted by Washington and Brussels. It’s offering loans totaling up to $18 billion, which come with painful conditions. Ordinary Ukrainians can expect severe belt-tightening, job losses and 50 percent higher energy prices once subsidies are eradicated even with the added benefit of a projected $10 billion EU/US package. They should look at Greece, where parents are giving up their children because they can’t afford to feed them, to get a glimpse of things to come. It won’t be pretty!

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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