Posted on 24-02-2014
Filed Under (Foreign Policy) by Rashtrakut

Over the last year it has become an article of faith among opponents of President Obama that Vladimir Putin has taken command over the world stage.  The event of the last week confirm how ridiculous that view is.  Putin’s corporatist state is essentially a oil producing state with nuclear weapons that struggles to keep control of its “near abroad.”

Since late last year the Ukrainian capital of Kiev has been subject to series of mass protests that would not die.  The trigger appears to have been the sudden decision of President Yanukovych to abruptly abandon a deal with the European Union in favor of one with Putin’s Russia.  The thought of being folded into Tsar Vladimir’s embrace was not a pleasant one for many in the western part of the country and they took to the streets.

Ukraine is a deeply divided country religiously, linguistically and politically.  The western part tends to be Catholic, speak Ukrainian and wants closer ties to Europe.  The East (and the Crimea) where Yanukovych drew his support tends to be Orthodox, speak Russian and favors closer ties to Russia.  These are divisions Russia has eagerly played on over the last decade.

An attempt to rig the presidential elections in favor of Yanukovych in 2004 led to the so called Orange Revolution.  Unfortunately the gains of the Orange Revolution were squandered by incompetence and squabbling allowing Yanukovych to gain power in the 2010 elections.  However, once in power Yanukovych too squandered his victory.  He tossed his election opponent Yulia Tymoshenko into prison on what appears to have been a trumped up charge.  Along with his own coterie of oligarchs he spent his time enriching himself and mismanaging the Ukranian economy.  By late last year Ukraine desperately needed foreign aid and the 15 billion dollars offered by Putin seemed tempting.

Late last year Yanukovych attempted to clear the protesters in the Maidan by force, a move that backfired.  As time dragged on the protests became radicalized with many protesters engaging in violence against the police and starting to seize local city halls.  Then last week Yanukovych appears to have unleashed snipers on the crowd leading to the specter of civil war.

The problem for Yanukovych was that his support base was brittle.  His oligarch supporters appear to have wanted no part of a pariah state and when a final negotiated solution to share power fell through he abruptly fled.

Jubilant protesters stormed parliament and Yanukovych’s mansion outside the city and parliament promptly voted to impeach Yanukovych and revert to the 2004 constitution that weakened presidential powers.  An arrest warrant has now been issued for Yanukovych’s arrest.

The pictures from his estate (complete with a private zoo with peacocks) display just how far Yanukovych went in feathering his nest.


 

Yanukovych has so far refused to accept his deposition and there are rumors that he may have fled to the Crimea, the most intensely pro-Russian portion of Ukraine.  Peeved at the deposition of his patsy and the abrupt pro-EU turn Ukraine has taken, Russia has withdrawn its ambassador from Kiev.  The next step from Moscow is unclear.  Russia has in the past cheerfully splintered some of the former Soviet Republics, a strategy that predates Putin – See Transnistria.  The temptations to play such games in the East and particularly in the Crimea (home of Russia’s black sea fleet) will be strong.  However, so far nobody in Ukraine seems to be discussing such an eventuality.

The challenges for Ukraine are grave.  The country is an economic mess.  Sections of the opposition are notoriously anti-Semitic and fascistic.  Yulia Tymoshenko was released from prison a martyr to Yanukovych’s regime but carries with her the baggage of unsavory business dealings from the 1990s and the squabbling in the aftermath of the Orange revolution.  Yanukovych is gone but the core problems remain…added with the worries of a neighbor who controls the switch to Ukraine’s natural gas supply and has been known to use it for leverage.

Once the adrenaline rush from the dramatic fall of Viktor Yanukovych fades the bleak reality of digging out of the rubble lies ahead.

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