Watching his beloved Russian ice hockey team go down to Finland, Russian President Vladimir Putin told 63-year-old Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich to call off the dogs, imposing an urgent truce with protesters led by opposition lawmaker Oleh Lyashko. Ukraine’s problems hark back to its independence Aug. 24, 1991, only months before the end of the Soviet Union Dec. 8, 1991. Once independent, the Ukraine struggled to make ends meet, like other former Soviet satellites, besieged by high unemployment and lack of government support. Protests erupted violently Dec. 2, 2014 when Yanukovich’s decided to let Russia restructure Ukranian debt, essentially bailing the struggling economy out from its massive debt. Putin made Yanukovich an offer he couldn’t refuse regarding restructuring Ukranian debt. European officials offered the Ukraine bubkes.
Ukrainian protesters based in Kiev, led by 42-year-old former heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko, demanded that Yanukovich rescind his decision to move closer to Moscow, away from the EU. Living mostly in Germany before joining the Ukrainian protests, Klitschko wasn’t happy watching the Ukraine fall back into Russian orbit. Since gaining independence in 1991, the Ukraine struggled economically to develop its largely agricultural economy. Once considered the breadbasket of the U.S.S.R., the Ukraine produced abundant wheat but little else. Klitschko’s close ties to the EU mirrors the hopes and aspirations of rank-and-file Ukrainians, seeking a brighter economic future. While protesters blame Yanukovich for a failing economy, he dropped the unemployment rate from 9.8% in 2010 to today’s 7.6%, though government figures don’t match distress on the streets.
Getting a grip on what’s really behind the violent street protests isn’t easy. Reports suggest that protesters have been getting arms and cash support from the Kiev’s U.S. embassy, supporting a possible CIA coup. Telling Yanukovich to sign onto an urgent ceasefire, Putin stopped short of sending in the Russian Army to maintain order. When he ordered the Russian Army to secure Russian enclaves in South Ossetia and Abkasia in 2008, Putin crushed a Georgian attempt to assert power over Russian influence. EU foreign ministers from Germany, France and Poland headed to Kiev Thursday to halt the treet violence. Warning Yanukovich that “there will be consequences,” President Barack Obama threw his weight behind pro-Democracy, anti-government protesters. Obama and his EU allies warned of possible U.N. sanctions if the violence persists.
Ukrainian and Russian authorities blamed the U.S. for foments the coup. Some unconfirmed press reports indicate that arms and support have flowed from the U.S. embassy in Kiev. Yesterday’s protests turned violent when both sides opened fire, killing seven Ukrainian police and 17 protesters. Camped out in Kievs’ Independence Square, protesters refused to abandon their position, despite threats by Yanukovich’s riot police to clear the demonstrators. “The revolution has turned into a war with authorities,” said Vasyl Cleksenko, a retired geologist from central Ukraine. “We must fight this bloody, criminal leadership. We must fight for your country, our Ukraine,” showing the kind of passion behind the protests. Yanukovich’s Dec. 2 decision to enter into a long-term deal with Moscow signaled to protesters that the Ukraine was being turned back over to the Kremlin..
When you try figure out what’s driving Ukraine’s coup, the Western theory doesn’t add up: Disgruntled pro-EU demonstrators reject Yanukovich’s relationship to the Kremlin. Considering the over two percent drop in unemployment under Yanukovich, it’s not like current unrest in Sarajevo due to 40% unemployment. When Yanukovich was told the EU would not bail out Ukraine’s debt, he smartly negotiated a better deal with Putin. Yanukovich said protesters “crossed the line when the called people to arms,” blaming the U.S. for supplying demonstrators with weapons. Hinting that the current unrest lies with “foreign” sources, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius took no sides, announcing he, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeir and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski would meet with Ukraine’s officials and demonstrators to defuse the crisis.
Getting to the bottom of Ukraine’s current unrest, it looks like a lot like a foreign sponsored coup, competing with Kremlin for control of the Ukraine. While there’s no proof yet of CIA involvement, it would surprise no one to find out that old Cold War geopolitics drives the unrest. Calling back the dogs from the brink, Yanukovich heeded calls from Putin for an immediate truce until the end of the Sochi Olympics. If Putin determines that the U.S. is behind the current unrest, he may order the Russian army to intervene. Ukrainian protesters can’t blame Yanukovich for cutting a deal with Putin to help retire the country’s debt. Whatever corruption exists in Yanukovich’s government, it’s not that much different from other former Soviet republics. To keep the fragile truce working, Obama and Putin should summit after the Winter Games to figure out the best way forward.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’d editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.