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Ukrainian protesters stage bloodless coup

Vitali Klitschko
Vitali Klitschko
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Storming government buildings and driving 62-year-old Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich out of Kiev, an improbable band to pro-Democracy protestors led by 42-year-old former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko and 45-year-old nationalist Svoboda Party leader Oleh Tyahnibok completed a coup. After violent protests causing nearly 100 deaths, Ukrainian opposition groups seized the moment while Russian President Vladimir Putin prepared for the closing ceremonies at the Sochi Winter Olympics. Driving Yanukovich out of Kiev makes Putin’s job all the more impossible to reinstate his Russian-backed ally, still insisting he’s Ukraine’s legitimate leader. While Yanukovich complained about hooliganism losing power, his rival in the 2010-runoff election 53-year-old Yulia Tymoshenko was released from prison in the eastern city of Kharviv.

When the Sochi Olympics end Feb. 23, Putin will have some fateful decisions when it comes to the Ukraine. Owed billions of dollars in gas and oil purchases, Yanukovich promised to pay his obligations to the Kremlin. When Putin and Yanukovich agreed Dec. 17, 2013 to a $15 billion deal to buy Ukrainian debt and lower gas prices, protesters erupted violently, fearing the pro-Russian president was getting in bed with Moscow. Two months later, Yanukovich finds himself out of a job, driven from power, like Egypt’s Mohammed Morsi, by an angry mob. “They are trying to scare me. I have no intention to leave the country. I am not going to resign; I’m the legitimately elected president,” Yanukovich told a national TV audience looking shell-shocked by the turn of events. Few protesters in Kiev understand the geopolitical or Cold War implications of the revolution.

Rejecting the coup as nothing but criminal activity, Yanukovich appealed to Moscow to rescue his failing government. “Everything that is happening today is to a greater degree, vandalism and banditry and a coup d’etat,” said Yanukovich. “I will do everything to protect my country from break-up, to stop bloodshed,” appealing to Putin to intervene. Ukrainians living in Kiev and other Western cities like Lviv and Odessa, want no part of Yanukovich’s Russian-backed government. Today’s anti-Russian revolution parallels Ukraine’s declaration of independence Aug. 24, 1991, only two months before the Soviet Union disbanded Dec. 25, 1991. Protesters led by Klitschko and Tyahnibok rejected Yanukovich’s growing ties with Moscow, seeing financial ties as betraying Ukraine’s independence. Not all of Ukraine’s 46 million-population agrees with Klitschko’s anti-Russian views.

Yesterday’s peace deal signed reluctantly by Yanukovich and Klitschko didn’t last long while protesters stormed government offices, driving Yanukovich into exile. “The people have won, because we fought for our future,” Klitschko told cheering supporters in Kiev’s Independence Square. “It’s only the beginning of the battle,” referring to possible Russian retaliation that could split the Ukraine into two autonomous regions, East and West. When the Winter Olympics end tomorrow, Putin will have some fateful decisions, including Russia’s response to today’s revolution. Joining protesters in Independence Square, the blond, long-hair-braided Yulia Tymoshenko promised that the revolution would not be in vain. After serving two-and-a-half years in prison, she promised to run for president, returning Ukraine to the ideals of the 1994 Orange Revolution, promising more democracy.

With the Ukrainian parliament passing legislation removing Yanukovich from power, scheduling elections for May 25, limiting presidential powers, naming a new interior minister and releasing Tymoshenko from prison, Yanukovich refused to sign-off. Ukraine’s parliament, including Yanukovich supporters, passed the resolutions with strong majorities. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on foreign minister from Germany, France and Poland to condemn the opposition’s takeover. Signaling that the military sided with opposition, the military refused to take a sides, other than saying they’re siding with people. Protesters around Kiev and other Western cities tore down statues of Lenin, symbolically rejecting Moscow’s rule. Fueled by an Internet-driven generation, Ukrainian protests symbolized a rejection of the old Russian guard, asking for new ties with European Union.

Completing a bloodless coup today, Ukrainian protesters rejected ties to Moscow, insisting on new leadership and relationship to the EU. Now that Yanukovich was driven from power, it’s going to be difficult to have Moscow reinstate him. If Putin rejects protesters’ actions, he may do what he did in 2008 in Georgia, carving up the country into pro-Russian enclaves. With the EU backing pro-Democracy protesters, it’s going to be difficult for Putin to maintain power while rejecting the revolution as terrorist action. Objections to Yanukovich stemmed from alleged corruption but, more importantly, his ties to Moscow. Whether or not the Kremlin wants to keep a firm grip on power, the Ukrainian people have spoken. “These are heroes of Ukraine who gave their lives so that we could live in a different country without Yanukovich,” said 32-year-old pro-revolution protester Viktor Fedoruk

About the Author

John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’d editor of and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.

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