Thursday, December 19, 2013

Disappointment in Ukraine

Ukraine finds itself in a precarious situation these days. For weeks, there have been protests even bigger than those during the 2004 Orange Revolution, which was actually successful in calling for the ouster of (fraudulently) newly elected Victor Yanukovych. He came back into power, and until now enjoyed relative stability and burgeoning Ukrainian pride from people desperate to escape from the shadow of the former Soviet Union.

The protests today are a result of President Yanukovych’s inability to forge closer ties with the European Union, while at the same time subtly inching his country closer to Russia. As I wrote last week, there are numerous problems with this: the tension it fosters between Ukrainian nationalists and Soviet loyalists in Ukraine, the potential damage it could inflict on Ukraine’s ability to ever receive greater support from the E.U., and the economic downward spiral that could result from such continued heavy reliance on Russia for trade. Russia’s stronghold on Ukraine comes from their monopoly in the region on natural resources, combined with the Ukraine’s out-of-date yet pervasive heavy industry. A lack of modernization in the country has led Russia to continue fueling Ukraine’s inefficient industrial sector while cementing their influence over the country and thus ensuring they will forever remain a “Soviet” state.

This was reiterated loudly both yesterday and today by President Yanukovych, as he agreed to a $15 billion loan from Russia while simultaneously spurning the West by lashing out publicly for their “meddling”. Yanukovych’s tone and harsh words today were eerily similar to those that would normally come from Russia – a bad sign that Ukraine’s President may be even more aligned with Russia than just economically. “I am categorically against having someone come and teach us how to live,” said Yanukovych, indicating that the efforts by the E.U. to help better integrate Ukraine into Europe were perceived as hostile and were unwelcome.

Ukraine is not out of the woods yet though, even with a $15 billion loan. Russia offered the financing through purchase of Ukrainian bonds as well as a reduction in the exorbitant cost Russia charges the Ukraine for their natural resources. If anything, this has made the situation in Ukraine even worse, as now they are even more dependent on Russia for these resources (and for the indefinite future). President Yanukovych will surely leave office with the economic climate having seriously deteriorated from today, and with morale in his country lower than it has been. By dealing with Russia, he has made a deal with the devil.

Russia has once again exerted its influence over a delicate region, and Ukraine has fallen into its trap. The E.U. will most likely not be there to bail out Ukraine when the time comes, leaving the responsible to fall on Russia’s shoulders to do so. In the mean time, nationalism in Ukraine has taken a major hit in recent weeks, and President Yanukovych has shown where his loyalty lies – at the cost of his constituents.

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