Angry crowds are back in the streets of the Ukraine after nine years, brought there by many of the same issues that set off the famous Orange Revolution in favor of democracy.
The Ukraine is a country the size of France with a population of 45 million, slightly smaller than Spain. For at least two centuries, until 1991, it was forcibly joined to Russia. Since independence it has struggled to find a stable government and a strong economy, and it is torn between a desire to be part of the West European community and its dependence on Russia for energy supplies.
As in 2005, the crowds have come out to protest the schemes of Victor Yanukovich, a man whose grab for power resembles that of his ally, Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Then, the demonstrators refused to accept the corrupt election of Mr. Yanukovich as president, forcing a new election. Now they are protesting his rejection of a treaty with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
Recent polling found that 45 percent of Ukranians favor a treaty with the EU while only 14 percent favor closer ties to Russia, suggesting that those with an opinion favor closer ties to the EU by a margin of more than three to one. Mr. Yanukovich sided with the small anti-EU minority and went against Ukrainians’ historical animus to Russia in making his announcement. (Less than one in five of his countrymen are of Russian descent.)
Following feuding between his democratic opponents Mr. Yanukovich was elected president of the country in 2010. He had his main political opponent arrested, tried, unjustly convicted and jailed. He consolidated his power with a victory in 2012 parliamentary elections widely condemned for dishonesty. According to Freedom House he has presided over huge corruption in which in his son has become one of the Ukraine’s richest individuals.
But President Yanukovich may have gone too far when he announced Nov. 21 that he was abandoning a treaty negotiated over six years with the European Union in favor of what he described as a more profitable deal for the Ukraine with Russia. In the run-up to this decision, Russia’s President Putin denounced the pact with the EU and threatened to cut off the Ukraine’s energy supplies.
The president’s announcement set off a popular uprising demanding new elections. Three hundred and fifty thousand people crowded the streets of Kiev, the capital, on Sunday and their supporters in parliament sought a vote of no confidence in the government.
While their attempt failed Tuesday, it appears that President Yanukovich’s political support is dwindling.
That makes Russia’s meddling in the crisis with threats of an energy cutoff all the more objectionable. Vladimir Putin dismissed the demonstrations as a “pogrom.” But the real victims in the Ukraine are the demonstrators, people who want nothing more than an honest, democratic government and an alliance with Europe, and are being thwarted by a corrupt pro-Russian government.