Ukraine postpones its engagement to the EU
The huge difference between now and the 2004 Orange Revolution lies in its economy.
The important features of the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine were established in Paris in 2008. Its key parts focused on providing support to core reforms, economic recovery and growth, and on governance and sector cooperation in areas such as energy, transport and environment protection, industrial cooperation, social development and protection, equal rights, consumer protection, education, youth and cultural cooperation. Despite its previous announcements to the Ukrainian population on more than one occasion that it was willing to sign the Agreement, Prime Minister Azarov’s government pulled back last 20 November, under extreme pressure from the Russian authorities (as it has itself admitted), when faced with the consequences of such a binding agreement.
We all know what happened next: the brute force with which the Interior Ministry’s forces broke up the demonstration in Kiev’s Independence Square (now rebaptised “Euromaidan”) on 30 November; the explosion of anger on 1 December as the Ukrainian population flocked in massive numbers to rallies in Kiev and several other Ukrainian cities ; the decision taken by the three opposition leaders (Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Vitaly Klitchko, Oleh Tyahnybok) to stay put in the Maidan until the Azarov Government is ousted, Yulia Tymoshenko released and early presidential elections are promised. Next, after the members of the majority parliamentary party representing the regions (allied to the Communist Party) had refused to dismiss the government, the insurgents adopted an organised policy of peaceful resistance (occupation of buildings, boycott of products made by pro-government businesses, calls for international isolation of the Ukrainian government, and so on).
Three factors should be taken into account in any attempts to predict further developments in the situation: the Ukrainian leadership, the Russian leadership and the leaderships of the European and international community. The major difference between the situations in Ukraine and Russia – actually, Belarus – is that President Victor Yanukovych has neither the same leadership qualities nor the same popularity nor the same military might as Presidents Putin and Lukashenko. The fact that he went off to China on 4 December while his country was at the height of an institutional crisis illustrates his total lack of political awareness. It is worth mentioning here that the churches in Ukraine are more independent of government control than the Orthodox churches in Russia and Belarus. Indeed, the Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate has given its solid backing to Euromaidan (together with support from the Greek Catholic Church), while the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has issued a public declaration of neutrality.
So it now comes down to Moscow whether or not Kiev will be affiliated with Brussels. Not content with having obliged the West to give in on Syria, President Putin is now planning to impose on the international community the 2015 launch of the Eurasian Union. This new political union is essentially the resurgence of the former Soviet Union, this time based not on socialism but on “sovereign democracy”. But it could well happen that the outcome of the conflict will lie not just in the hands of young Ukrainian demonstrators nor in Vladimir Putin’s powers of intimidation but also in the official stance adopted by the international community.
It would not be difficult for the IMF and the World Bank to refuse to grant any new loans to the Ukraine, then to free Ukraine from the pressure of the gas supply from Russia by sending back part of its imports to Ukraine. The huge difference between now and the Orange Revolution of 2004 lies in the level of its economy. In 2004 Ukraine registered GNP growth of 12%, but in 2013 the country’s growth is negative. The chances are high that Ukrainian oligarchs (like Dimitri Firtash) might decide to throw in their lot with the opposition troika (as Petro Porochenko has already done) in order to speed up the regime change and not to disappear, leaving openings for Russian oligarchs. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, former Vice-President of the National Bank of Ukraine, has already warned the international community that Ukraine is only a few weeks away from defaulting on payments and from a new devaluation of the hryvnia.
Research Director at the Collège des Bernardins
Translated from the original text in French