Viewpoints: Ukraine's East-West Tug-of-War

Protestors set up a barricade on Hrushevskogo Street in Kiev, Ukraine, on Jan. 26. (Photo: Sasha Maksymenko)

Protests in Ukraine are now in their third month, with protestors showing no sign of letting up, despite the brute treatment they have received in clashes with security forces. Chief among their grievances is President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to forego a free trade pact with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia. As the country suffers from deep fiscal deficits, the opposition is calling for new leadership and a new system of government that is not chained or beholden to Russia. presents a sampling of coverage on the issue from around the globe.

France – Euronews, Dec. 9: The icy cold and snow cannot stop the protesters in Ukraine, who have set up camp in Kyiv's Independence Square and are steeled for the long haul. With numbers on Sunday dwarfing those of 2004's Orange Revolution, people prayed, chanted and sang for President Viktor Yanukovych to quit, and stop selling the country down the Volga to Moscow. "We expected our government to resign. … We want to be a part of Europe and Europe will help us," said one man. Europe is on the lips of everyone here, and many placards. These people see E.U. standards as the antibiotic that will rid Ukraine of its political sickness, and members of the E.U. parliament were in the crowd on Sunday in support. Many Ukrainians living abroad have returned home to fight for the cause. … One Belarus man said, "I came here to express my solidarity with the Ukrainian people in this historically significant moment because right now not only is Ukraine's fate being decided, but all of Eastern Europe's."

Germany – Deutsche Welle, Feb. 11: As the political crisis in Ukraine has escalated, E.U. and U.S. efforts to support the opposition have gathered momentum. Washington is reportedly putting together a package of diplomatic carrots and sticks. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland has said that Kyiv could receive U.S. aid money, but only after it has implemented political reforms. Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress and the White House are reportedly discussing targeted financial sanctions against the Ukrainian public figures allegedly responsible for violence. In a resolution that passed in a 381-2 vote, the House of Representatives on Monday expressed support for the "democratic wishes of the people" in Ukraine. … So far, the E.U. has been reluctant to impose sanctions out of concern that punitive measures will only push Yanukovych further toward Moscow.

Qatar – Al Jazeera, Feb 8: The anti-government protesters have set up an extensive tent camp in Kiev's main square and occupy three nearby buildings, including the city hall, that they use for operations centers, sleeping quarters and even an improvised library. President Yanukovich has been battling massive anti-government protesters, demanding his resignation and early elections, since he rejected a trade deal with the E.U. in favor of closer ties with Russia. The president must now decide whether to submit to protesters' demands by taking a more conciliatory approach towards a new agreement with the E.U.—a possibility that prompted Russia to suspend its bailout payments after issuing just one installment of $3 billion in December. The U.S. and the E.U. have backed the anti-government protests and promised a financial package to Ukraine on the condition that the government agrees to political reform.

Russia – The Moscow Times, Feb. 11: The fact that neither the West nor Russia seem ready to accept is that one side acting alone cannot resolve the crisis. In fact, unilateral action is likely to make it worse. The dysfunctional system that caused so many Ukrainians to take to the streets depends on the absence of substantive Russian-Western exchange about Ukraine policy. All Ukrainian governments since independence have deferred structural reforms needed to change that system thanks to mastering the art of triangulating between partners who are chronically incapable of mutual dialogue. Kiev's success in playing the two sides off of one another to reap the geopolitical rents is a function of both sides keeping each other in the dark.

Russia – The Moscow Times, Feb. 12: While the anti-Kremlin protests [in Russia] that began in late 2011 sputtered and faded over the course of the year, with few tangible results, Ukraine's Euromaidan movement has already forced the resignation of the country's prime minister and drawn adherents willing to suffer physical punishment for their cause. … Riot police have clashed with demonstrators on multiple occasions since the Kiev protests began in November, and some anti-government activists have been severely beaten and even killed, yet the hostilities appear to be far from over. Protests have also spread to other parts of Ukraine.

Turkey – World Bulletin, Feb. 10: The European Union must be ready to impose sanctions on Ukraine if the government persists in using violence against protesters, the foreign minister of the Czech Republic said on Monday as he warned against Soviet-style authoritarianism. Speaking ahead of a meeting of E.U. foreign ministers in Brussels, where Ukraine is to be discussed, Lubomir Zaoralek said it was unacceptable to see human rights being blatantly violated on the borders of the European Union. "It's something totally unacceptable, this violence and the role of the authorities in intimidation. It's something that is very close to our experience in the socialist past." … Sanctions on Ukraine have become a point of divergence between the E.U. and the United States. In secret recordings released on the Internet last week, Victoria Nuland, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for European affairs, was heard complaining to the U.S. ambassador to Kiev that the E.U. was too soft.

Ukraine – Kyiv Post, Feb. 11: The nation's finances are still in critical condition despite the central bank letting the hryvnia float on Feb. 7 to ease pressure on its quickly dwindling foreign currency reserves. … The situation would not be that critical if Russia would buy an additional $3 billion of eurobonds from Ukraine as part of the $15 billion bailout package the two sides inked on Dec. 17. However, the agreement did not have strong binding power, Vasyl Yurchyshyn, director of economic programs at Razumkov Center, told the Kyiv Post. After Ukraine issued the initial $3 billion of governmental securities, which were purchased by Russia in December, the latter decided to wait until a new government is installed on Hrushevskoho Street, the same street that has been making headlines in world news due to clashes between riot police and anti-government protesters. Russia's suspension of the bailout is rational, said Yurchyshyn. "Show us the government and we'll give you money," he said.

United Kingdom – BBC, Feb. 10: Ukraine's national currency, the hryvnia, has plunged to its lowest official level against the U.S. dollar since its inception nearly 18 years ago. After weeks of intervention on the currency markets in an attempt to keep the currency stable, Ukraine's Central Bank last Thursday cut the exchange rate and imposed capital controls. These include a limit on private transfers abroad and a ban on foreign currency purchases for overseas investment. According to official data, in January alone the central bank spent $1.7 billion propping up the exchange rate, leaving current currency reserves at just $17.8 billion. That is less than Ukraine needs to cover two months of imports. … Observers see the hryvnia's fall as a result of several years of poor economic policy, which left the country with a rising trade and budget deficit, 18 months of recession and mounting foreign debt.

United States – The New York Times, Feb. 7: Ever since Ukraine became independent as the Soviet Union crumbled in 1991, the United States and Europe have had different aims for the country, a large, troubled nation of 45 million whose very name means "on the edge." With strategic considerations uppermost in American diplomacy, the United States helped, for instance, to rid Ukraine of old Soviet nuclear weapons. Europe, meanwhile, saw opportunities for trade. … Russia, which has centuries of shared history with Ukraine and under Vladimir Putin has grown ever more painfully conscious of its loss of Soviet empire, looked on with mounting suspicion, and now seems to be intent on exploiting Western disarray.