Still suffering the consequences of their totalitarian past, many post-Soviet nations are failing to adjust to capitalism and democracy, and are still trying to determine how much power should belong to the government how much to people. The Ukraine, which has made a significant leap towards democracy by having a fair election in 2010, is currently struggling to find this balance and is overwhelmed by massive waves of public outrage against their president, Victor Yanukovych.
Even though Yanukovych was democratically elected in 2010, the election was close. Further, it caused much public discontent as many people remembered that nine years ago, during the Orange Revolution, Yanukovych unfairly attempted to leap from the status of the Prime Minister to President, prompting hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians to protest..
However, the rage against Yanukovych has never been as massive and passionate as during the past two weeks. On December 1, 500,000 Ukrainians gathered at Independence Square, the epicenter of the Orange Revolution protests in 2004, to demonstrate their opposition to their president’s decision not to align with the European Union and to not sign association and free trade agreements at last week’s Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania. Instead, he chose to join a new customs union with Russia. He has done this despite the fact that, according to October polling, more than three times as many Ukrainians supported signing the agreements with the European Union than aligning with Russia. Many media sources and Ukrainian political analytics claim that Yanukovych was pursuing his own financial interests when joining the customs union with Russia. The suspicions about the president’s pursuit of personal enrichment first appeared after the fall of his powerful rival, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. As soon as she was convicted and imprisoned for the alleged abuse of power, Yanukovych’s family rose to power and started to engage in massive corruption. For instance, one of the President’s sons, who is a dentist by profession, became one of Ukraine’s richest people in 2011, which should be impossible with his reported dentist salary alone. It is also important to note that Tymoshenko’s release was one of the conditions of the agreements with the EU and might have been a contributing factor to Yanukovych’s decision to align with Russia rather than Europe.
Others suggest that Yanukovych has been under strong pressure from Vladimir Putin when rejecting the EU alignment and choosing to side with Russia instead. It is not a secret that the Ukraine is seriously dependent on Russia’s gas and that Putin often reminds Yanukovych of this dependence in order to shift the Ukraine’s political decisions in a way that would support Russia’s interests. And, since the powerful members of the EU did not assure Yanukovych that they would engage in active economic partnership with the Ukraine in the event that Moscow decides to break its economic partnership with Kiev, it is understandable why Yanukovych did not want to risk the Ukraine’s economic stability by severing ties with rich and powerful Russia.
On Tuesday, December 3, President Yanukovych left the Ukraine for China, where he is going to sign several agreements regarding Chinese investments in Ukraine. He will not come back until December 6, and many people doubt that he will be able to reclaim his appeal at the time he comes back. Currently, hundreds of thousands of people are on the streets demanding Yanukovych’s immediate resignation, and the outrage is becoming more intense every hour.