The opinions of experts converge toward the idea that what is going on in Ukraine is, in fact, a geopolitical clash between Russia and the European Union. The conflict is not new and its episodes succeeded, as regards the ex-Soviet space, since 2003 (the start of the orange revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine), the present EuroMaidan probably being the latest of them. As a necessary mention, in the perimeter of this geopolitical confrontation between East and West we must also include the Russo-Georgian war of August 2008, which pointed to the ‘red line’ traced by Kremlin for the expansion of western organisations in the former Soviet imperial space.
The truth of this affirmation is demonstrated by the circumstances in which the present protest started in Kiev. After the surprise announcement made by president Yanukovich about not signing the accord of association with the EU and changing the geopolitical azimuth of the country, with formal mentions to the arrangement reached with Russia regarding the financial aid (USD 15 bln) and a special price for the import of Russian gas, along with the resistance to the pressures made by European leaders in Vilnius, the opposition prepared a protest rally.
The huge mobilisation of forces (close to one million participants at some moments) determined the strong response of authorities, which actually catalysed the people’s revolt. The Maidan immediately got organised, the population supported the political opposition, the rally became permanent and prepared itself of a quasi-military manner to withstand the aggression of officials, and constantly radicalised itself. The main protest – regardless of the diverse political orientations and tendencies manifest in the first place – was against the abandoning of the pro-European Union orientation and the ever stronger change of geopolitical azimuth toward Russia by the political leadership of the country, actually replacing it.
The geopolitical clash acquired a new dimension when the government rapidly passed through the Parliament – where the majority is held by the Party of Regions – a package of laws (16 January 2014) that prohibited unauthorised public rallies, punished their participants, treated like foreign structures the NGOs which receive financing from abroad. The protest got instantly radicalised, the tendency revealed by this move of the government being the attempt to instate an authoritarian regime similar to those of Belarus and Russia, somehow deepening the already assumed eastern azimuth. The pro-Europe tendency in the whole body of the revolt gained even more consistent, beneficially associating itself with the demands to reform the country in the sense of European values (the eradication of corruption, the abandoning of the oligarchic model of market economy etc.). The violence took a dangerous turn and it became increasingly evident that Ukraine is on the brink of civil war. The contagion in the other regions of the country of the movement and exigencies of the EuroMaidan, as well as the pressures from abroad – from the West, but also from the East (Russia) – determined the government to backtrack and start the dialogue. The proposals made to the political opposition to participate in the government, even take its leadership, were however rejected by protesters. Eventually, the government installed by Yanukovich with the Party of Regions, which instrumented the geopolitical orientation toward Russia decided by the president resigned on January 28, but continues to be in charge of the internal and foreign policies of the state.
Toward the end of January, one can already consider that the protests of Kiev acquired the dimensions of a large-scale international crisis. The violence of the repression made many international organisations and political leaders take position and some states already implemented punitive measures (cancelling the visas for some officials involved in the repression, for instance). The US, first of all, pleaded for initiating sanctions against the Ukrainian leadership, the European Union did not reject the idea, but was more cautious over their effectiveness in view of identifying a peaceful solution to the conflict.
The main actors of this international crisis are undoubtedly Russia, the European Union and the US. It can be considered the dramatic episode of the crisis that started in 2008, when NATO intended to offer the ‘roadmap’ of the accession to the North-Atlantic Alliance, while Russia answered through the Georgia war.
On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that this internal confrontation of Ukraine reached a point when a solution must be identified very rapidly. It is clear that the political opposition will accept nothing else than a positive answer of the officials to their demands: early presidential elections, the return to the Constitution of 2004, the signing of the accord of association with the EU and an amnesty law acceptable for protesters.
The political connotation of this internal conflict is crucial for the East-West relations, for the transatlantic relation, for Europe and for Russia. Will Ukraine belong to the East (the Eurasian Union) or the West (the European Union)? Will Europe hesitate to support the EuroMaidan, thus placing itself in a relation of subordination toward Russia? Will the US be firm enough to impose the observance of the essential principle in international relations, the right of each country to decide its fate without interferences from abroad? Will Russia – and its president, Vladimir Putin – pass their own existential test of Ukraine being associated to the Eurasian Union?
These are questions that the big chancelleries of the world, actively involved in the events of Ukraine do not hesitate to ask, while devising adequate policies that suit their own interests and future designs. The West – here we consider, as a whole, the attitude of both the EU and USA, in a general framework – already has a clear line of conduct. As informal sources and the media of big impact reveal, the right solution, with certain nuances, of course, would be for President Yanukovich to condemn and punish the violence and illegalities committed by police and other structure of force against protesters, avoiding any future use of violence against them, as some have advised abroad. Then, he should appoint a technocrat in charge with the task of forming a non-political government with the mission of managing the economy in crisis and negotiating a loan with the IMF, WB, EBRD and, mainly, with preparing the presidential elections of next year, guaranteeing a free and correct ballot. The nuances of such a solution taken under consideration by the West in general refer to variants like the resignation of the president and early elections and enforcing sanctions against Ukraine for as long as such a solution is delayed. This would satisfy the Ukrainian nation’s right to free option without foreign interference, either from East or West. It is a solution that takes into account the very tough confrontation existing today, the split of the Ukrainian nation instrumented by interested forces (between the massive Ukrainian West and the East dominated by ethnic Russians, between Orthodox believers and the others etc.). Alternatives to another course, which would negate the natural right to free option of Ukraine, are the civil war – with its international reverberations of extreme complexity – that would mean, first of all, a major defeat for the West, which it cannot afford.