The Ukrainian Spring

The EU wanted to sign a deal with Ukraine (or was it the other way round?). Anyway, this was a deal which would have brought the former Soviet Socialist republic very close to the fold of the West and thus farther from its perennial self-imposed patron, Russia.

Well, not expecting to be beaten very close to its backyard, Mother Russia came in to woo the Ukrainians back with some goodies. And that’s when the problem began.

The Ukrainians were tired of being constantly at the behest of Russia. They felt as though Russia wanted too many fingers in the pie. They had realized that their relationship with the country that had controlled them for so long had left them impoverished. In comparison to many former communist countries which had turned to the West, Ukraine is a poor country. Its per capita income is one of the lowest in Europe, comparable to developing nations.

They overwhelmingly petitioned the government to sign the deal with the EU. But the government of President Viktor Yanukovitvh was pro-Russian. They put the deal with the EU on hold, which effectively closed the chapter about getting closer to the West. They obviously preferred the Russian deal. But that’s where another problem came up.

The people didn’t want to snug up to Russia anymore. They reacted in a way reminiscent of the beginning of the Arab Spring. But the government didn’t pay too much attention to this, thinking that this was just another of those short-lived fireworks of rage. The people would get tired of making noise on the streets and go back to their houses and focus on bettering their fare. Then they could sign the deal in some quiet way and Mother Russia would have her way again. So they sent a few policemen to break the riots. But here was a third problem.

This wasn’t an ordinary protest. This was a Ukrainian Spring. Ukrainians had had enough of it all; disregard for human rights, a sluggish economy, poor distribution of wealth, being left far behind by their neighbours, a government constantly swaying to the beat of Russia at the expense of the demands of its citizens. They had had enough. This was it. The spark that lit the first tire on the street was also the spark which set the whole of Ukraine aflame.

Unrestrained rage on the streets across Ukraine. Riot police in full gear. Fires. Dark smoke spiraling above the cities. Blocked roads. Empty houses. Running battles. Blows. Clubs on flesh. Stones and rocks. Sweat in the middle of winter. Blood.  Anger. Emotion. Determination. Worldwide attention. Bullets. Death.

The people weren’t going to relent in their demands. They wanted the Western deal. That much was clear, at least to those of us watching keenly from the outside. But the two governments in the middle of this were still determined to have their way. So the protests went on, growing larger and gaining some high profile approvals. People like Vitali Klitschko, world renown boxing champion, rallied behind the protesters.

The government of Ukraine started falling apart when it realized this was no ordinary outburst. That icon of Ukrainian human rights activists, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, was released from prison. This was an explicit attempt to calm down the people, give them some hope. New elections were conveniently arranged.

But then there was Yulia, on a wheelchair, a darling, saying she wouldn’t contest any election. Another fix. She wasn’t offering the Ukrainians another option that could have hidden the intrigues behind the government’s dalliance with Russia. The government had to face it off with the people. There would be no hiding of issues behind a good face anymore.

Yanukovych had to bolt in the end. Of course he fled to Russsia. But for Russians, all wasn’t lost yet. Still determined to end up with a piece of Ukraine, a plan was set in motion that was meant to give Russia a piece of Ukraine, literally.

Crimea is a peninsular on the south-eastern part of Ukraine, or was, because now it is part of Russia. When the Ukrainian president disappeared from the country and was replaced, Russia, whose Black Sea fleet has been stationed on the peninsular since the 18th century, put its forces on alert. A short while later they actually moved into the peninsular under the pretext of protecting the interests of ethnic Russians. The motive was more sinister as the ensuing chain of events revealed.

On Tuesday, 18th March, President Vladimir Putin of Russia signed a treaty which enjoined Crimea to Russia. The peninsular is populated largely by ethnic Russians, and it was easy to get their approval in a referendum that was orchestrated from the Kremlin with little regard for the sovereignty of Ukraine. In a way, Crimea was literally grabbed from Ukraine.

The West has been protesting, threatening and seething, refusing to grant recognition of Russian actions in Ukraine. But Russia hasn’t given a hoot to their clamor to stand with Ukraine, and has bullied Ukraine in much the same fashion as it has since time immemorial. Fears abound that what has happened with the Crimea is about to be repeated elsewhere in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the relationship between Russia and the West has not been colder since before the Berlin Wall fell on communism.

Questions are now flying in all directions. What can be done to solve the quagmire the Ukrainian Spring has thrown the world into? Who has what rights in the fiasco? Is Putin expecting to get away with his act? Are we in the era that will witness a final squaring out of the war that was never fought between the Soviet Union and America – the Cold War? And what shall be done to those of us who have no say on such matters?

We have largely ignored this matter here in Africa. But it’s time we took attention, and a stand. Nations which can’t stand up for anything will develop into pawns to be used by the powerful. From a concerned student to his fellow Africans, these are my thoughts. Next week, I will be back with some information on Crimea and the historical events which have resulted in the dilemma we are in right now.

Feature image: Source unknown.

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