dubbed Euromaidan, have gripped Ukraine since November 21, when the government announced it would put a planned “association agreement” with the European Union on hold. After three weeks of protests, punctuated by clashes with police and failed attempts to disperse demonstrators that have only emboldened them, the Ukrainian government says it’s ready to sign the association agreement with the EU, but first it wants a promise of $27.5 billion in financial assistance. That’s a more specific iteration of the initial Ukrainian demand Europe compensate it for perceived short-term economic losses that came with the decision to scuttle the agreement in November. The Ukrainian government considered the IMF’s loan conditions too harsh, and blamed them too for the collapse of the agreement with the EU. In the crisis of weeks of protest, the Ukrainian government found an opportunity to try to use them to get a better deal from the EU.Pro-European protests centered around Kiev’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square),
Ukraine’s November decision to suspend talks with Europe, the Washington Post reported then, had also been influenced by pressure from Russia for Ukraine to join its own Customs Union (with Belarus and Kazakhstan), and by European demands that the Ukrainian government release former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. She was targeted for prosecution after Viktor Yanukovych was elected president in 2010, and Tymoshenko was eventually charged and convicted for abuse of office related to a gas deal with Russia. Currently in prison, Tymoshenko was one of the leaders of the last mass protests in the Ukraine, the so-called “Orange Revolution” in 2004 that contributed to Yanukovych’s eventual loss in that year’s presidential election. Yanukovych had in fact won the original run-off, but those results were annulled by the Supreme Court for being fraudulent. A Moscow Times write up compared the current protests and the Orange Revolution, noting the similar West vs. East contours of both, but also that while the Ukrainian government is in a stronger position than it was in 2004, that the path toward integration with Europe might already be irreversible.
For their part, EU leaders stress stronger relations with the Ukraine don’t have to come at the expense of cooperation with Russia. Russia’s tightening of border controls and trade restrictions in response to the Ukraine’s work on an agreement with the EU, unfortunately, indicate Russia is not interested in what the EU describes as a “win-win” (as the taking down of trade barriers always is!). Unfortunately with trade deals between governments, taking down trade barriers is rarely all it is, hence the scramble by the EU to find financial aid for Ukraine if it signs a deal in part to cover for expected trade losses from Russia.