Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians gathered in Kiev (the capital) to protest their president, Viktor Yanukovych, after he changed his mind last month about signing an agreement with the European Union (EU) and is leaning more toward a deal with Russia.
Yanukovych says he is only leaving his options open for the best deal he can get for his economically troubled country.
Why are they protesting?
Shortest answer: The protesters believe Ukrainian president Yanukovych is corrupt and they do not want him to sign a deal with Russia, but rather the EU.
President Yanukovych was set to sign a (longstanding) trade and cooperation agreement with the EU. However, last month, he did a U-Turn and rejected the deal as he began to entertain a deal with Russia’s Customs Union instead.
Though it may seem that all of Ukraine is pushing for a deal with the EU, they aren’t. About four out of every six people are ethnic Ukrainian, one in six are ethnic Russian and the last one in six are ethnic Ukrainian but speak Russian.
Yanukovych was voted for by the Ukranian Russians in the 2010 elections.
A November poll found that 45 percent said they wanted the EU deal, 14 percent said they wanted to join with the Russian-led Customs Union, and 41 percent said they were undecided or wanted neither. In other words, joining the EU is about as popular as not joining the EU, both of which are more popular than partnering with Russia. Source
Why does Ukraine need to sign an agreement?
Shortest answer: Among many things, the country is on the brink of bankruptcy and needs financial support so they don’t default in early 2014.
Ukraine is in deep turmoil and what is happening now is a culmination of several things: the country has a history of being an unhappy member of the Soviet Union (announced their independence in 1991), they’re in deep debt, government corruption, and two decades of political divide due the country’s two strong demographics – Russian and Ukrainian (who are fond of Western influence). Source
Ukraine is running out of money and faces the likelihood of bankruptcy early next year. In return for signing a deal, the EU is open to helping the country monetarily. Source
What is the EU offering the Ukraine?
Shortest answer: The EU is offering at least $610 million in financial aid though Ukraine is asking for more.
A deal with the EU would mark closer integration with Europe.
Ukraine is asking the EU for $20 billion a year until 2017 (total of $160 billion) in order to help their economy adapt to closer integration with the European Union and in order to compensate for potentially losing their Russian market.
As of now, the EU has only set aside $610 million for Ukraine’s financial assistance. Source
The EU said it will not sign a free-trade agreement with Ukraine if the ex-Soviet country became a member of the Customs Union.
What is Russia offering the Ukraine?
Shortest answer: Russia has offered a sharp discount on Ukraine’s biggest import, natural gas as well $15 billion in loans.
On Tuesday, December 17, Russia upped their original offer of sharply discounting the price Ukraine must pay for natural gas and added a promise of $15 billion in loans if they decide to join their Eurasian Customs Union.
Ukraine’s biggest import is natural gas so that, plus the financial aid, will take a big weight off their shoulders and save the country from impending default in early 2014. This new offer certainly gives Russia the upper hand over Europe and the U.S.
Russia has put heavy pressure on the Ukraine to join its bloc, which includes Belarus and Kazakhstan. The protesters believe, and are afraid that, the bloc is trying to recreate the Soviet Union. Source
What do either of these countries get from the Ukraine?
Shortest answer: Ukraine is rich in natural resources and their biggest export market is the EU, followed by Russia.
Ukraine is relatively rich in natural resources, particularly in mineral deposits. Although oil and natural gas reserves are largely exhausted, it has other important energy sources, such as coal, hydroelectricity and nuclear fuel raw materials.
The EU is Ukraine’s biggest export market, followed by Russia.
On top of this, and it’s simplest form, they are both fighting for an ally.
How is the U.S. involved?
Shortest answer: We’re not, though we have threatened sanctions on the country if they use any more violence on the protesters.
In order to crackdown on the protesters in Kiev, thousands of riot converged on their camps and in doing so, wounded several dozen protesters in the process.
The United States does not support the use of military force or police violence “in any fashion” against the protesters and because of this, has threatened sanctions on Ukraine if it happens again. Source
What is next for Ukraine?
Shortest answer: While the two sides met for talks, nothing came of it and all sides are still uncertain which way Yanukovych leans. He travels to Russia for negotiations on Tuesday.
Yanukovych and the protesters met for a round table discussion on Friday but it the talk which is anything but productive. Although Yanukovych promised no more violence (and released protest prisoners) they opposition does not believe him.
There was no indication which way Yanukovych was leaning during the round table. Source
While the demonstrators are calling for a mass rally on Sunday, Yanukovych will travel to Russian on Tuesday to discuss a strategic partnership with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
At this point, it seems either solution (EU or Russia) will lead to a much more divided Ukraine.
Originally published on December 15, 2013.
Follow author Kadee, @kadeeirene
Image courtesy of Oxlaey (Flickr Creative Commons) and Wikimedia Commons