Ukraine's Demonstrations Heat Up

WASHINGTON, DC -- Over the weekend, anti-government protests in Ukraine reignited, exceeding the turnout for the previous week's protest that came in reaction to Kiev's rejection of the EU Association Agreement.

On Sunday, protestors numbered in the hundreds of thousands.

The protests are being portrayed as a conflict over the future of Ukraine, namely, whether the Eastern European country should integrate with Europe or Russia.

They have reached the point where they could move beyond being a mild disruption to the current government to being a harbinger of significant political change in Ukraine.

The demonstrations evolved from a spontaneous reaction to the government's decision to reject signing the Association Agreement with the European Union to something much more organized.

Protesters have erected large tents, formal barricades and portable toilets.

Three leaders have also risen to form a sort of troika for the movement.

The possibility the protests will persist and grow has forced Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich to consider concessions.

Yanukovich will attend a roundtable on Tuesday with the three former presidents of Ukraine -- Leonid Kravchuk, Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Yushchenko.

Kravchuk has suggested the opposition leadership be invited to start negotiations.

Yanukovich's camp has also suggested negotiations with the opposition.

Many in the opposition have so far rejected the offer.

By calling for negotiations between himself and the triad of opposition leaders, Yanukovich is attempting to exploit divisions within the opposition by forcing their leaders to negotiate with one voice.

The opposition in Ukraine is currently being led by three starkly different figures, who will have difficulty reaching a common negotiating stance.

The first is Vitali Klitschko, a boxer turned politician with deep ties to the German government.

The second, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, heads the parliamentary faction of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is still imprisoned.

And the third is nationalist leader Oleh Tyahnybok, who supports Ukraine's relationship with the West but has been accused of being an anti-Semitic reactionary.

The three leaders have managed to agree on various demands, namely, that the government and Premier Nikolai Azarov resign, that demonstrators who have been arrested over the past week be released, and that government officials responsible for violent crackdowns Nov. 30 be punished.

But beyond those demands, no meeting of the minds between the members of the troika has occurred.

Important questions have not been settled among the opposition, such as whether to demand fresh elections, in which each of the three would likely want their own faction to take power.

Though Stratfor does not typically pay too much attention to the personalities of politicians, the personalities do matter in this case, since any successful revolution traditionally rallies behind one strong figure.

For example, the 1917 Russian revolution was lead by Vladimir Lenin, the Iranian Revolution of 1979 by Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the 1989 Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia by Vaclav Havel.

Other large protests labeled as revolutions that ultimately failed did not have any strong leadership figures within the opposition.

This was the case in Russia from 2011-2012, when myriad opposition leaders -- from the Communist Party, the nationalists, the xenophobes, the Liberal Democrats and more -- each unsuccessfully attempted to be the face of the large anti-Kremlin protest movements.

Instead, the Kremlin allowed their differences to divide them and the protests eventually fizzled out.

The previous revolution in Ukraine, the Orange Revolution of 2004, was led by two figures, Tymoshenko and Yushchenko.

Once the two took power, however, they had a falling out.

Tymoshenko was quickly ousted because of internal conflicts with Yushchenko in 2005, though she returned to office in 2007.

Yanukovich could well be seeking to allow the differences to cause them to fail.

But that does not mean that he feels safe in his current position.

Yanukovich is adhering to talks with the West once again with EU High Representative Catherine Ashton, who heads to Ukraine Tuesday to meet with the president and the opposition leaders.

The government also ordered a raid on Tymoshenko and Yatsenyuk's party offices, taking computers and servers.

These are not signs of a president confident in his position.

The coming days and weeks will tell if this will actually impact the country's stability and ability to align with the West as opposed to Russia.

Stratfor is closely watching and assessing the unity within the protest movements, the outside support for the movements, the position of the eastern regions (which are more linked into Russia) and the reaction of the elite, such as the politically connected oligarchs.

Outside Ukraine there is intense interest in what comes next.

For Russia, the future of Ukraine is closely tied with its own future.

Ukraine is territory that is deep within the Russian core and losing Ukraine from its orbit leaves Russia indefensible.

Ukraine is also the primary transit route for Russian energy to the West, Russia's economic foundation.

This means that Russia will fight bitterly to be the biggest influence in Ukraine.

For the United States, supporting political forces in Ukraine is the most effective way to push back on Russia.

Moscow has diplomatically outmaneuvered Washington repeatedly of late, including over Syria and in regards to the Edward Snowden affair.

U.S. support for the protest movements in Ukraine is a way to keep Russia focused in its own region and off the offensive against the United States.

The swing player here is Germany, which in the past has sought to maintain a balance inside Ukraine -- such as rejecting Ukraine's membership into NATO -- to maintain relations with Russia, Berlin's primary energy partner.

However, Germany's reportedly close ties with one of the key opposition protesters in Kiev calls into question where Berlin now stands on the future of Ukraine and its ultimate position regarding Germany's future relationship with Russia.

Thus, the protests mark a turning point not only for the future of Ukraine but also one of the largest facets in the future of Western and Russian relations and the direction of Central Europe.

Source: Stratfor Global Inteligence


Igor Skakovsky said…
I leave in US for 24 years, and follow up on what is going on in Ukraine every day. One thing which is most important is if President honestly understands him self and want to make the best for People. It is difficult to know for sure but something tells me that he is quiet clever and he is trying to do what is right. Things are very complicated in politics and it is extremely difficult to be a President in Ukraine.
Best position for Ukraine is:
1. to have as much Independence as possible ;
2. No CU association it is for sure;
3. Adapt and implement of EU laws as much as it is possible.
4. Sign AA agreement only in those areas where Ukraine has advantages with EU and can strongly recover.
5. Step by step, annually prepare new parts of an industries for AA with EU.
6. Use the moment and get best deals with Russia and use existing open trade with Russia to make chosen industries stronger before re a sinning those industries with EU.