Ukraine in Turmoil After Leaders Reject Major E.U. Deal

Tens of thousands of protesters have demanded that the country shake off its post-Soviet identity and move into the orbit of a more prosperous Europe.

Comments: 58

  1. Unfortunately, in Ukraine, there is a "that's Ukraine, with a shrug of the shoulders" that permeates everywhere here. As an American living here , yes, the Ukrainians do try to change. Water goes off to fix dated pipes regularly. Electricity goes off to fix or update wiring. Therefore, the "shrug of the shoulders" mentality is still alive. And now that the Ukrainian government has sided with Russia , the shrug goes on. The final "blanket" is the corruption that exists everywhere here, and it is widely accepted as a way of life.

  2. I worked in Ukraine for a while in the late 90s and early 00s. Two things are noteworthy: It is big - 10% bigger than France and it is populous - 50 million people plus.

    It has bad geography too. If one looks at a map it is obvious that it is, and will forever be a buffer state between EU and Russia. A buffer state dependent on Russia for energy and dependent on EU/IMF etc for trade links and key loans.

    One thing though: Its departure to the EU is a threat to Russia, staying put in the Russian sphere is not a threat to the EU, it has time on its side.

  3. Good points, most people don't pay attention to Ukraine, and it's a significant and geopolitically important country.

    But if you are saying with time on its side it's okay for it to slide into the Russian economic orbit, I disagree with that. Russia is not Ukraine's friend and never has been. More than 92% of Ukraine's electorate voted in favor of independence in 1991, and despite the implications of this article, Ukraine is one country, not two randomly soldered together despite language and religion (c.f. Canada). Why can't it do what it wants and move west instead of getting yanked east on Mr. Putin's economic choke collar?

  4. Ukraine cannot do what it wants because Ukraine is not a ideologically, culturally, religiously united state. Eastern Ukraine is pro-Russian, mostly Orthodox Christian and Russian speaking. Western Ukraine is Catholic, pro-Western and much-less Russian speaking.

  5. Having been there to adopt at the time of the Orange Revolution, my husband and I saw the potential that the Ukraine has.

    I hope that the citizens who want closer relations with Europe will prevail and if not now, eventually.

    That Yeltsin's failures led to the rise of Putin is unfortunate for both Russia and the Ukraine. Russia is trying to re-fashion the future to resemble the past.

  6. It is more a cultural clash, europe or russia are just the symbols. And i think there is no way russia can win this, Putin is just clawing because he feels that ukraine is one of the last dominos before his own reign is questioned.
    But the this strategy makes it worse, whatever will go wrong, every downturn of any kind, the blame will always go to russia, russia will be the scapegoat for everything. The longer russia will try to turn the tide, the more violant the change will come.

  7. The clash between Ukrainian nationalists and colonial Russia is ancient and often horribly bloody - Stalin starved to death 3 million Ukrainians in just three months in 1933! That is why ethnic Russians who settled in Ukraine are just as adamant as ethnic Ukrainians in their respective positions regarding alignment with Russia vs the EU. Against this tragic background notions of an Orange Revolution or Obama vs Putin are naive.

  8. If you Jewish, you're screwed by both sides!

  9. Yes RN, many Jews along with Russians, Ukrainians and Kazakhs died in the Holomodor. In that event, there was not an ethnic consideration to the murders, only class.

  10. These "protesters" are basically CIA agents. The Eurozone is not "prosperous". It is on the verge of complete collapse, worse than the Soviet Uniion in the 90's.

  11. Of course! Nobody could possibly be uncomfortable being under the influence of the Russian Mafia!

  12. I don't understand why joining EU would somehow bring greater wealth and prosperity. EU seems to be already in perpetual crisis with vast bureaucracy unable to accommodate very different cultures. There is a major North - South divide, and there will be a major West - East divide. I would expect further deterioration of Ukrainian industrial capacity in the EU because it won't be able to compete with more developed nations, and ultimately a beggar status. They cite Poland and the Baltic countries as examples. Why not consider Romania or Greece?

  13. The question of course is not the comparison between the Baltics/Poland and Romania/Greece but whether or not EU membership for those aforementioned countries has brought advantages to each that would not have been available if not part of the EU. A possible majority of the Ukrainian people apparently feel that a better future lays with the EU than with Putin's Russia.

  14. Don't mix up the problems with the monetary union EMU and the EU.
    Poland is in the EU, and not in the EMU, and for Poland it has been a boon.
    A lot of eastern europe countries have more or less integrated in the EU, and most of them consider this as a big leap forward.

    All these countries between the EMU-core country germany and ukraine enjoy a quite political stability and autonomy. They have economic problems, but who hasn't.

  15. These Comments are an example of why I read Comments a lot. Buried in the vast majority of Comments which are little but cheers or hisses for most articles, one can find bits of genuinely informative information, both analysis and perspective, even fact at times. On topics such as the one here, which few Americans have very little interest (let alone knowledge about), the Comments tend to be much more likely to actually add something to the discussion. My thanks and appreciation to those of you who have made those additions here (and elsewhere.)

  16. Russian economic pressure on Ukraine certainly exists, but is not the main cause of Ukraine's failure to implement reforms and advance towards economic integration with the EU. Ukraine's political and economic elites are perfectly capable of digging the country into a hole without external help. Russia did not tell Yanukovich to put Timoshenko in jail -- a move that was guaranteed to infuriate the EU.

    More importantly, Ukraine's oligarchs have made their money (and continue to do so) in a captive domestic market and often in collusion with Russian economic interests (especially but not only in the gas sector). Adopting the reforms that they EU (and also the IMF and World Bank require) in exchange for economic support to Ukraine, for example liberalizing the super-corrupt gas market (which is also super-costly to the budget with subsidies amounting to 3% of annual GDP) is anathema to Ukraine's elites. Yushchenko was brought down from his position as PM when he first -- unsuccessfully -- attempted this reform back in the late 1990s. No reason to expect that things will be different this time around.

    I have watched this country closely for more than 15 years and I am very sorry to say that I have lost almost all optimism about the country moving in any consistent direction -- east, west, liberal, statist or whatever -- unless some political change that I cannot imagine happens.

  17. There is a reason why the Peace Corps has had more volunteers in Ukraine than in any other nation for more than a decade. Its future is of great significance, not only to itself, but to the wider world.

  18. nonsense. the Peace Corps indicates nothing more than a willingness of a host country to put up with ignorant (though sometimes well-intentioned) college graduates who "teach" English, make no effort to learn the local language and culture and otherwise waste US taxpayer dollars.

  19. Anyone in their right mind would prefer economic and political ties to Europe and the West than to continue under the Soviet mentality of Putin!

    Whatever the problems of the EU, it is the future whereas Russia is the corrupt past.

  20. In Odessa and in Yalta everybody speaks Russian and in Sevastopol, a special territory there are lots of Russian flags on buildings and lots of military both Ukrainian and Russian.

    For what I see Russia and Ukraine are very close. I am from western Europe and I am the outsider.

    Ukraine is a very beautiful country and people are very friendly.

  21. While the Soviet Union is officially gone, it would seem not quite so. Russia 'should' treat the Ukraine as it would any potential trade with a 'free country.' Russia is still a communist and corrupt country - not surprising, it will take decades of diligence to change and even then, it likely won't.

    We in the US are pretty lucky as far as historical cultural influences. We have not existed for 1000s of years under foreign rule and bloodshed. Yes, we have our issues (native american indians, slavery, etc.), but at least we don't have a history of Islam or kings or dictators to overcome.

    The people of the Ukraine deserve to be a separate country, and trade and align with whom they like.

  22. Opening up the piece discussing the Orange "Revolution" makes me question the rest. I know people who were in high school in Ukraine at the time, they tell me of being paid to join the protests.

    Ukraine is a puppet caught in the game between Russia and the West- until one side truly "wins" it will remain so- that is the fate of weaker nations.

  23. Jeers to this biased, western-triumphalist-centered article. I would have expected better of the NYT. It is largely an opinion piece when what we need is straight news and competent analysis of a complex issue. I am no friend of Putin: Russia needs to change. Ukraine needs to change. Ultimately they will have to do it together. As the old saying goes, "Мы все русичи." Anti-corruption, pro-democracy forces in Russia and Ukraine should be standing together. Both should forge stronger ties with the EU, but Ukraine should also join the Eurasian common market (put the HQ in Kharkov then, not in Moscow).

  24. What did you expect? Ukraine's future was traded for the illusion of Russian support in Syria. Bravo, Mr. Son of Lavrentij Beria!

  25. The best solution would be for Ukraine to split down the middle, with the western Ukraine and Kiev forming one state that would join Europe, while Eastern and southern Ukraine--including Kharkiv, Dnepropetrovsk, the Crimea, and Odessa--would rejoin Russia.

    Such a partition would follow historical lines. Western Ukraine (that is, Galicia, under Habsburg and prewar Polish rule) was the seedbed of Ukrainian nationalism. In fact, redrawing this line of partition would largely follow the border of the 18th-century Polish-Lithuanian Confederation. The territories west of this line of demarcation tend to be more receptive to Western (that is, Polish and Austro-Hungarian) ways of thinking about, for example, the rule of law. Western Ukrainians fought fiercely against Soviet rule after World War II. It is no accident that here support for the Orange Revolution and for integration into Europe is strongest.

    The farther east you go in Ukraine, the stronger is the Russian cultural and historical connection; Kharkiv (Kharkov) and the Donbas coal-producing region are almost entirely Russian-speaking, and this is home to Ukraine's pro-Russian politicians, including Yanukovich. Let those areas rejoin Putin's Russia.

    Ukraine's boundaries were arbitrarily drawn by Soviet authorities, but it has never been a modern political nation. Perhaps the prospect of the whole country being swallowed by Putin will drive western Ukrainians to break away and form an EU-inclined democracy.

  26. If that is were to be true, why would more than 92 % of the full electorate have voted in favor of independence in the national referendum in 1992?

    It is a myth that Ukraine is two countries slapped together regardless of language and religion. If you want to look at history, it was eastern and southern Ukraine - precisely the oblasts you specified - that suffered the most during the terror-famine Moscow visited on Ukraine in the '30s, resulting in 5-7million deaths,

    Ironically, these protests have included the anniversaries of the orange revolution and the holodomor, the great famine. People have long memories in Ukraine. Why shouldn't they be allowed to choose western European trade, systems, and democratic values, instead of getting yanked east again by Putin? There's no history there that bodes well for their future.

    that's why so many people are in the streets, and why this is arguably the most important decision for the Ukrainian nation since independence.

  27. You don't get democracy in the EU -- the EU is a dictatorship under the thumb of Brussels and Stassbourg. YOu have no national identity left and your national rights are severly circumscribed.

  28. Excellent observations, James Miller, and one is reminded of Belgium - two languages, a north-south divide in this case, and centrifugal forces of language and culture frequently more potent than any centripetal forces of common historic roots and religion. Belgium is barely standing today as a coherent political unit; Ukraine seems destined to a similar fate. Belgium may yet divide into two (it is almost there), and perhaps Ukraine should do the same ... as you suggest, the west to stronger links with Poland and the EU, and the east to continued ties to Russia.

  29. I can see in the abstract why some in Ukraine want to join the EU. But I don't think that they are thinking realistically about the pitfall of EU membership. They are only seeing the bag of goodies - a bit like Greece did.

    To join the EU is to be understand the dkitak of Brussels and until Brussels stops being a left wing dictatorship Ukraine should also assess the minuses of the EU and there are a lot of those.

    Joining the EU does NOT mean joining Europe - it means being squarely under the thumb of Brussel Brureaucrats and having a lot of your national laws overruled by Brussels and Strasbourg.

    I think any county joining the EU should look at what happened to Greece, Spain, Italy etc before they caught in the EU trap of forced obedience to mindless bureaucrats in Brussels.

  30. And in so far as it refers to Italy, this comment is nonsense. Italy was a founder member of the European Common Market, back in 1958, and the treaty which created this original union of six western European states was signed in Rome. However, Judyw from Cumberland, MD, need not worry, as there is no possibility of the United States being under the "diktat of Brussels" until "Brussels stops being a left wing dictatorshiip". where one is "squarely under the thumb of Brussels Bureaucrats and having a lot of your national laws overruled by Brussels and Strasbourg."

    Where does this rubbish about the European Union come from? Fox news and the Murdoch empire? Sounds just like the ranting from the Tea Party types here in the US when they sound off about the Obama administration.

    Oh, and by the way, Judyw, just what are the "minuses of the EU" of which you claim, "there are lot of those". More rubbish!

  31. Actually if you want to read real negative about the EU -- try reading some British newspapers or speeches in the common. Strassbourg and Brussels are constantly overruling UK laws. That is why there will be a referendum on the EU -- the UK is sick and tired of having its laws overrules by Brussels.

  32. Ahh yes! Emperor Brussel's new clothes… but I doubt this liability is lost on Kiyev.
    Whether the EU can suckle its mewling, clinging southern-tier marsupial babies is up for them to decide. Suggest that, in the interim, Ukraine look to saner, northern-tier fiscal maturity for reassurance and example. Clearly, they understand well the hobnail alternative.

  33. Here's a video I shot of Tuesday's student protests in Kiev:
    The students were extremely cordial, even stopping at the crosswalk for red lights.

  34. I note that some commenters here seem to think that Ukraine would be worse off in association with the EU, and that there is some sort of battle royal going on between the West and Russia over Ukraine. The real truth is that while the EU would like to bring Ukraine closer to Europe, it really isn't ready to make the necessary sacrifices to make it happen. Russia, on the other hand, is pulling out all the stops to prevent Ukraine from moving out of its orbit, including economic and political blackmail. Normally, Russia's activities would be grounds for expulsion from the World Trade Organization, if the WTO was more than just a talking shop. Ukraine is not entirely innocent in this struggle, of course. It's leadership is corrupt and grasping for economic and political power while the people continue to suffer and the economy is on the verge of collapse. Half the country wants to go East, the other West, and there is no resolution in sight. The player missing from this whole thing is the one that Russophiles suspect the most -- the United States. We have had other fish to fry in Iraq and Afghanistan, and effectively dropped Ukraine as a country of interest shortly after the Orange Revolution. We could do better, but we probably won't. We are an unreliable friend. It's a sad prospect for Ukraine, a country that does deserve much better than it is getting from the Great Powers, and its own leaders.

  35. Thank you. One of the best comments.
    Ukraine should not ve given up its nuclear arsenal. It would ve been surrounded by helping hands right now ( wry smile)

  36. The EU is about expanding markets for some of its members (France, Germany, Italy etc.) more than it is about being a border-less commonwealth of nations or a single European nation. As an outsider, one gets the sense that Ukraine may be better off in the long run, tying its fortunes to Russia.
    If it had been a member of the EU ten years ago, it could be deeply in debt with its wealth looted today!

  37. Ukraine is once more pawn in a political game between the EU and Russia.
    Vladimir Putin has said himself, that a Ukraine-EU free trade pact would pose a "big threat" to Russia's economy, fearing Russia could be flooded with European goods virtually without tariffs because of an existing free-trade deal between Kiev and Moscow.
    Russia is a member state of the Council of Europe, so it's keen on maintaining trade ties with the EU and the EFTA countries. But Moscow can't end a loveless but enduring marriage with Kiev, as the two countries have too much historical baggage and economic interdependence to separate.

  38. The Colonies and Britain parted company, albeit with much pain and disruption.

    Why can't Russia and the Ukraine?

  39. It's no so much about history, as it's about Ukraine's place in economical, strategical and political interests of Russia. For example, Russia would not like to see NATO naval base in Sevastopol instead of its own .

    And, as it was said once, "Russia without Ukraine is an Empire no more" .

  40. Russia is sinking and Ukraine doesn't have any vested interest in saving its customs union by joining it. As far as the EU association agreement is concerned the best solution would be signing it in Vilnius at the end of this week.

    The delay is not critical, though, but it will deepen the economic and political crisis the country is sinking in thanks to its president Yanukovych's lack of political vision, integrity and honesty. Russia is itself in deep trouble and cannot offer Ukraine too much if anything but further corruption, nepotism and lawlessness.

  41. Bravo! Exactly the reasons why majority of Ukrainians want a closer ties with EU. Being a "smaller brother" to Russia just prolongs the life of status quo - corruption, mismanagement ...all economical and political ills of Russia. Much smaller Ukraine has a better chance at changing its ways without Russia's clumsy foot on its back.

  42. Oksana and Observer 48 clearly understand regional reality. Russia has been reduced to a struggling yet politically bankrupt petrol station. In contrast, Ukraine and Ukrainians have a natural vision and rhythm. To embrace a union with Russia would be tantamount to booking national passage on the HMS Titanic. Your daily struggle and defiance of crude bullying are inspirational!!

  43. The article ignores the EU highhandedness. The way in which it is forcing Russia to choose between it and Russia is misplaced. Given the shared language and geographical closeness a close relationship between Russia and Ukraine is something natural.

    Do we really want to repeat the Balkan scenario where the EU built airtight borders between countries that were once part of the same Yugoslavia?

  44. Ukraine neither shares the language nor the culture with Russia. Ukraine is a culturally and linguistically unique and independent state that could retain its national and cultural identity in spite of centuries of forceful russificaton and polonisation. Russia has no business inside Ukrainian borders although its more than welcome to develop a good business relationship with its neighbour that is free to choose whatever political and economic associations it pleases..

  45. Ukraine has to sort out its East/West divide within its borders. Or else it would end up in a partition.
    While Ukraine and Russia share common historical origins, the west of the country has close ties with its European neighbours, particularly Poland, and Ukrainian nationalist sentiment is strongest there.
    A significant minority of the population are Russians and Russian influence is particularly strong in the industrialised east, as well as in Crimea, an autonomous republic on the Black Sea which was part of Russia until 1954. The Russian Black Sea Fleet is based in Sevastopol.

  46. Ukraine would not have this divide if it were not for Russia's attempts to create this problem and support it. It is so, no matter the sentiments in different parts of Ukraine. This divide as a big national problem was created by Russia in the first place soon after Ukraine gained its independence . One of the ways Russia ensures it's influence on the country.

  47. Russia treats Ukraine with tender and brotherly love: when Ukraine needs gas, Russia is there. When Ukraine demands oil, Russia is there. When Ukraine shots down a civilian jet over Crimea, Russia doesn't declare war (as would be its right).
    And how does Ukraine repay Russia's kindness? With betrayal and treachery......for shame...for shame....

  48. You must be joking or a complete Russian chauvinist. What has Ukraine ever received from its "benevolent" big brother other than suffering, oppression, blood and death? What was the Holodomor in the 1930's but Stalin's grand plan to exterminate the Ukrainian nation and its national aspirations? May God protect Ukraine from this and many other examples of Russian "kindness".

  49. Absolutely. How dare the Ukrainians consider themselves a sovereign nation?

    Thank you, Dmitri, for so succinctly demonstrating exactly what the problem is.

  50. What has Ukraine ever received from its "benevolent" big brother other than suffering, oppression, blood and death?

    Well, for starters, how about the whole of Crimea? Russia simply gave its land ( the land its people fought and died for) to Ukraine.
    I see no problem with Ukraine joining EU, as long as Crimea is returned to its rightful owner.

  51. You mean Crimean Tatars? Russia's got even less business in the Crimea than Ukraine and will sooner or later face the Tatars in curt to pay damages for their unlawful persecution and prosecutions by the Stalinist soviet Union. Russia has an arm-long list of crimes against their own citizens and other nations committed by its legal predecessor the Soviet Union most of them haven't been paid for in any way. The Tatars will likely sue many Russians in civil courts in order to repossess their wrongfully confiscated land and the Russian state to collect damages for unlawful deportations of their predecessors.

  52. Unless West(E.U) and academics and media with side with Orange Revolution remnant re-think the real benefits of Ukraine people, there effort will be vain. And regarded only insisting one sided opinion, quite same situation west insist are possible to Russia say (if West's right, then Russian's also right). From WSJ, Brzezinski said, "without Ukraine,Russia ceases to be an empire,but with Ukrain suborned and then subordinated,.....Russia become empire. It is not so simple as critic's mere seek justice, independent, integrity,..........we, all your papers readers and love NYT, but the most important thing is how manege this to Ukrain people's benefit.

  53. A minor, American ear/voice, has heard your and your peoples' S.O.S. from this very distant side of the Atlantic. Although there are many Ukrainians in my country, I am not ethnically one of you. We are an odd nation of the proudly oppressed, displaced and dispossessed, the persecuted and belittled, the abandoned and exploited - so, is it any wonder that your countrymen's words and desperation should ring so true? I had a dear professor - a displaced Pole - who taught me a simple but enduring rallying cry -- "Jeszcze Polska nie zginela!" I believe any true Ukrainian understands this sentiment. Someday, I hope we shall meet face-to-face.

    An anonymous Irishman

  54. Why should Ukraine would settle for less than an independent statehood free for ever form the domination of its former Russian masters and oppressors?

    The EU doesn't twist Yanukovych's arms, but has steadfastly been sticking, for the fourth year now, to its guns of political and judicial reforms as well as economic transformation eliminating or at least reducing corruption and nepotism Soviet/Russian style. Is this too much to pay for freedom? The EU doesn't prevent Ukraine from trading with Russia on the WTO-promoted terms. BTW, I'm really surprised and disenchanted to a degree why the WTO hasn't yet launched an investigation into Russia's economic and trade bullying of Ukraine or at least issued a warning.

  55. I am Ukrainian citizen living in US. I am strong supporter of the union with Russia. I don't think Europe capable to offer any viable support for Ukraine.

  56. One unmentioned advantage of the EU connection over Russia is Ukraine's need to foster a healthy civil society. The most enduring legacy of Soviet colonial domination is institutional corruption. In order to form productive business relationships with the West, Ukraine would be compelled to provide a more honest and reliable governmental infrastructure. The EU bond works to lifts Ukraine out of the morass of corruption, while returning to Russia's embrace simply pulls it back down.

  57. Education, personal contacts,travel, learning from each other, are the things that help change people and thus nations.
    Ukrainians abroad do well, and succeed as well as others. Skilled and educated Ukrainians at home earn perhaps 200 to 300 dollars per month. This is the salary of professors and doctors. Minimum pensions for for retired workers stands at about $100 dollars per month. Foreign travel is too expensive for most.
    How can people progress in such a condition of poverty.
    Ukrainians now know thru the Internet, Skype and reports from family working abroad, how normal life can be.
    Hard work, discipline, education, and proper Christian, or other moral values, usually lead to a satisfying, productive, and proud existence.
    Why can't Ukraine accomplish this ? are they too lazy too stupid, too weak ?
    Who is responsible here, The Ukrainian leaders ? the Ukrainian people? Russia ?
    Europe ?
    It is my opinion now, that poor, under developed counties all over the world should be helped to raise their standard of living. Ideology should not prevent people from receiving assistance. Their government should be persuaded, pressured, whatever it takes (short of violence) to provide this assistance.
    At some point, all will realize, whether in Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. or Haiti, that allowing and aiding human beings to realize their full potential is the major work of Humanity.

  58. Ukraine failed as an independent nation. The country was created out of local elite opportunism after the break of the soviet union and adopted ideology of the inferior nationalistic minority that never was a mainstream political movement with etnicl/racial hate as primary ideological sentiment. After 20 years of existence it's population shrink on 9mln people and failed to deliver anything substantial to whole generation of people who was unhappy or scary enough to leave the sinking boat for good. Peple who was in their 40's now appraching 60 years age, 20's now in 40's with very bleak perspective on social security and decent retirement. Statehood can wait 100 years but average people don't have such perspective. Now we have another generation to cheat, this is mostly young people who thinks that failure of the previous generation does not have anything to do with them. I am happy that I left this county 17 years ago and my advise to the new generation - not to waste your future in this country.